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Hertz Hopes Mascot, Characters and Owen Wilson Will Drive Rentals

Posted by Barry Silverstein on May 4, 2011 01:00 PM

The new marketing campaign being launched by Hertz breaks convention for rental car companies in two respects: it uses a mascot, and it features live characters to differentiate Hertz from its competition.

The mascot, at right, is a little yellow animated guy that looks like he may have just escaped from a video game. Voiced by actor Owen Wilson, "Horatio" (the cheery mascot's name) is featured in a series of television ads directed by Tucker Gates, who has worked on such TV series as The Office and Parks and Recreation.

Thirty and sixty-second versions of the Wilson-voiced campaign (watch below) will run on network and cable television. The deal also marks the first time Wilson is working on the commercial side of the street.

Horatio was named in honor of Horatio Nelson Jackson who, as Hertz CEO Mark Frissora tells the New York Times, was one of the first to drive a car cross-country. Brand advertisers have used mascots for years, and they continue to be popular in modern-day advertising.

Such mascots as Tony the Tiger (Kellogg's Frosted Flakes), Speedy (Alka-Seltzer) and the Aflac duck enliven ads and attract attention. But for rental car companies, mascots are rare, so Hertz is definitely breaking the mold in a move to "help us re-establish ourselves as a culture brand," says Catherine East of DDB New York, the agency behind the new campaign.

Hertz introduced Horatio and the new campaign to the world yesterday via its Twitter feed:

Typically, rental car companies talk about the benefits of their service, the features of their cars, or the wonderfulness of their employees. Hertz is going in a different direction here as well. The brand's new campaign introduces two characters, named "Gas" and "Brake," both played by actors.

The characters are central to a series of occurrences that happen to them and reflect their personalities in each of three ads. Gas, as you might expect, lives on the edge and is always looking for a good time. (The character is portrayed as a female.) Brake, in contrast, is a rather conservative and cautious male who, well, always seems to be putting on the brakes one way or the other.

"This campaign is about the customer and how Hertz aligns with their lifestyles and travel preferences," says Frissora in a press release. "With state-of-the-art technology, best-in-class fleet of cars, unrivaled ease-of-use, convenient locations, and exceptional customer service, Hertz understands each customer is different, some of us are the Gas and some are the Brake, and offers flexible solutions to meet the variety of different travel and transportation needs."

A new microsite reinforces the campaign by introducing the characters and showing the commercial, offers a quiz that tells users if they are "The Gas" or "The Brake," and encourages them to rate their Facebook friends as Gas or Brake, too:

Additionally, Hertz is wooing site visitors by offering a drawing for 100 free weekend car rentals plus the opportunity to win a Chevy Camaro SS.

Given the ages of the characters, the wacky experiences they have, and the contest for weekend car rentals, it sure looks like Hertz is trying to boost its rental business with young leisure travelers instead of the business market that rental car companies traditionally go after.

The last time a rental car company really shook things up promotionally was probably a very long time ago — think Avis with its classic "We try harder" campaign. Clearly Hertz, who has been somewhat staid in its marketing approach, is looking for a break-out campaign with Horatio, Gas and Brake. Let's see if this one puts Hertz in the driver's seat again. 

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