Morgan StanleyAT YOUR SIDE CAMPAIGN
IT PAYS TO DISCOVER REVISITED CAMPAIGN
MAKE A STATEMENT CAMPAIGN
TOW TRUCK CAMPAIGN
NOTE: Since the initial writing of this essay Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. shortened its name to Morgan Stanley. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
After Morgan Stanley Group Inc. merged with Dean Witter, Discover & Company in 1997, the resulting company retained Dean Witter's well-established tagline "We measure success one investor at a time." With the advent of the twenty-first century, the firm toyed with new taglines, eventually settling on "One client at a time." Although sounding similar in nature, the new tagline reflected a transition in the firm's marketing approach, which now emphasized a commitment to long-lasting client relationships. In 2004 Morgan Stanley and its longtime advertising agency, Leo Burnett, launched the "At Your Side" advertising campaign, which took the concept further, showing Morgan Stanley financial advisers acting like close family members in a series of humorous television spots. The goal was to address everyday financial needs with which the audience could relate, such as paying for a child's college education or wedding or funding early retirement.
The television spots in the "At Your Side" campaign, accounting for the bulk of Morgan Stanley's $80 million budget in 2004, continued to be shown in 2005. Each relied on an attention-grabbing trick: leading the viewer to believe that a Morgan Stanley adviser was a close family member. One commercial, for example, showed a couple sitting on a beach. The man—who thought he knew how to tweak the couple's investment portfolio so that a dream house could be bought—turned out to be a Morgan Stanley adviser. The real husband was napping on his wife's lap and popped his head up when he learned the good news.
The "At Your Side" campaign won awards and helped Morgan Stanley elevate itself above a crowded media landscape. Its success did not, however, ensure that Leo Burnett would keep the business. With the installation of new leadership at Morgan Stanley in 2005, the advertising account was put into review, and rather than participate, Leo Burnett severed a 17-year relationship with the client.
For old-line firms like Morgan Stanley, involved in selling security brokerage services to the public, the conventional marketing approach for many years had been to emphasize knowledge and competency—essentially conveying the message "We're the experts"—while projecting a sense of trust. For many years Salomon Smith Barney employed actor John Houseman, who intoned, "They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it." Another (now defunct) firm coined, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." During the 1980s Dean Witter, before merging with Morgan Stanley, used the advertising slogan "You look like you just heard from Dean Witter." During the 1990s it proclaimed, "We measure success one investor at a time." When Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley merged in 1997, the tagline continued to be used by the combined retail business.
With the rise of Internet brokers in the 1990s, financial advertising took a dramatic turn. Newcomers like E*Trade Group and Ameritrade Holding Corporation spent heavily to establish their brands using irreverent humor and by treating stock trading as a game and mocking traditional stockbrokers. They appealed to a young, broader demographic, leaving the old guard like Morgan Stanley to appear stodgy and only interested in already wealthy customers.
In the 2000s Morgan Stanley began to adjust its approach. It tried to skew to a young demographic in the retail business while promoting its electronic capabilities, as evidenced by new advertising campaigns developed in 2000 by Leo Burnett that eschewed the "one investor at a time" tagline to center around a new tagline, "Well Connected." The implication was that Morgan Stanley combined electronic connectivity with the insider relationships of a well-established firm. Likewise an institutional campaign launched in 2001 relied on the tagline "Network the World."
The bull market of the 1990s gave way to a recession, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For the past 20 years Morgan Stanley and other firms offering investment services had spent a great deal of money appealing to small investors, but that strategy no longer made sense. Cheap online transactions had taken all of the profit out of the transaction side of the industry, eliminating the executional advantage that financial firms had long held. Now the likes of Morgan Stanley found that their profits were in dispensing advice—independent, trustworthy advice.
In 2002, after five years of integrating the Dean Witter operations, Morgan Stanley decided to consolidate its advertising account at Leo Burnett, which was charged with creating a campaign that sought to present a unified message behind all of Morgan Stanley's products and strengthen the Morgan Stanley brand. A new tagline was crafted, one that would provide resonance with the firm's past while continuing to develop a new approach to reaching out to potential customers: "One client at a time." The goal was to portray Morgan Stanley as a firm that despite its size cared about customers on an individual basis. The initial television spots showed Morgan Stanley advisers talking emotionally about how they helped their clients. In one commercial a couple was helped to retire to Paris, while in a second a daughter's tuition to the Julliard School was the subject. In 2004 Leo Burnett pursued similar themes using humor in the "At Your Side" campaign, which continued to use the "One client at a time" tagline.
Morgan Stanley's "At Your Side" campaign targeted retail customers, the focus on partnering with baby boomer parents (roughly 40 to 55 years of age), the kind of people who might be dealing with early retirement or their children's weddings. The younger investors that the TV spots of the previous two years had hoped to reach were not the primary concern, nor were people past retirement age. The new campaign, rather, centered on the needs of upper-middle-class parents, either married or single, or empty nesters looking to take the next step in their lives. These people had no illusions of becoming day traders and wanted the kind of asset-management services that a website or their local bank was unable to offer. Although Morgan Stanley no longer courted small investors, there were still plenty of potential customers. At the start of the twenty-first century, some 11 million households used professional financial advisers. That number was expected to grow to 60 million within 15 years.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The "Morgan" in Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company refers to the legendary banker J.P. Morgan, who in the late 1800s and early 1900s was one of the most powerful men in the world. In 1935, 20 years after his death, J.P. Morgan & Company spun off its securities and investment banking businesses as Morgan Stanley & Company.
There was no shortage of entities hoping to carve out a share of that huge market of potential customers. Electronic brokers like E*Trade and Ameritrade remained competitors for Morgan Stanley, primarily because they spent a great deal of money on advertising, their ads were attention getting, and their marketing at the very least created a great deal of clutter in the marketplace for investment products and services. But given the kind of people the "At Your Side" campaign hoped to appeal to, Internet rivals were not primary concerns. Competition instead came from other quarters. Increasingly insurance companies and banks encroached on Morgan Stanley's turf, all of them attempting to provide customers with a one-stop shopping center of financial services. Mutual fund companies, such as the Fidelity Group and the Vanguard Group, also provided competition. In addition Morgan Stanley had to contend with competition from rivals in the retail/wholesale financial-management sector. They included longtime king Merrill Lynch as well as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup subsidiary Salomon Smith Barney, and Charles Schwab.
