For more than fifty years, Avis’ battle cry was “We try harder”, leveraging their number two status against auto car rental rival, Hertz. During that time, Avis significantly closed the leader gap and became a solid and respected brand. They also pioneered the idea of making car rental companies available in airports instead of at downtown locations. For many consumers including me, that famous tagline is stuck in my head, even though in 2012 they dropped the brand phrase, for a new one; “It’s your space”.

No matter what the goal is, taglines are just part of the mix of elements to create a memorable brand.

However, if the tagline idea is not woven into the organization’s culture and a part of employee training, the phrase is no more than a bunch of propaganda words.

Case in point, a recent experience with Avis in Columbus, Ohio.
After years of building their brand in my head, with their tagline, professional commercials, slick direct mail, PR, and other marketing, one awful experience turned all of that positive branding on its head for me.

I often talk about branding touch points as opportunities to connect to customers and prove one’s brand. Avis had at least 5 touch points with me and blew them all.

I’m a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan.  My husband and I had tickets to a game.
Our flight from Tampa arrived in Columbus after 10PM on a Tuesday. Days before my trip, I had booked my car through American Express travel and planned on using points for my five day rental. I reserved a luxury car for around $80 a day.

After handling the registration detail at the airport counter, I presented my e-voucher to the Avis rep. He was not sure how to apply the certificate and needed to ask his manager. After a few minutes, they both returned and acted like American Express points were some foreign language. They told me that only an original voucher would do and that I could not use the points. Nowhere on the e-voucher did it say that. Neither attendant provided a hint of gratitude that I had selected their brand, or any empathy or suggestions to find a solution to use my points. The experience was not a great way to start a relationship with customer.

Next, we picked up the car. The vehicle brand was a Lincoln, but the model a station wagon, not what I was expecting as a luxury ride. The car was not clean. The outside was covered with some kind of sticky sap. The inside of the car reeked of cigarettes and had a musty odor. It was late and we were tired so we drove off and planned to call Avis in morning to swap the stinky car.

The next day I called the 1-800 number. After being on hold for 15 minutes, I explained the disgusting car situation to the agent. I told her what part of town we were in and requested a convenient location to make the switch instead of having to go back to airport. She put me on hold again for 10 more minutes and then returned with a solution. “No problem,” she said. “All you need to do is go to this location and they will swap out the car.” She assured me that she had called them and we were all set to make the switch. Brand redemption! An employee who is a problem solver.

We arrived at the Avis location nearest to us. I entered the store and was not greeted with a warm welcome, but instead a stern “What can I do for you?” I explained the situation, “I’ve got a luxury rental for five days and it smells like a dirty ashtray. As per the Avis 1-800 agent, I am here to get a replacement car.”

The desk agent, without asking any other questions, stated: “We don’t want that stinky car either. You will have to go to the airport where you got it.”

Not a happy customer, I asked to speak to a manager. A manager appeared, and I explained the situation again; that I had been assured by the national brand call center that I could get a new car here. Again, I received no empathy and no solution. Maybe Avis has been “trying harder” to consistently disappoint customers all these years.

Our schedule was full of planned activities and going to airport was out of the way. So we endured a less-than luxury car experience for four more days. Saturday, we had a very early flight. We showed up at the airport at 5:30 AM and were greeted by another even grumpier Avis employee. Again, expressing not one word of kindness, a thank you, or any customer appreciation when we returned the car and received the $700 bill. Where does Avis find these folks? A planet called Miserable? Are they not trained, or do they hire the wrong people to represent their brand?