October 16, 2010

Thanks for the great ad slogan. Now $%#@ off!

The real life “Mad Men” who formed the Norman, Craig & Kummel (NCK) advertising agency in 1955 share the credit for a number of classic advertising slogans and campaigns, including the Maidenform series with variable headlines based on the formula “I dreamed I [did or was X] in my Maidenform bra” and the “Ajax: Stronger than dirt” ads.

In 1959, NCK was selected to be the new advertising agency for the rental car company Hertz.

The ad gurus at the firm soon developed a slogan for Hertz that became world famous.

It started out as “Hertz puts you in the driver’s seat.”

According to the trademark application filed by Hertz, that early version was first used in commerce on September 2, 1959.

But it wasn’t long before NCK did a little tweaking and created what became a much better-known slogan: “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat.”

The paperwork Hertz filed when it trademarked this more cordial, request-oriented version said it was first used in commerce on October 16, 1959.

In the early 1960s, print ads, signs and television commercials featuring the line were ubiquitous.

The TV commercials, which pioneered some early special effects, were especially memorable.

Gravity-defying people floated down from the sky into the seats of their rental cars, as viewers heard a vocal group singing “Let Hertz put YOU…in the driver’s seat” in a catchy jingle.

AdAge magazine has listed the series as one of the “Top 100 Advertising Campaigns of the Century.”

It helped make Hertz the largest rental car company in the world.

But in 1963 Hertz’s smaller rival, Avis, started it’s own memorable ad campaign.

Those ads noted that Avis was “only No. 2” in the car rental business. Not as big as Hertz.

Which meant, the ads suggested, that Avis was more motivated to please customers than Hertz — as encapsulated in the quickly famous catchphrase: We try harder.” (Also listed in the AdAge Top 100.)

This snarkily clever angle and slogan were created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency.

It was a jujitsu move that turned Hertz’s position as the largest car rental company against it and gained more attention and customers for Avis.

By 1966, an
article in Time magazine noted that Hertz “is being at least nibbled by ‘We’re only No. 2’ Avis...Avis has upped its revenues by 34% in 1966, compared with Cadillac-sized Hertz's gain of 18%.”

The article also noted the Hertz had unceremoniously dumped Norman, Craig & Kummel and hired a new ad agency.

That agency never came up with anything as well remembered as “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat.” And, Hertz has continued to use the slogan off and on in more recent decades.

However, as dramatized by the TV show
Mad Men, the ad agency business in the 1960s was rough.

It still is.

But I doubt if the ad biz of today will ever be viewed as being anywhere near as cool as the world of Mad Men.

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