The strategy behind the "At Your Side" campaign on the consumer side was to continue the "One client at a time" theme and further position Morgan Stanley not just as a firm interested in helping clients build wealth, but as a firm whose advisers cared about customers' lives and were as committed as a member of the family in helping them realize their cherished dreams. Morgan Stanley was not alone in pursuing the partnership theme, however. Writing for U.S. Banker, Matthew de Paula quoted Bill Wreaks, publisher and chief analyst of the Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing, who commented, "This whole notion of partnership is very evident in a lot of financial advertising…. What makes that different from the past, is that before it was like 'We're the experts, we know what we're doing and you should have confidence in what we're doing. But back off.' And now it's about what we can do together." According to Wreaks, "This trend came about partly because financial firms are finally clueing into what advertisers in other sectors have realized for a long time: everything starts with people." It was a lesson learned a long time ago by consumer brands, which predicated their marketing approach with people in mind, seeking to show how the product or service fit into customers' everyday lives.
To make the point that Morgan Stanley could be a partner and play a role in everyday aspects of clients' lives, Leo Burnett decided to employ humor, "not crazy or ridiculous like the E*Trade ads from years past," Wreaks told de Paula. Rather, Morgan Stanley opted for "light humor, fun and subtle." The creative team also adopted a misdirection ploy, coaxing the audience to believe one thing, then pulling a surprise to get their attention. The Morgan Stanley television spots led the audience to believe that a friendly Morgan Stanley financial adviser was a family member. For example, in one commercial a woman was shown cheering wildly for a child in a soccer game, berating the referee, and urging other players to pass the ball to "her" kid—leading the viewer to see her as a typical soccer mom. A bystander then asked her which child was hers, only to learn that she was in fact the financial adviser of the child's parent. The implication was that she cared as much about the child as the client, that she shared the client's dreams. Another spot showed a couple sitting on the beach. The man said that if some adjustments were made to their investment portfolio, they could afford their dream home. The wife then asked her husband what he thought, at which point another man (her husband) sat up. He had been hidden all this time because his head was on his wife's lap. Once again the viewer was tricked into thinking a Morgan Stanley adviser was a close family member. In another spot an adviser at a ribbon-cutting ceremony was confused with a CEO, and in a fourth an adviser shared personal stories of a child at a graduation party as if he were the father of the honored child.
The "At Your Side" spots were clearly not attempting to be believable. Rather, they were intended to be symbolic. Some viewers accepted the commercials' premise and played along with the humor, while others took a more literal approach and regarded the fictional advisers as little more than disturbed stalkers. The spots—loved, hated, or merely tolerated—were at the very least memorable.
A CAST OF THOUSANDS
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company's longtime advertising agency, Leo Burnett, was responsible for some of the most recognizable product characters in advertising history. These included the Jolly Green Giant, Morris the Cat, Charlie the Tuna, Tony the Tiger, the Maytag repairman, the Marlboro Man, and the Pillsbury Doughboy.
From Morgan Stanley's perspective the "At Your Side" commercials were very successful. According to Scott Spry, executive vice president of brand advertising and brand analytics for Phoenix Marketing International, quoted in a May 2005 Investment News article, "The campaign generates extremely high recall, and it breaks through the clutter." Unlike advertising that talked about the company, which fared poorly in the Phoenix survey, the Morgan Stanley spots were the top rated among both "general" and "affluent" investors. Beth Allan, president of Phoenix's advertising and brand analytics division, explained that "people like the relevant scenario. They can see themselves in the situations that the Morgan ads portray, like a wedding and early retirement. People want to know what a company can do to help you do well. The core notion is that the consumer is in charge, not the company."
Leo Burnett's work on the "At Your Side" campaign was also recognized by the advertising industry. It won the Corporate Image award in the annual Financial Communications Society Portfolio Awards. In addition "At Your Side" garnered a Silver in the Financial Services/Image category of the 2005 Effies, presented by the New York American Marketing Association to honor the year's most effective advertising campaigns.
Neither awards nor a 17-year relationship guaranteed that Leo Burnett would retain the Morgan Stanley account, however. In June 2005 Morgan Stanley changed chief executive officers, unseating Philip Purcell, whose connection with Leo Burnett dated back to his days with Dean Witter well before the 1997 merger. As part of the changes that came with the installation of new leadership, Morgan Stanley's $80 million account was put into review. Leo Burnett was invited to participate, but in August 2005 it decided to resign as the advertising agency of record.
Baar, Aaron. "Morgan Stanley Bows Campaign." Adweek, March 25, 2002, p. 8.
――――――. "Morgan Stanley to Sum It Up." Adweek, February 18, 2002, p. 5.
Cardona, Mercedes M. "Morgan Stanley Pursues Younger, Well-Heeled Investors." Advertising Age, August 28, 2000, p. 3.
Curtis, Carol E. "The Next Hot Products: Advice." U.S. Banker, May 1999.
de Paula, Matthew. "In '04, Bank Ads Scored Big. Message Delivers." U.S. Banker, January 2005, p. 38.
McGeehan, Patrick. "Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Drops a Familiar Image to Take Aim at Electronic Brokerage Firms." New York Times, August 28, 2000, p. C1.
Paikert, Charles. "Majors Firms Increase Advertising Spending." Investment News, May 16, 2005, p. 3.
NOTE: Since the initial writing of this essay Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co, shortened its name to Morgan Stanley. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
In 1999 the San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners won the $90 million account of Discover Financial Services Inc. and its Discover credit card operation, which was owned by the investment bank Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. Although it was the fourth-leading credit-card brand—trailing only Visa, MasterCard, and American Express—and boasted the largest independent card network in the United States, the Discover credit card was regarded as an also-ran in the industry. Its primary competitive advantage over the years had been what was called the "Cashback Bonus." This program was the focal point of the company's marketing for more than a decade, as reflected in the tagline "It pays to Discover." As the Discover card tried to move beyond its one-note advertising pitch, Goodby dropped the tagline. Two years later, however, the agency brought back the venerable tagline and once again concentrated on the Cashback Bonus feature.
