You’ve probably heard about it already, iiNet are now the number 2 DSL Broadband provider in Australia. If you haven’t, you will, because iiNet have made that little stat the focus of their latest campaign. They’re number two and they’re proud of it.

If the idea of the campaign sounds a little familiar, it’s because it is. The campaign immediately brings to mind one of the most memorable promotions in advertising’s history: American rental car company Avis’ ‘we’re only number two’ campaign.  

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Marketing magazine spoke with regular columnist and everyone’s favourite uncle Geoffrey Bowll to find out why brands are sometimes happy to tell consumers they’re not the best.

“When people see you’re number two, they think you must be doing okay, but you're trying harder because you want to be the biggest, just like Avis,” Bowll says.  “But to say you’re number one means you’re bragging.”

Bowll was quite taken by iiNet’s campaign and sees massive potential for success.

“I just think it’s really cool, it’s lovely, beautiful and dry, it doesn’t care so much, it’s quality stuff,” he says. “The public love it, well I love it, and I’m the public, so screw it.”

Both the iiNet and Avis campaigns make reference to being number two, but don’t mention the market leader. This can surely incite a consumer’s curiosity to know who number one is, but Bowll says it’s a tactic to ensure the campaign stays on message and keeps the focus on themselves.

“Unless they’re identified (number one), there is no benefit to the competition, Bowll says. “If iinet were to say we try harder than Bigpond, then maybe Bigpond would get a bit of attention.

“That Trade Practices Act of 1974, god bless its little heart, allowed Australian companies to do a direct comparison (mention another brand). The public love straight comparisons, it shows a level of honesty and having a go, but marketing managers are fearful of it”

iinet’s rise to nearly the top seems to have happened rapidly (although on their campaign microsite iiNet cheekily write ‘it took 18 years for this to happen overnight’), and they may have a quirky, bearded Irish guy to thank for that. Plastered across many buildings, trains and busses around the country, the iiNet man’s wise guy attitude gets your attention, for better or worse. Bowll doesn’t find him annoying at all, and reckons iiNet got the fit just right.

“He’s lovely,” Bowll says. “He’s got a fabulous weird, slightly vulnerable quality. He probably knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t have a nasty vibe. He looks like a backpacker.”

What do you think of iiNet’s campaigns? Could they ever be number one? Would you prefer the second biggest company to the most popular? Please drop a comment below.