Being #2, Avis Cars and Tamil film music…

Guest Blog #32 – Anand C

The piece, “What should you do if you are #2?” which I got to from Marketing Playbook, got me thinking…

As Laura Ries says in this post, Avis is one of the most memorable #2 campaigns (some other examples are also listed), focussing on why they are different from Hertz. This ad, created by Bill Bernbach is indicative of the theme of the campaign that converts disadvantages to advantages:


Of course, positioning runs deep in Laura’s blood. Her father, Al Ries (literally) wrote the book on “Positioning”, in addition to several follow up (and not as interesting) books.

Her post has a lot of lessons for the harris jeyarajes, the bharardwajes, vidyasagars and Raja family’s second generation (and the other umpteen upcoming tune-makers). Instead of trying to be AR Rahman clones (the undisputable #1) that seems to be the way to go, it makes a lot of sense to differentiate from the #1 as much as possible – like focus more on melody and less on percussion, put out pieces inspired by village and folk music, more lyrics-inspired music, more situational tunes, etc.

In a way, this is a painfully long restatement of Guru’s simple plea earlier… there is no strong #2, and there seems to be scope for an Avis.


  1. I am not so sure man. It sounds defensive. We all know that ads aren’t scruplously honest when it comes to descriptive adjectives. Cynical me would think, “Oh yeah, then the No. 1 guy is No. 1 for a reason.”
    The analogy with music composers doesn’t exactly hold. Copying the No.1 Car rental company would be an excellent way to make the customer happy.

  2. Ashok – far from being defensive, it helps differentiate a #2 player. Let’s say the #1 player has been around 10 years longer than a newcomer… then your ads are telling the truth, aren’t they (like this Avis ad)? Large companies have little incentive to lie in such an expensive campaign, without having it come back to haunt them.

    Also, if everyone is copying the #1 player, why would the consumer care about the others? They might as well listen to the #1 music director (or use the #1 car rental company) and move on with their lives.

  3. ok

    You are comparing apples and oranges. It is true YSR cannot say he will copy ARR and become a better No. 2. But car rentals are a different bottle of soda.
    When we rent a car, we notice only a few things – availability of a certain car type when required, and the price. The rental company does not make or design the cars themselves. That Avis has more feelings for us or can warm our bottoms better is largely irrelevant. When they say, “We provide better service than the No.1 company because we are No. 2”, who is going to believe them. Maybe like George Foreman and his grill business, they could get a celebrity to endorse them.
    For eg. extending this critique to airlines is not valid because travelling in a plane is more of an experience. There are serious differences in the way airline crews handle their customers, so you can try push this point. If Singapore Airlines says our crew is better than Air India because AI is more obsessed with volume, all of us will vigorously nod our heads in assent.

    And I am sure half the country doesn’t even know who is No.1 but thanks to this heartwarming ad, everybody will know who is not.

  4. Interesting Ashok… I would take your argument a lot more seriously if this campaign (which is more than just the one ad used here) had not all-but lifted Avis out of obscurity into a strong #2 company. It’s hard to refute the facts, regardless of what we both think. I was merely using a fact to make the analogy.

    Question – where do you think this campaign may have succeeded given the argument you laid out above?

  5. My line of defense is like this: How are you going to prove that Avis is no. 2 because of this campaign.

    This campaign may be cool enough for somebody out to make a quick buck with a popular business book (as you might have guessed, I don’t think much of them.) but in reality who can judge its impact. I was reading in the WSJ that there are ways to judge precise impact of ads and company performance but am not expert enough to go into details. But intuition tells me other factors would have contributed to Avis’ rise even if this rise did happen during the ad time frame. Business books tend to hop, step and jump over the facts, and if you can point to another source I’d be glad to revise my arguments.

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