The new campaign featured both television and print advertising, along with other elements that included the sponsorship of a NASCAR race car. In addition to pursuing the rebate theme, the campaign also promoted a new product, the Discover 2GO card, a minicard encapsulated in a protective coding that was suitable for attachment to a key chain.
The campaign, which began in June 2002, ran through 2004, at which point Discover asked for new ideas from Goodby and competing ad agencies to move away from its cash-back program. The campaign had succeeded in growing the Discover card business but not enough to take it to the next level and establish the card as a serious competitor to the top three brands. Nevertheless, Goodby's work was well received, and the agency retained the account.
The Discover card was launched by Sears, Roebuck & Company in the 1980s and soon established itself in the credit-card industry. Although it would become a cash cow for its eventual owner, Morgan Stanley, the Discover card was very much an also-ran compared to rivals American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. Its only significant advantage was the Cashback Bonus rebate offered to cardholders based on how much they used their cards. This facet was the keystone of the tagline "It pays to Discover," coined in 1988. A major obstacle preventing the growth of the Discover card was its inability to issue cards through banks, which had become the exclusive preserve of MasterCard and Visa. The task of going it alone became even more difficult in the 1990s following a wave of bank mergers, which resulted in ever-larger entities issuing MasterCard and Visa cards. Large banks were capable of using economies of scale to offer better terms and services and, in turn, to attract more customers.
Led by a new management team, the Discover card tried to fight back in the late 1990s. It issued a platinum card, which was backed by the bulk of the company's marketing budget, in hopes of gaining business in new market segments, while the Bravo and Private Option cards were dropped. But the creative approach was muddled, and in late 1998 the advertising account was put up for review. Considered something of a long shot, Goodby emerged the winner in early 1999, despite having developed only one minor campaign in the financial-services area in its history. Nevertheless, Discover was banking on the San Francisco agency's sterling reputation for producing award-winning advertising for clients across a wide range of industries. The Discover card's vice president of advertising and communications, Catherine Davis, told the press, "We are confident that Goodby will provide a new perspective and fresh approach that will help Discover Card reposition itself."
The company particularly wanted to dispel the notion among consumers that the Discover card had a low merchant-acceptance rate and offered nothing more than rebates, a feature the company believed had lost some of its luster since the industry had begun to copy the idea of cash-back bonuses. Discover did not necessarily want to drop its longtime tagline, "It pays to Discover," but it did want to change its message. "It the past we had focused on 'no annual fee' and 'cash-back bonus,' but the industry over the last five to seven years has copied that, so it's not as unique as it used to be," Davis told Miriam Kreinin Souccar, writing for American Banker. When the first Goodby campaign opened in the fall of 1999, it featured a new tagline, "There's always something more to Discover," the card's first marketing effort to focus on something other than the cash-back feature. Instead, the ads promoted a broader spectrum of card benefits. After two years, however, further research revealed that the "It pays to Discover" tagline retained resonance with consumers. In a Credit Card Management article Kate Fitzgerald wrote, "According to an insider at Discover, the vast majority of consumers still immediately recalled that line, inked in 1988, while employees at the company struggled to remember the credit card's more recent themes." Deciding to take advantage of the lingering power of the discarded tagline, Discover reprised the "It pays to Discover" theme in a broad new campaign launched in June 2002 in which, once again, the card's cash-back program was front and center. In addition, the company also promoted its new 2GO card, the first card in the industry small enough to attach to a key chain.
The Discover card's core market was described by David Robertson, publisher of the credit-card industry newsletter Nilson Report, as "meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar, middle of the road." The new "It Pays to Discover" campaign not only wanted to maintain a connection with this middle-market audience but wanted to reach out to other consumers as well. Edgy humor would be used to promote the new 2GO minicard to the highly coveted segment of adults between the ages of 18 and 40, people who were cost-conscious but who led active lifestyles. Moreover, research indicated that these consumers were likely to use the minicard in fast-food and convenience stores, venues that generally experienced a low volume of credit-card use. It was also thought that the 2GO card, a technological innovation in the staid credit-card landscape, would be an advantage in pitching Discover to a new generation of users entering the marketplace.
IT PAYS TO REMEMBER
The Discover card grew out of a diversification effort of Sears, Roebuck & Company, which in 1981 acquired the securities firm Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. In 1985 Sears launched the Discover card as a combined credit and financial services card that also offered savings accounts through Greenwood Trust Company, a bank that had been acquired by a Sears subsidiary. Financial difficulties forced Sears to spin off Dean Witter and the Discover card in the early 1990s. Then, in 1997, Dean Witter, Discover & Co. merged with Morgan Stanley Group Inc. to create the Discover card's corporate parent, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.
When the new campaign was launched in June 2002, Discover was firmly entrenched as the number four brand among credit cards. According to Credit Card Management and research conducted by Brandweek, its $93.3 billion in total sales in 2001 was well ahead of the $12.4 billion generated by number five Diners Club, making Discover the largest independent credit card network in the United States. But the Discover card also trailed the top three brands by a considerable margin: American Express recorded total sales in 2001 of $224.5 billion, followed by MasterCard's $518 billion and category leader Visa's $916 billion. The amount of money the top brands spent on advertising in 2001 also reflected their standing. Discover spent $82.1 million in advertising, compared to $251.3 million for Visa, $197.3 million for MasterCard, and $153.9 billion for American Express. Diners Club spent a mere $8.8 million.
Aside from the hefty budgets they had at their disposal, the Discover card's larger rivals had either carved out clear niches or had honed highly effective marketing appeals. Historically American Express played on its exclusivity, as reflected by the memorable tagline "Membership has its privileges," which was dropped in the 1990s as the culture changed. Nevertheless, American Express was able to continue to pursue a successful niche strategy of appealing to high-end consumers. MasterCard and Visa fought it out to gain business in a much broader market, and both were able to develop effective ad campaigns. Visa scored with its "Everywhere you want to be" tagline, while MasterCard effectively exploited its "Priceless" campaign.
