Treat You Like You’d Treat You

(Should play the entire playlist of 5 videos when you hit play!)

For this first message evaluation, I decided to go with the Discover “It” card ad campaign.  I chose this campaign because I actually kind of enjoy these commercials, and once we started talking about Burke’s thoughts on identification, it just seemed perfect.

The premise of the ads is all the same: a customer calls Discover customer service and is greeted, not by a machine, but by a real, live person—who looks (and sounds) almost exactly the same as the customer.  The customer relays their problem or question—they missed a payment, they want to know what the Cashback Concierge does, they’re worried about being late with their payment—and is met with a helpful response that informs them they won’t be charged late fees or that there are many ways to get Cashback with their card.  The customers and representatives then have a moment of togetherness—high fiving through the phone, speaking in unison, posing the same questions, laughing together—and each ends with the narrator saying that at Discover, “we treat you like you’d treat you” and how to get the new card.

The ads themselves are pretty straightforward: they are each “selling” the new Discover “It” card, a credit card with (apparently) some nice perks.  The audience is any adult who could be interested in opening up a new credit card, which is pretty much everyone; if I remember correctly, I’ve seen these ads most often on network channels, so Discover isn’t focusing on one particular type of person, but rather on reaching out to as many people as possible.

I’m not sure I’d categorize these ads as “striking,” but they are pretty cute and relatable.  The whole point the ads are trying to get across is that Discover treats their customers with respect and forgiveness—in other words, how you would treat you if you worked there.  This definitely ties into Burke’s entire philosophy on persuasion: that all persuasion is identification.

Before Burke, we had Aristotle, who claimed logic, or logos, was the most important part of persuasion and that emotion, or pathos, led to less persuasive Truths.  For Burke, though, persuasion is all about logic and emotion; you need both to have a successful persuasive argument.  When you have a balance of logic and emotion, your audience can begin to identify with your argument and once they do, they are much more likely to be persuaded by it.

These Discover ads are prime examples of logic and emotion creating identification and, according to Burke, persuasion.  The logic isn’t explicitly stated, but it’s there: when dealing with customer service of any kind, you want to a) deal with a real person and not a machine and b) be treated with respect, common sense, and forgiveness.  These ads show (and tell) that Discover does both of those things, so, logically, it makes sense to get a Discover card and experience good customer service.

The emotion in the ads comes from the stories the customers tell and the responses the representatives give them: missing a payment and being told you won’t get charged a late fee or have your interest raised, expecting to get a machine and actually talking to a real person, wondering if you’ll be late with your payment if it’s the evening of your due date and being assured you have until midnight to pay without penalty.  These are all things many viewers (at least those with credit cards) have probably experienced and the responses are the things they probably wanted to hear but didn’t; having some experience with these situations allows the viewer to feel an emotional connection to the ad and helps to draw them in even more.

All of this culminates in the identification of the viewer with the customer.  Each ad features a different customer, and both genders are shown, as well as various age groups and ethnicities (although, only one of the four features a non-white customer).  This allows most viewers to be able to identify with at least one of the customers and real feel that if they were to have the card and call the number, this is what would happen; that is extremely powerful in making viewers go online and apply for the card.

I thought it would be good to look at the ads through Burke’s Pentad as well (including the new sixth element) to further understand the persuasion in this campaign:

  • Act: Each ad features a customer calling customer service and talking to a real person who is just like them.
  • Scene: All but one takes place in nice houses and the Discover customer service offices; one takes place in the offices and a car.
  • Agent: The agent is supposed to be you.  Each person is fairly nondescript, not anyone famous, and of varying ages, genders, and ethnicities.  Each customer is also uncannily “duplicated” in each representative.
  • Agency: These ads are commercials that played primarily on the major networks, as well as online.
  • Purpose: Each ad hopes to get you to apply for the Discover “It” card.
  • Attitude: The company hopes that after viewing the ads, you will think of Discover as a company that is “all about you” and really working for you, which will, in turn, make you more apt to carry Discover cards than others.

In this case, I would say that the agent is most important, since the entire ad revolves around identifying with the customers.  The second part of the elusive ratio is a little harder to decide on, but I would probably choose the act, because each commercial portrays a specific situation that also helps you identify with the customers.

Overall, I find this campaign very persuasive; I identify with the customers and am relieved to see a company treating its customers well.  Honestly, if I didn’t already have a Discover card, I’d probably be applying right now.


–Adrienne Bogard

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