Avis Buys Zipcar as Public Debates a Test Drive

Today Avis announced that it was acquiring Zipcar for nearly $500 million.

Considering that Zipcar has about 767,000 drivers, the brand couldn’t remain idle and simply allow the imaginations of its members to run rampant. The public craves information—particularly in the wake of a major development like this—and if companies fail to implement an effective follow-up PR campaign, then they risk having public opinion create the narrative, which isn’t always desirable.

Take, for example, these comments on a New York Times article announcing the merger:

Patricia from New York:
Ugh. Another soul-sucking merger. Watch the quality of service disappear after this corporate meal is finished. Burp

Lynn in DC:
I like Zipcar and am apprehensive that the changes to be brought about by Avis will not be good for consumers. Oh well, guess I may have to actually buy a car at some point now.

A Reader, from Detroit, MI:
What a shame. One of the things I really liked about Zipcar was that it was not Avis or Hertz.

This is exactly why brands and companies must develop a well-articulated PR strategy and put it in place before the public has a chance to react. Brands can’t expect consumers to express informed opinions without first providing them with the information they need.

In general the public hates mergers. As capitalists, we all like to think that our purchases are positive reflections of us and our values, particularly when it comes to supporting innovative, creative and lesser-known brands.

Zipcar was communal and cool; its members were known as Zipsters (ok, maybe that’s not so cool). But Avis, really? Your baggy-eyed father rented Avis cars whenever he returned, exhausted and overworked, from boring conferences at cheap hotels in towns outside of desirable cities. For the public, mergers are about culture just as much as economic sense, and this Avis/Zipcar merger has them raising their eyebrows.

So it wasn’t surprising that Avis and Zipcar posted this official statement explaining the logic behind building such an alliance. Unfortunately, it reads like a car rental contract, which probably isn’t a good sign. But it does make some solid points, particularly about extending the Avis brand into the younger university demographic. This quote succinctly characterizes the vision of the merger:

“Avis Budget’s existing infrastructure, scale and experience with managing multiple brands make us uniquely positioned to accelerate the growth and profitability of Zipcar,” Mr. Nelson added. “At the same time, we are committed to retaining the elements of the Zipcar brand and culture that have allowed Zipcar to achieve such rapid growth and success over the last twelve years.”

We’ll watch closely as the public decides whether or not it feels comfortable behind the wheel of this merger.