One of the disadvantages of the Discover card was that it could be used only in the United States, and even there it was not as widely accepted as its three larger competitors. For many consumers the card was thus relegated to second-class status. Part of the problem was not being able to distribute the cards through banks, although that provided a competitive advantage as well; since Visa and MasterCard could not make specific claims on their products or services, they could not guarantee that the banks would honor them. In addition, according to a 2002 Brandweek article, "Discover Card edged out MasterCard, Visa and American Express on the category's most crucial driver. Fees and rates used to be a point of differentiation. But not these days, when interest rates are down low enough to make them meaningless. Discover indexed higher than the ideal and competitors because it gives money back."
Given the results of market research, Discover decided to play to its strengths in the new campaign, reviving the "It pays to Discover" tagline and once again emphasizing its rebate program. At the same time it promoted the new 2GO card, along with merchant alliances, exclusive sponsorships, and other perks and privileges available to card members. The broad campaign included television spots and print ads as well as other elements.
The first phase in the new "It Pays to Discover" campaign featured three television spots, two of which highlighted the Cashback Bonus program, with the third focusing on the 2GO card. The most memorable was titled "First Date," a 30-second spot that recorded a series of first-date experiences by a young, single male lawyer, each one starting out promising but ending up a disaster. One of his dates hated lawyers, another asked if he liked to shop, and a third thought that he was "kind of boring," while yet another woman was quick to ask, "Where do you think this thing is going between us? Because my clock's kind of ticking." The silver lining in this dark cloud was that, by using his Discover card to pay for his bad dates, the man accrued a Cashback Bonus award of $160. A final date with another lawyer offered some hope, as a voice-over commented that the man might someday use his Cashback Bonus to help pay for an engagement ring. This was followed by the tagline "Discover Card's New Cashback Bonus Program, where you get paid for the things you buy anyway." The ads began airing on June 2, 2002, during a NASCAR telecast, and they continued throughout the rest of the year during early morning news programs and prime-time shows as well as on syndicated programs and on cable networks.
To provide continuity with the new television commercials, the ongoing print campaign in magazines, which focused on the Discover card's many merchant relationships and its growing acceptance among retailers across the United States, also adopted the "It pays to Discover" tagline. A $5,000 shopping spree promotion was launched with Lucky, a magazine devoted to shopping. Furthermore, the company promoted itself in other novel ways. It sponsored a NASCAR car for six races, including the race on which the new television spots had their debut. Discover acquired the naming rights to an Atlanta-area shopping mall, which became Discover Mills and where card members could take advantage of exclusive offers and promotions. The Discover card also beefed up its website, where card members could redeem Cashback Bonus awards as well as pay their bills and take advantage of other customer-service activities.
The Discover card continued to pursue the "It Pays to Discover" campaign in 2003 and 2004, releasing a new wave of television commercials. One 2003 effort, titled "Sporting Goods," featured a father who spent a great deal of money buying sporting equipment for a son who was not athletic. In the end he used his Cashback Bonus to help the boy pursue success with chess. Other 2003 television spots used off-the-wall humor to promote the 2GO card. In one a man used the card to pay for lunch, but as he left the restaurant, he was assaulted by ninjas. The man tried to fend them off with his 2GO card, prompting the comment from a voiceover "Discover 2GO. Convenient. Innovative. Not good for ninja fights." Other spots featured a woman trying to use her 2GO card as a paddle in a ping-pong tournament and a man attempting to use the card to cut a tangled fishing line. In 2004 Discover offered a 10 percent Cashback Bonus in a two-month push to encourage members to buy groceries with their cards. One television spot in this effort, titled "10," used a variety of everyday items that appeared side by side to form the numeral 10, such as a long package and a wreath, a baguette and a hat, and a quart of milk and a melon. The idea was successful with both merchants and card members, leading to a similar campaign with restaurants in the fall of 2004. By then, however, Discover had decided once again to move away from its cash-back program and, as the account was put up for review, asked Goodby and other ad agencies to present new ideas.
The marketing campaign revisiting the "It pays to Discover" tagline was successful on several levels. According to an October 2004 article in Credit Card Management, Discover, because of its marketing and other initiatives, was at the top of the list of "comeback of the year" stories in the credit-card industry. "But competitors have adopted both rewards and minicards, making Discover a seeming also-ran." Indeed, the landscape was experiencing a significant change. In October 2004 a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed Discover to form partnerships with banks as well as with other companies, such as Wal-Mart and General Electric Consumer Finance.
In addition, although the prospects appeared to be improving for the Discover card, Morgan Stanley came under pressure from investors to spin off the business. Investors argued that the card's middle-market clientele was a poor fit with Morgan Stanley, failing to offer synergy with a corporate parent whose core investment-banking business targeted far wealthier consumers and corporations. After initially indicating, during a period of internal dissent, that it would unload Discover, Morgan Stanley announced in August 2005 that it would keep the business. Goodby also prevailed in the account review for the Discover card and looked to build on the work accomplished in the "It Pays to Discover" campaign.
"Card-Carrying Members Share Perks, Pet Peeves about Plastic." Brandweek, February 25, 2002, p. 18.
Cardona, Mercedes M. "Small Credit Cards Get Big Ad Pushes." Advertising Age, September 8, 2003, p. 3.
Cassidy, Hilary. "Sports Provides Value for Card Collectors." Brandweek, June 17, 2002, p. S42.
――――――. "Top Cards Still Hold Solid Hands." Brandweek, June 23, 2003, p. S36.
Davis, Ann, and Robin Sidel. "Morgan Stanley Reassesses Plan to Pursue Spinoff of Discover Card." Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2005, p. A1.
De Paula, Matthew. "Ad Beat: Moving beyond Merely Wallet-Size." U.S. Banker, May 2003, p. 35.
"Discover Rediscovers Discover." Credit Card Management, October 2004, p. 6.
Fitzgerald, Kate. "No Fads in These Ads." Credit Card Management, December 2002, p. 18.
