Discover Financial Services feels your pain, especially if you are a frustrated credit card customer whose cries for help are answered by a customer-service rep named Peggy who in reality is a foggy-headed, bearded man with a European accent. Discover also feels your joy if you are a sports fan. The firm recently replaced FedEx as title sponsor of the college football's Orange Bowl game, and has now become the official card of the National Hockey League in the U.S. and the first presenting sponsor of the league's All-Star Game in eight years. Jennifer Murillo, Discover's director of advertising, explains how and why the worlds of Peggy, sports fans and 50 million Discover card members are coming together.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted Nov. 7, 2010)
Discover Financial Services traces its history back to 1985, when the Discover Card was introduced by Sears. The DSF network, which became an independent company in 2007, now claims more than 50 million card members. Many of them, according to the company, are sports fans, which was a major catalyst in moving the Riverwoods, Ill.-based firm to sign in August a four-year deal, in cooperation with ESPN, to become title sponsor of the college football Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, including the BCS national championship game in 2013.
On Nov. 8, the company unveiled a one-year deal to become the official card of the NHL in the U.S. and the first presenting sponsor of the league's All-Star Game since Nextel in 2003. (Full "NHL-Discover: Deal The Cards" story here.) Both alliances will come with significant marketing support. In its Discovery Orange Bowl activation, former college football head coaches Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden are part of the "Peggy" campaign, which stars a customer service representative for the fictional U.S.A. Prime Credit company who only adds to the frustration of callers in need of assistance. In his spot, Holtz "motivates" Peggy into cutting the time he will get a new card from a month to three weeks. (Watch full spot here.)
Among its NHL-related marketing, Discover will offer card member exclusives including special access to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover, Cashback Bonus rewards for discounts at the NHL's online store and at the NHL Powered by Reebok store in New York, GameCenter Live subscriptions, autographed NHL merchandise and for one Discover card member a personal "Day with the Stanley Cup." And Peggy likely won't be left out, either, with the company consider how to incorporate the NHL into the national campaign created by Discover's lead agency, The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
Jennifer Murillo, Discover's director of advertising, spoke with NYSportsJournalism about building a sports marketing strategy, using humor to drive a successful ad campaign and why the Discover Card members who wins a "Day with the Stanley Cup" will be closely monitored.
NYSportsJournalism: How did the deal with the NHL come about?
Jennifer Murillo: We were interested in speaking with them because we know our customers love hockey. We were looking for ways to connect with our customers around one of their core passions. We've been talking to the league for a while, but earlier this year we had a terrific media buy with NBC and Versus on their hockey broadcasts. So that was our first point of activation with the league. We were very pleased with that. So we had conversations with the NHL looking for ways to extend our time with hockey.
NYSJ: So based on the success of the media buy you felt that the NHL was a good fit for Discover?
JM: We see it as a great fit because of our shared customers. We see the NHL as a great way to get out the message about Discover and all the ways [as our tagline says, that] it pays to Discover.
NYSJ: Discover has had sports ties, but since August you have signed major deals with the Orange Bowl and ESPN and now the NHL. Why these deals and why now?
JM: For us, the sports piece has almost been incidental. We have always had a strong focus on our customers and what are customers are most concerned about. And that is what has guided us to make the decisions we have been making. As I said, we know our customers love hockey and they love college football. We were looking for ways to connect with our customers and the things they are passionate about, so [these deals] came about at the right time for us.
"I can't discuss [whether NHL players such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin might be in TV commercials] but I would say that it's a possibility."
NYSJ: What type of activation do you anticipate to support the deal?
JM: We have an advertising platform that already has been activated. We will have in-game media, including dasher boards and other presence. Then we will have some presence at the [outdoor Bridgestone] Winter Classic, not only during the game [with a media buy] on NBC but also leading up to the game [at pre-game events such as the sponsor-driven FanFest] at Heinz Field].
NYSJ: Discover has new TV spots as part of its 'Peggy' campaign with former college football head coaches Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden that will support the new four-year deal as title sponsor of the Orange Bowl. Do you foresee any TV spots using specific hockey players, say Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, giving 'Peggy' a call?
JM: I can't discuss that but I would say that it's a possibility.
NYSJ: How important was it for Discover to get the All-Star Game presenting sponsorship designation as part of the deal?
JM: We are very proud to be presenting sponsor of the 2011 All-Star Game. Part of what excited us about working with the NHL was their willingness to give our card members special opportunities to really further engage with hockey. Exclusive things that only they can do because they are Discover card members. One of the things we will be offering card members is special access to experiences during the All-Star Game [weekend]. We are very excited about that.
NYSJ: What about marketing support after the All-Star Game leading up to the Stanley Cup playoffs?
JM: We are working on a lot of things, very exciting things. The most notable aspect [already unveiled] is that we will be giving one Discover card member the opportunity through the Discover NHL Rewards Program to spend a day with the actual Stanley Cup. We see that as a once-in-a-lifetime event that will really bring our partnership with the NHL to life for our card members. The deal with the NHL will also offer opportunities for card members to redeem their Cashback Bonus rewards for discounts at the NHL's online store, at the NHL [Powered by Reebok] store in New York; and other opportunities such as autographed NHL goods and subscriptions to GameCenter Live.
NYSJ: The NHL allows players on teams that win the Stanley Cup to each spend a day with it, and they can pretty much do anything with it — and there have been classic stories about what has been put into and done to the Cup — as long as they don't damage the Stanley Cup. Will there be any restrictions for the Discover card member who gets to spend a day with the Cup?
JM: We won't tell them what they can do with the Stanley Cup, but it won't stray very far from our representatives and the representative [from the Hockey Hall of Fame] that is in charge of it. [Laughs.]
NYSJ: What has been the response to the 'Peggy' campaign, which includes a strong media buy during sports telecasts?
JM: It has been very positive. We are talking about the customer-service experience, and that really resonates with consumers of all types. Discover historically has been known for our strong customer service, and we feel that really sets us apart [from the competition] in the category.
NYSJ: There have been several other college football bowl games that have signed new title sponsors over the past few months, including the Vizio Rose Bowl, the GoDaddy.com Bowl [in Mobile, Ala.] and the BBVA Compass Bowl [Birmingham, Ala.]. Why do you think that has happened?
JM: It's hard not to notice what has been happening, but I can't really give you a specific reason as to why it is happening. For us, it was based on our company's strategy, so I would say it is based on what each respective company is trying to do within its business and marketing plan.
NYSJ: Was Discover looking for a college football bowl title deal or did the strategy come to life when the Orange Bowl became available after long-time title sponsor FedEx declined to renew its alliance?
JM: It was really one of those opportunistic moments where you find something and there is great alignment. We had been looking for great ways to connect with our customers. We knew that college football was a passion of our card members. And it just so happened that the Orange Bowl opportunity came up at that moment. So it really was very fortunate timing.
NYSJ: When you talk about the passions and interests of your card members, is that based on research or other factors?
JM: We know quite a lot about our customers based on our relationships with them. And we know that they love hockey and they love college football. And we want to be in the places that they enjoy and that are important to them.
NYSJ: Do you foresee more sports sponsorship or title deals coming for Discover?
JM: What I will say is that we will continue to focus on what is important to our customers. And if we find the right opportunities that matter to them you will see more things from us that reflect what our card members care about.