Greg Kelly asked his girlfriend to marry him last month. Actually, he didn't ask her himself, but got Peggy to do it for him. Not Peggy his sister, or Peggy his mom, but Peggy, the scruffy-bearded, heavily accented male customer-service representative from the Discover credit-card commercials.
The ineffectual Peggy, now the star of eight TV spots, answers the phone for "USA Prime Credit" and proceeds to mangle, deflect, ignore and laugh at customer-service questions. But his offbeat prose and quirky incompetence have vaulted him from ad character to social-media and pop-culture phenomenon.
Hundreds of people have sent Peggy requests for birthday, anniversary and friend shoutouts on his Facebook page, which now has more than 6,000 fans. And he often answers, holding up a sign with a personalized message in a photo, then pasting them on the wall for all to see. Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., which created the ads, takes photos of Peggy holding a blank whiteboard during ad shoots, then Photoshops some of the requests in later.
Mr. Kelly, from Brooklyn, N.Y., was the first to request a marriage proposal, and because Martin Agency happened to be filming new spots at the time, it had Peggy do a personalized proposal that it emailed to Mr. Kelly to show to his girlfriend. His now-fiancee, Julie Simpson Burkhart, friended Peggy after the proposal to post that she had accepted. Even Mr. Kelly's mom got involved, posting an offer on the page to take Peggy to the wedding as her date.
Peggy is played by 47-year-old Tudor Petrut, a Romanian-American actor who is also a high-school algebra teacher. And while his portrayal of Peggy has helped capture consumers' attention, the idea behind Peggy was well-received even before Mr. Petrut was found in a Los Angeles casting call. "Right away the idea of the campaign with Peggy resonated with all of us," said Larisa Drake, VP-brand communications at Discover. "Then when we showed it to focus groups, people started telling us about their own instances of bad customer service."
Discover decided that taking the opposite tactic -- that is, showcasing bad customer service as the antithesis to Discover's good customer service -- would tap that shared consumer experience and show non-card-members what they're missing. "We all expected it would resonate, but the engagement has been much greater and much quicker than expected," Ms. Drake said.
The positive reception has also happened internally with Discover employees, such as account managers and customer-service people, who are "really excited about Peggy," she said.
Kevin Ragland, creative director for the "Peggy" campaign at Martin, said the character's popularity has been an unexpected boon. "There's only so much you can do in a 30-second spot, so it's great to be able to continue the story online and in social media," he said.
That "story" includes not only the shoutouts by Peggy to friends on Facebook, but also blog postings and emails from fans who want to know more about his colorful and loud sweaters; his seeming rivalry with office mate Lev; and the identity of his mysterious supervisor.
Fans of the ads have reposted quotes on Twitter such as "Hello, my name Peggy. You have problem?" Two of the spots, featuring famous former college-football coach Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden, generated Discover "spikes on Saturdays on Twitter" when those spots ran during games, Mr. Ragland said.
Needless to say, Peggy will continue to appear in Discover's marketing. Discover is the official credit card for Six Flags and up next is a theme-park adventure for Peggy. "We are committed to Peggy and will continue to evolve him," Ms. Drake said.