Purcell, Philip J. "Sizing Up a Credit Card That's Out on Its Own." New York Times, April 5, 2005, p. C20.
Souccar, Miriam Kreinin. "Discover Seeks Broader Appear with New Ads." American Banker, September 17, 1999, p. 9.
NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, Dean Witter, Discover & Company became a unit of Morgan Stanley. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
The Discover card burst onto the scene in 1986 with something no other card offered—a year-end cash bonus equal to 1 percent of purchases. The cash-back feature, coupled with no annual fee, made a lot of sense to value-conscious consumers who were accustomed to paying for the convenience of using a credit card. In its first six years alone, Discover had already put $355 million back into the pockets of its cardholders. It was not long, however, before competitors began issuing their own rebate and no-fee cards, which eroded Discover's once sure hold on the "value" market. Convincing consumers to use one card over another became an increasingly tough sell. In addition, most credit card companies issued multiple, targeted cards for different market segments. An American Express spokeswoman explained the trend to American Banker by saying, "If we have fifteen different products we can offer you, if you call in and don't qualify for one card, we can give you a different one instead." Despite the industry shift toward specialized cards, Discover held to the notion of being the card for everybody. William Hodges, Discover executive vice president and general manager, told Brandweek, "When everyone else is offering every flavor, maybe it's better just to have the best vanilla anybody is selling."
Over the years the company had built up a respectable merchant network that was nearly on a par with the Visa/MasterCard duopoly. Doubt about Discover's acceptance, however, remained a thorn in the company's side. While its merchant network had grown and the card was accepted at some 90 percent of U.S. locations that took bankcards, public perception remained that it was not as well received as other cards. Consumers were particularly reluctant to use Discover at upscale retail stores and restaurants. The "Make a Statement" campaign, which showed celebrities using their Discover cards in trendy places, was developed to remedy this image problem. The campaign was a departure from past campaigns, which had driven home the message of value and functionality. Debuting in August 1996, the commercials downplayed the cash-back rebate and implied that Discover was hipper than consumers might have previously thought.
When Sears, Roebuck launched the Discover card in 1986, it offered value-conscious consumers a revolutionary combination of features: no annual fee and a cash award of up to 1 percent of yearly purchases. At a time when other cards charged annual fees of $20 or more and interest rates of 19.8 percent, Discover's introduction made a newsworthy splash in the industry. Naysayers, however, claimed that there was no way Discover could make a profit and said that retailers would not want to go through the process of setting up a payment system with Discover.
Discover proved the critics wrong by flourishing. A consumer survey in 1989 showed that 27 percent of those households whose members carried credit cards named Discover as their favorite. In 1991 Discover cards were in the wallets of almost 40 million consumers. By charging retailers lower fees than its competitors, Discover also readily gained merchant acceptance. Business Week heralded the card's growing success with the headline "The Discover Card Is No Longer a Joker," and a headline in American Banker proclaimed, "Sears' Discover Card a Weakling No More."
But during the 1990s Discover's once unique features became widely imitated by other credit card companies. Some cards actually beat Discover's rebate, offering a 5 percent rebate toward airline tickets or purchases of automobiles. Meanwhile, Discover did not alter its offerings. Industry experts criticized Discover for its reluctance to develop new products and services, such as platinum or affinity cards. "You could either say that they have been slow to respond to the leading trends or have chosen not to follow," said Shelly Porges, a credit card consultant. In 1995 Discover's new parent company, Dean Witter, recognized that the Discover card alone did not have the breadth to capture a vast market share. It chose not to dilute the Discover card brand image and instead launched a series of niche cards under the Novus Services brand. While Discover successfully continued expanding its merchant network under the Novus label, the card still lagged in the travel and entertainment sector and was not accepted internationally. By 1997 the card had not wholly shed its underdog status. Among the four major credit cards in the United States, Discover still finished in fourth place.
During Discover's early years it was marketed as a card for the masses. In 1991 Thomas R. Butler, Discover's president, told American Banker that the company was "targeting every creditworthy cardholder in the whole damn U.S. marketplace. We are really going after the broad cross section of everyone." This initial marketing thrust had been effective in getting the card into as many people's wallets as possible, but times had changed, and most consumers now had multiple cards to choose from. While plenty of people had maintained their Discover card accounts, only one-half to two-thirds of those people regularly used the card. The emphasis in 1997 shifted to getting Discover cardholders actually to pull the card out and use it.
"People don't always think of Discover as a card they can use at an upscale merchant; we want to uplift that image," Robert E. Wood II, executive vice president of Discover-Novus marketing, told Credit Card Management. With the "Make a Statement" campaign the target market for Discover changed from everyman and everywoman to a slightly more upscale audience, including younger cardholders who were less concerned with counting their pennies. The campaign capitalized on the public interest in celebrities' lives, as evident in the success of magazines like People and In Style and television shows like Entertainment Tonight.
According to Credit Card News, Discover's 1996 charge volume in the United States was $53.6 billion, compared to $131 billion for American Express, $220.6 billion for MasterCard, and $393.1 billion for Visa. One of the things that hurt Discover's ability to expand was its lack of international presence. The U.S. market was already flooded with cards. Within the United States, Discover had issued 40 million cards, and 29.6 million American Express cards, 164.5 million MasterCards, and 240.7 million Visa cards were in circulation. While other issuers put out a variety of cards for the segmented marketplace, Discover offered only one. It did not have a platinum card, for instance, one popular way that other cards were competing for upscale consumers. Discover was also late to market another niche product, cobranded cards. In 1997 the company finally decided to move into cobranding, issuing cards linked to the Smithsonian Institution, Universal Studios, and the game show Wheel of Fortune. "The long-term perspective is characteristic of our company," Hodges explained in Promo magazine. "We think a lot about what we're getting into, because we're in it for the long haul."
