Hertz vs. Avis — Underdog Marketing in the Car Rental Industry

We tend to look at the biggest brands — the market leaders — as our examples. They’re the ones we can learn from. But sometimes it’s actually the brand that’s the second biggest that provides the greatest lesson. Take the car rental industry, for example.

Hertz is the biggest car rental company in the world and Avis has always been in second place. Now, most brands that are second in their market, will focus on telling their audience about how they’re better than the number one. But Avis never did that.

Instead, Avis embraced that they were second. They turned this ‘negative’ into a positive.


In 1962, Avis was looking for a new advertising campaign. Together with their agency Doyle Dane Bernbach they came up with the tagline: “When you’re only №2, you try harder.”

To better convey this message, they published an ad that referred to Avis as a little fish in danger of being swallowed by the big fish in the pool — unless the little fish would swim faster and work harder.

The tagline was hugely successful and from an annual loss of $3.2 million, Avis gained a profit of $1.2 million. After more than a decade of staggering losses, the company saw profit again.

Sometimes, recognizing your weakness can become your biggest strength.