Nobody’s perfect. Just ask your competitors. They’ll be happy to point out the weak spot in even your best product or service. The question is what do you say about those weaknesses? Do you ignore them? Deny them? Defend them? Try and put a little spin on the story? There’s a better approach. And it’s based on one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.
When weakness became a badge of honor.
It was 1962. This company had not turned a profit in over 10 years. Their only competitor was eating their lunch. And their brave new president had decided to bet the farm on an outrageous new ad campaign that his executive team hated.
The story is a classic.
The company was Avis Rent A Car. Their competitor, Hertz. And the new ad campaign trumpeted the embarrassing fact that Avis was No. 2 in a two-horse race. One of their very first ads ran the headline, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else.”
Even though the Avis people didn’t like the campaign at first, the car-renting public reacted very differently. In one year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million (and remember, these were 1962 dollars). “We try harder” would go on to become one of the longest running ad campaigns in history.
It’s the Silver Lining advantage.
There’s a lesson here. If you’re in a weak position, don’t try to hide it. Own it. And, find the silver lining. Effectively, Avis was saying, “Because we’re number two, we have to try harder, and that means a better customer experience for you.” The company played this up in a big way. They even unveiled an “Avis Manifesto” that championed “No. 2ism”. It was their Silver Lining advantage.
Think silver, not spin.
Spin is dishonest and tries to sidestep the bad news. The Silver Lining approach says, “Yep, there really is a cloud. It’s ugly, and it’s ours. We aren’t denying it or trying to hide it. But we want you to know that it has made us stronger, and it has a very valuable silver lining for you.”
That’s why Avis ads went on to say things such as, “Avis can’t afford to make you wait” … “Avis can’t afford not to be nice” … and my favorite, “Avis needs you. You don’t need Avis. Avis never forgets this.”
Humility wins customers.
It’s great to be No. 1. But when everyone in your market is thumping chests and claiming to be the biggest and baddest, a different approach can be surprisingly attractive to customers.
What’s your big weakness? Small market share? Old technology? A recent mishap? Own it. And then look for the silver lining (“yes, we had a disastrous service outage last year … and it was our fault … but it means we now have more backups in place than anyone in our industry”).
Humility in marketing is a rare and beautiful thing. And it may even turn your company’s big weakness into its best selling point.
Alan Boyd says
Really enjoy reading your blog.
I’ve innately done this ‘silver lining’ over and over in my own business but it’s fun to see it laid out as you have done. As a small agency we’re always preaching lean and mean vs big, slow, and scattered.
Also, like your example, we had a host account with client’s sites get hacked – even with more than due diligence in place – and now take a significantly more proactive approach to security than other agencies that have not faced this. It’s become a big selling point.
Repurposing is one way winners turn obstacles into opportunity.
Thanks for sharing.
John Reed says
Thanks for the kind words, Alan! Your experience with turning a security breach into a selling point is a great silver lining story.