Avis Budget EMEA chief commercial officer Troy Warfield and Jim Thornton, creative director at VCCP discuss the unusual working relationship that got them there…
Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
Jim Thornton, Creative Director, VCCP
Robert Townsend, the chief executive of Avis in the 60s, recounts in his book, 'Up The Organisation', how when looking for an ad agency to help transform the fortunes of his business, he was told by Bill Bernbach of DDB: "If you want five times the impact [as your competitors for every dollar spent], give us 90 days to learn enough about your business to apply our skills, and then run every ad we write where we tell you to run it.
"Our people work to see how effective their ideas are. But most clients put our ads through a succession of Assistant VPs and VPs of advertising, marketing and legal until we hardly recognise the remnants.
"If you promise to run them just as we write them, you’ll have every art director and copywriter in my shop moonlighting on your account."
According to Townsend they shook hands on the deal there and then.
Townsend then went on to produce the now famous six-point contract to remind both client and agency of their objectives, roles and promises.
He clearly didn’t believe in paying good money for a dog, and then barking himself.
Fast forward 60-odd years and during contract negotiations, Troy Warfield of Avis Budget Group, suggested resurrecting the six-point contract for exactly the same reasons.
What’s fascinating about the contract is how so little in our business has changed. The biggest barrier to creating great work is still the succession of Assistant VPs and VPs of advertising, marketing and legal who to try to "improve" the work, even if that means riding roughshod over the experience and expertise of their agency.
With regards to our Avis Budget work, there’s been much debate between agency and client over the last six months and where those debates could not be adequately settled, the contract was successfully invoked.
Had it not been, I can confidently say the work would not have turned out as strong, simple or original as it has.
Avis and DDB six-point contract - 1963
1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB and DDB will never know as much about the rent-a-car business as Avis.
2. The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter to try Avis.
3. A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with five times the effectiveness of the competition’s advertising.
4. To this end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve ads which are submitted. Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).
5. To this end, DDB will only submit for approval those ads which they truly as an agency recommend. They will not "see what Avis thinks of that one."
6. Media selection should be the primary responsibility of DDB. However, DDB is expected to take the initiative to get guidance from Avis in weighting of markets or special situations, particularly in those areas where cold numbers do not indicate the real picture. Media judgments are open to discussion. The conviction should prevail. Compromise should be avoided.
Troy Warfield, Chief Commercial Officer, Avis Budget EMEA
The contract and relationship between Avis and DDB in the 60s produced an ad campaign that challenged advertising conventions. It was so successful that it’s still studied by marketing and advertising students today.
The tagline devised by DDB, "We try harder", became part of the Avis DNA. And it features in our new advertising campaign, because we believe it is as relevant to our audience today as it was to our audience 50 years ago.
I see a lot of similarities between Robert Townsend’s relationship at DDB and our relationship with VCCP. Townsend bought into a creative that broke the rules because he trusted DDB to deliver fantastic campaigns that also delivered the desired business results.
When I met Jim Thornton and his team at VCCP, I bought into their talent and creative philosophy, but also the clear metrics they use to measure the results of their work. As I got to know the team I knew that this was an agency that I trusted and respected.
I was reading Robert Townsend’s ‘Up the Organisation’ when I joined Avis and appointed VCCP. The contract drawn up between DDB and Avis is featured under ‘A is for Advertising’.
I read it and immediately sent a copy to the team at DDB saying "I’m up for this if you are". They agreed and we resurrected the contract.
It isn’t always easy to stick to the contract, but both sides play it back to each other when we need to. Together we’ve created two strong brand campaigns for multiple markets and media in just six months.
They are campaigns that support specific business goals and mark a step change for the car rental industry in general. The only way we’ve been able to do this is to live the contract.
Should everyone adopt this contract? I think it depends on the maturity of the client agency relationship, levels of trust and what you are looking to achieve with your advertising campaign.
Following this contract is not a path for the light-hearted, but there’s no point signing the contract and living old behaviours. And I do believe it brings out the best in each party.
You can review our latest ad campaigns and judge for yourselves.