Discover Card "Peggy" by The Martin Agency (2010-13)
Between 2010 and 2013, one of America's most popular - and most unlikely - advertising mascots was a charming but wholly incompetent customer service call-handler located in some remote and unspecified Eastern European country. The Martin Agency created this comic anti-hero for Discover Card as an illustration of everything that was bad about other credit card companies; not least their habit of outsourcing customer service to obscure foreign sub-contractors. Kevin Ragland was Martin's associate creative director in charge of the account, with Hal Tench as creative director. Copywriter was John Mahoney with Marco Howell as art director, and Baker Smith was the director for the whole series.
Kevin Ragland: "It was a fun campaign to work on. We had won the account and done a big anthemic 60 second spot with these scissors running around cutting up people's cards. It was the spot we pitched with and it won us the business and it worked well, but it didn't really lead anywhere. After that we were struggling a little to get something that they could stick with and feel good about and build on.
"Discover had this thing they kept coming back to strategically, which is that they're ranked #1 in terms of customer loyalty. They kept saying, can't you use that, can't you do something with that? So we dug a little deeper and customer service really came to the top. A lot of those big monolithic banks think of their customers as just a number: this is an account and I want to milk the account for what I can get out of it. But Discover don't... Not to make it sound like I've completely drunk the Discover Kool-Aid, but they really don't think that way.
"So we had a meeting. We had maybe seven or eight campaigns to share with them. All fully fleshed out ideas, with story arcs and multiple spots; all printed out on boards on easels in different parts of the room. But then we also had this one little spot in the corner of the room... Not a full campaign, just a one-off single television spot. Yet that's the one they kept coming back to. So we all said, well, maybe this is the one. We did some testing, and it did quite well so they said, OK let's make this one. So we made it and they said, well this seems to be working, people seem to like this guy and they like the premise... so let's make another... and then another... and we ended up making something like 15 of them.
"At the time, a lot of companies were outsourcing their customer service to save a buck and they really didn't care how well it was performing. Those outsourcing guys from who-knows-where would always use a false name; they'd Americanise their names to make you feel more comfortable, so you'd feel like you were getting a better service. We thought, let's be really obvious about it and have this guy who's so terrible at his job he doesn't even know he's picked a name that's obviously not his."
The crucial part was finding the right actor to embody Peggy. Castings were held in three cities, and in Los Angeles, the agency happened to stumble upon a Romanian-American actor named Tudor Petrut.
Kevin: "I think he had been some kind of movie star or something in Romania, but he ended up here in the US and was working as a high school algebra teacher, with a bit of acting on the side, trying to keep that part of his life going. He was a great guy, not dissimilar from the character in fact; he's a very big personality. But I know he caught a lot of grief from his algebra students once the ads started running...
"Once we had bad customer service as the hook, we could use that to talk about other things that were important to Discover, like rewards or acceptance or whatever. But we kept that baseline: we care about you, we think about you differently from our competitors.
"Eventually the campaign concept moved on to the one that's still running now. It's still about customer service and the way you treat your customers, and it still takes place in a call centre but it's kind of the flipside to Peggy. We started by showing you an exaggerated version of what we're *not*, and once that got very well-established the campaign transitioned into, so this is what we *are*. It's a little more strategically focused."
Peggy, though, developed a life of his own. In the days when brands were only just beginning to develop a direct presence on Facebook, Peggy had his own page, and attracted thousands of followers. Kevin: "People really connected with him in a weird way that I don't really understand. We got all sorts of letters asking us to bring him back. Weirdly, there was a whole group of soldiers in Afghanistan at the time who kind of adopted Peggy. They sent us a picture of themselves, and we put it up on the wall in the background of one of the later ads. We even had a guy ask Peggy to help him propose to his wife." The video the agency made is still here on YouTube.
"I give the client a lot of credit for all of that. They're a credit card company; they're from the Midwest; they're somewhat conservative, but they really took a chance on doing something off the wall and comedic. And I think it really paid off for them. It helped bring them back, have people reconsider them in a way that they hadn't for a little while."
Let's spare a last thought for character actor Tudor Petrut. For a few short years, he was one of the most famous men in America, and his 'Peggy' remains one of the most memorable ad mascots of the past two decades. "My name is Peggy... you have problem?"