Because of saturation, the U.S. credit card market was not expected to grow significantly. "All you have to do is open your mailbox to see that the marketplace is much more competitive and fragmented than it has been historically," Gail Wasserman, an American Express spokeswoman, told American Banker. Advertising proved a key weapon in the battle for companies hoping to get consumers to choose their card over another. Of the four major cards, according to Competitive Media Reporting, Visa topped the chart for spending on advertising in 1997, with an estimated $242 million, followed by American Express at $195.9 million. MasterCard spent $109.3 million, and Dean Witter, Discover came in fourth at $99.2 million.
Visa's "Everywhere You Want to Be" campaign was still going strong after 13 years and continued to generate new business. Meanwhile, American Express fanned the flames of its longtime rivalry with Visa by running ads during the Visa-sponsored Olympic Games to make consumers aware that other cards were accepted in the city hosting the games. American Express also ran its stylish "Do More" campaign, which gave consumers a broad look at the company's product line of credit cards, travel services, and financial planning. In 1997 MasterCard hired a new advertising agency to embark on a repositioning of its card. Over an eight-year span the company had tried three different ad themes—"Master the Moment," "Smart Money," and "The Future of Money"—all of which had fallen flat with consumers. "Priceless" was the theme of the new campaign that emerged late in 1997. It positioned MasterCard as the credit card that made life's precious moments happen. One spot, for instance, put a dollar value on the tickets and snacks at a baseball game that opened the door for a father to have a priceless real conversation with his 11-year-old son.
Discover card's earliest advertising campaigns drove home the message of value. Commercials showed money pouring from the sky or dropping in bags and used the tag line "It pays to Discover." But with so many other cards coming to tout the same attributes of no annual fee and a cash rebate, Discover needed to find a way to distinguish itself from the pack. It needed to shake the blue-collar image inherited from its former parent company, Sears, Roebuck, without alienating loyal users. Discover's Hodges told American Banker, "I think we're shifting emphasis a little bit more toward a focus on the brand and the brand name, and a little bit less in terms of delivering the functional features of the cards. The emphasis is a slight change—it's not like we're abandoning what we do."
The campaign, which focused on notable people using their Discover cards, was created by DDB Needham Chicago. One of the celebrities featured in the first group of television commercials was John Lithgow, star of the popular prime-time comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun. The spot showed Lithgow using his Discover card to buy camping equipment, flowers for his wife, and a wet suit for himself. "The toughest thing about buying a wet suit," he said, "is trying it on." Liz Torres, singer, stand-up comedienne, and actress, was shown in another commercial using her card for purchases at antique shops, at a Cuban restaurant, and "little things that make a girl sing." Tennis pro Michael Chang's Discover card statement included "tons of tennis balls" as well as charges for groceries, travel, tropical fish, and a cash advance for recreation. Bill Nye, star of The Science Guy, talked in one commercial about Discover card's partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. According to Brandweek, the campaign's eclectic mix of personalities were chosen to help upgrade Discover's down-market image to a middle-tier position. DDB Needham managing partner Ray Gillette said, "We had the card in a lot of wallets, but we wanted to make people feel better about pulling it out. 'If John Lithgow used it, then it is certainly good enough for me.'"
Creatively produced with quick-cut editing and interesting camera angles, the spots deftly sidestepped some of Discover card's weaknesses: the fact that many restaurants did not accept it and its lack of an international network. Stephen Drees of Strategic Marketing Services commented in Brandweek, "The positioning is sort of 'everywhere you want to be' for the middle class, which is smart because they will never be a travel and entertainment card, and only a very small percentage of people leave the country and have to deal with the fact they aren't accepted outside the U.S."
The television campaign began on August 13, 1996, on both prime-time network and cable programs. Network radio advertising began in late September. Print advertising appeared in October issues of magazines such as Rolling Stone, People, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, Hispanic Business, and Hispanic Magazine and in various college newspapers. A second group of television commercials featuring other notable people began on February 16, 1997. This group featured Gregory Hines, tap dancer on Broadway and in motion pictures; Paula Poundstone, stand-up comedienne; Sheryl Swoopes, basketball player in the professional women's league; Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five; and Trisha Yearwood, country singer. These spots ran through the remainder of 1997 and into 1998 and were complemented by radio and print ads.
Discover's marketing strategy did not help the company gain ground, as overall market share slipped from 7.9 percent in 1996 to 6.7 percent in 1997. The company's Hodges told Brandweek, however, that a better measure of the campaign's effectiveness was Discover's direct-mail response rates, which were more than twice the industry average.
According to USA Today's Ad Track, the "Make a Statement" campaign was somewhat effective among consumers but was not popular. With only 7 percent of those questioned saying that they liked the campaign a lot, it ranked among the 10 least popular ads ever measured by Ad Track. In contrast, other credit card campaigns ranked among the 20 most popular. Of those asked about a Visa campaign starring basketball stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen, 30 percent liked the ads a lot, and 32 percent asked about American Express ads with comedian Jerry Seinfeld said the same. Discover card's choice of racially diverse stars and its media placements paid off with minorities, however. Compared with 19 percent of all consumers, 30 percent of black consumers found the ads very effective.
Reception of the campaign among industry insiders was also lukewarm. In an April 1997 critique in the trade publication Card Marketing, the panel questioned Discover's decision to downplay its cash rebate, one of the card's most recognizable features. It noted that the campaign was "not terribly original." In February 1998 Card Marketing again took the series of celebrity spots to task. The panel criticized Discover's decision to continue running the campaign, saying that, while there was little to fault with the "solid and workman-like" commercial, there was little "sizzle" or reason to pay attention. The campaign, the panel said, paled in comparison to other celebrity commercials for credit cards, such as the American Express spots featuring Seinfeld.
Some marketing experts commented that the campaign, while a departure from the benefits-driven approach of the past, was still too familiar. Consumers were looking for newer benefits than the tried-and-true cash-back bonus. "It may be time for Discover to come up with some breakthrough offers for existing users," wrote Lisa Holton in Card Marketing. "This also might help them attract new ones."
