Sears, Roebuck & Co. went all out to introduce America to its new challenger to MasterCard and Visa, buying two minute-long ads for the Discover card in Super Bowl XX, one of which is this anthem by J. Walter Thompson Chicago.
The product, first introduced in 1985 with a novel cash-back plan and no annual fee, was part of Sears' strategy to expand its financial services business, a sector in which it had been active since the 1930s, when it began opening Allstate insurance offices in its stores. The chain was able to give Discover a similar lift, immediately accepting it at all its locations.
The Discover card was profitable for Sears by 1987, but the retailer faced competitive pressure of its own sufficient to induce it to start taking Visa and MasterCard as well that year.
In 1993, Sears spun off its Allstate and stock brokerage/credit card operation, Dean Witter, Discover & Co., as separate, non-affiliated companies.
Discover did not use the Super Bowl's enormous-but-enormously-expensive stage as much as Mastercard (see "Desert Vending Machine" from 1996, its first year in the game), Visa ("Super Heroes," for one) and American Express ("Seinfeld and Superman"). It found ways to maintain a high public profile, however, for example leasing a prominent billboard in Times Square for 10 years and appearing in TV coverage of New Year's Eve ball drops along the way.
The brand returned to the Super Bowl with a successful spot in 2015 ("Surprise").
AGENCY: J. Walter Thompson