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Known as Lombard Brokerage, Inc., until Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (later shortened to Morgan Stanley) purchased and renamed it in 1996, the discount brokerage firm Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., was a direct competitor with other online brokerages, such as Ameritrade and E*TRADE Financial Corp. In the late 1990s online trading flourished; E*TRADE, for instance, reported a profit increase of 300 percent a year. The worldwide access of the Internet allowed any consumer, for a minimal fee, to profit from the seemingly unstoppable stock market surge during the latter half of the decade. Hoping to target responsible, self-directed American investors—not the very wealthy or the risk-taking speculator—Discover Brokerage released its "Tow Truck" marketing campaign.
In 1997 Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., hired Black Rocket, a young advertising agency in San Francisco, to handle its $20 million advertising account. Black Rocket created a print and television campaign that used humor and atypical characters and settings to make the point that investing was not just for the rich or the reckless but was for everyone. The first commercial in the campaign, aired on television beginning in September 1998, was "Tow Truck." In this 30-second spot a businessman whose BMW was being towed commented on a copy of Barron's lying on the seat of the truck. It turned out that the tow-truck driver read the magazine and that he invested online with Discover Brokerage. As the conversation unfolded, viewers found out that the driver not only had made enough from online investing to retire but that he also owned his own island. "Tow Truck" ran until March 1999, after which five more television spots in the same vein were introduced, all featuring regular-looking people who turned out to be successful online investors.
Discover Brokerage's parent company, Morgan Stanley, reported a 14 percent sales increase in 1999. From an ad-industry perspective, the "Tow Truck" spot was a success, having been nominated for several Emmys. According to USA Today's survey Ad Track, "Tow Truck" was the most liked commercial released by any online company in 1999.
Investors had traditionally paid a commission to brokers for financial advice and to have brokers conduct transactions on their behalf. Online investing through the Internet was a phenomenon of the 1990s, and although it started out small, within a few years it had created waves in the financial-services industry.
In late 1996 Dean Witter, Discover & Co. bought Lombard Brokerage, Inc., a small but well-respected San Francisco firm. Dean Witter renamed the unit Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc. (In May 1997 Dean Witter merged with Morgan Stanley Group Inc. to create Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.) Discover Brokerage claimed to be one of the first to offer online investing, which it began to do in August 1995. According to Dow Jones News Service, it was planned that Discover Brokerage would offer Discover cardholders a variety of online financial services, such as balance lookups, portfolio evaluations, and consolidated financial statements, in order to draw them in as clients. In addition, the Web-based unit could be used to generate additional business for its more traditional parent company.
In the late 1990s the Internet brokerage business mushroomed. In February 1999 BusinessWeek called it an "exploding phenomenon," reporting that in 1996 online trading "was an almost invisible blip. Two years later, it was hard to miss." The magazine went on to report, "The Net poses the most serious threat to the established industry's economics and primacy since the unfixing of commissions on May Day, 1975, when deregulation created the discount-brokerage business, threatening, but not vanquishing, a cozy oligopoly."
Discover Brokerage's advertising, starting with "Tow Truck," was targeted toward the everyday, hardworking Joe or Jane. According to Glenn Tom, senior vice president of marketing, it was an attempt to "reach the responsible self-directed investor through humor." Advertising Age described Discover Brokerage's target market as "middle Americans." Liz Seade, an account supervisor at Black Rocket, said in a June 1999 interview that Discover Brokerage sought "to open up the power of Wall Street to Main Street," aiming for business among those somewhere in between the rich guys with the big cigars and the "riverboat gambler" type of investors.
A plethora of Web-based brokerage companies emerged during the late 1990s. In February 1999 BusinessWeek reported that, since 1996, online firms had gone from "'an insignificant technological curiosity' … to a band of more than a hundred online brokers." Discover Brokerage was a relatively small player and, according to Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., ranked ninth among its competitors, with 3.8 percent of the market (based on trades per day) in the second quarter of 1998. The rest of the top nine split the market as follows: Charles Schwab & Co. had 29.7 percent; E*TRADE Securities LLC, 11.5 percent; Fidelity Personal Investments and Services Group, 9.2 percent; Waterhouse Securities Inc., 9.2 percent; Datek, 8.5 percent; Ameritrade Holding Corp., including Accutrade Inc. and Ameritrade Inc., 6.9 percent; DLJdirect Inc., 4.3 percent; and Fleet Financial Group Inc., including Quick Sz Reilly Inc. and Suretrade Inc., 4.2 percent.
SEC CRITICISM OF ONLINE ADS
It was reported in May 1999 that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was concerned about the advertising of online brokerages. In fact, SEC chairman Arthur Levitt remarked in a speech before the National Press Club that some of the advertising resembled commercials for the lottery. Two of the spots he mentioned were "Tow Truck" and a spot for Ameritrade. In the latter, two mothers discussed their differing fortunes, with one elated because she had made $1,700 from online investing while the other bemoaned her decision to put her money into a mutual fund.
David Eckstein, speaking on behalf of Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., said that the company fully supported the idea of "an informed investing public who are aware of the risk and rewards of investing." But the idea of including detailed disclaimers with the ads was resisted by John Yost of Black Rocket, who said that consumers deserved credit for being intelligent: "They realize that just because you suggest one guy's been wildly successful, they understand risks inherent in investing. They understand the joke."
Critic Barbara Lippert put it a bit more bluntly when she wrote in the May 1999 issue of Adweek, "Hello? It's known as advertising, which exaggerates reality in a comedic and entertaining way to make an impression, to get your attention. Did the Man from Glad really arrive from the sky by pontoon?… I find [Levitt's] criticism amazing, if not downright ironic."
Nonetheless, Discover Brokerage was rated number three among online brokerage services by Gomez Advisors, a research outfit founded in 1996 that provided information to banks, brokerages, and other financial institutions wanting to offer Web-based financial services. Wall Street & Technology said of Discover Brokerage that users were "particularly impressed" with its customer service, which one user believed would help distinguish it from the competition. According to the article, "Given that the online brokerage market is already maturing and becoming a 'commodity' market, two factors—price and value-added customer service—will become critical. The big Wall Street players have the resources, but the race will favor the creative."
The decision by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter to choose Black Rocket to handle the Discover Brokerage advertising was reportedly made without a review and in the wake of the resignation of the company's previous agency, J. Walter Thompson USA, which gave up the account because of a conflict with new client Merrill Lynch & Co. The decision represented a coup for Black Rocket, which only a month before had landed a $2 million account with Wired and which could boast billings of more than $50 million after getting the Discover Brokerage account.
When the ad agency first advanced the idea for the "Tow Truck" commercial, Discover Brokerage executive vice president Tom O'Connell had reservations. After Black Rocket executives presented the script, O'Connell "wasn't sure if it was good or not … I went back to them the next week and said, 'We need a couple more ideas, so we can choose one.' They said, 'We've looked at all our ideas, and that's the best we have.'" O'Connell noted, however, that by the time the commercial was being filmed "it was pure trust and total magic."
The campaign was part of a general trend in the financial-services industry toward changing the traditionally stodgy tone of its advertising. "Shots of suspender-clad brokers and white-columned edifices are fading from view," reported the Dallas Morning News. "In their place are Lily Tomlin, Don Rickles and Peter Lynch for Fidelity Investments. On-line broker E-Trade tells potential customers it 'kicks butt.' Discount broker Charles Schwab features the top stock picks of real customers."
The "Tow Truck" spot, which was filmed in the California desert, opened with a burly workingman named Al towing a BMW, its businessman owner riding with him in the truck. The businessman spied a copy of Barron's on the seat and asked, "You, uh … read Barron's?" "Oh yeah, all the time," Al replied. He went on to tell the businessman that he invested money online through Discover Brokerage, mentioning that it had been Barron's top-rated online broker for the previous three years. He said that he had retired but continued to drive a tow truck anyway because he liked helping people. When the dumbfounded businessman noticed a photograph of an island attached to the visor, he asked if it was a vacation spot. Al sheepishly admitted, "Actually, it's a picture of my house." "That's a … that's an island," the businessman stammered. "Well," Al said affably, "technically, it's a country."
The campaign used humor and irony to make the point that online investing was for everyone, not just businesspeople. Bob Garfield of Advertising Age noted that the last example of humorous ads for investment companies he could think of went all the way back to the E.F. Hutton commercials of the late 1970s ("When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen"). Garfield thought that the Discover Brokerage ads were "straight to the point. It's just a jokey way of saying 'Discover's about making money.'"
The commercial also challenged the stereotype of the successful investor, presenting him as a regular person. As John Yost, a principal with Black Rocket, put it, "The ad is saying, 'This is the online brokerage for the rest of us.' It's humor that touches an honest emotion in people." Ken Harris, a marketing consultant with Cannondale Associates, said that the spot "appeals to the workaday guy who feels he doesn't get respect from people who are condescending to him. But it doesn't offend the people who might be more affluent."
AWARD-WINNING PRINT ADS
In addition to the television campaign, Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., and Black Rocket received acclaim for their print advertising. "You Are the CEO of Your Life," "Look Out Wall Street. Here Comes Main Street," and "Filthy Stinking Rich" won awards for best print campaign in the area of consumer retail given by the Financial Communications Society. The ads, all making the point that Discover Brokerage was for the middle-class investor, were done in black and white with eye-catching headlines. In "Look Out Wall Street. Here Comes Main Street," for example, the headline was placed next to a picture of a lower-middle-class neighborhood. "You Are the CEO of Your Life" showed a young woman holding her baby. Black Rocket partner Bob Kerstetter said, "We wanted to make a bold and simple look for these ads. We wanted the ads to have some craft and credibility to them, especially because the strategy is bigger than just a price/value message."
Bob Kerstetter, another partner of Black Rocket, contrasted Discover Brokerage's approach with those of other online trading companies: "E-Trade's positioning is 'Screw your broker.' Charles Schwab is safe but boring. Discover believes everyone should be empowered to trade on line. They want to demystify it."
The campaign continued with five more spots, titled "Airplane," "Bartender," "Cab," "Waiting," and "Teenager." They featured middle-class people who had become millionaires by trading with Discover Brokerage. "Teenager," which was the most praised spot second to "Tow Truck," featured two parents waiting for their 18-year-old son to return home. When the stern parents asked where he had been, he pleaded, "I had to drop Jenny off in Cleveland, and Steve lives in Miami." His unappeased father restricted his son's use of Discover Brokerage for one week. The punch line of the spot came when the father told his son not to park his helicopter in the front yard. The helicopter had apparently been earned from investing with Discover Brokerage. The campaign ended on February 9, 2000, after Discover Brokerage changed its name to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online and released its "Know Your Source" campaign. The brokerage would shorten its name to Morgan Stanley in 2002.
According to USA Today, "Tow Truck" was one of the most popular commercials tested in its Ad Track poll. Of 165 adults who saw the spot, 46 percent said that they liked it "a lot," with only 9 percent of respondents indicating that they disliked it.
In May 1999 Discover Brokerage and Black Rocket won Best of Show for "Tow Truck" at the annual Portfolio Awards of the Financial Communications Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving professional standards in financial communications. The commercial was selected from more than 300 entries from banks, securities firms, exchanges, mutual funds, investment advisers, and accounting and insurance firms throughout North America and Europe. Black Rocket also received a San Francisco Ad Club Cable Car Award for the commercial. In addition, the campaign was named the best off-line campaign by "Adweek IQ," the interactive portion of Adweek magazine, and it won an ADDY. Further, Advertising Age gave its Bobby Award for Best Actor to the hapless businessman, played by Larry Cedar. Travis McKenna, who played the good-natured tow-truck driver/millionaire, was also nominated.
According to the Dallas Morning News, it was not clear exactly what effect the spots had on Discover Brokerage's business. "While I may enjoy the ad, I have not received any compelling reason to move my business," said Charlene Stern, head of Stern Marketing Group, a company that helped financial-services firms such as Discover's rival Ameritrade compete in the market. Black Rocket disagreed, calling humor in advertising a "time-tested" way to get business. Discover Brokerage's market share continued to hover between 3 and 4 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal, although Black Rocket's Seade indicated in June 1999 that since the campaign's launch new accounts had grown fivefold. There was no doubt, however, that the company's commercials had made a favorable impression on the industry and on television viewers.
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