Dean Witter, Discover & Co. is not satisfied lately with a staid stockbroker image. Capturing the public's attention with flashy products seems to be the company's new style.
Only eight weeks after it launched Private Issue, a credit card that incorporates paintings by Ringo Starr, actress Jane Seymour, and Olympic track star Florence Griffith Joyner, Dean Witter announced the launch of another product, called Bravo.
These products are being introduced under the Novus system, a network of merchants that accept the flagship Discover card and all other cards issued by Dean Witter.
The Novus brand is essentially Dean Witter's response to the MasterCard and Visa brand names. It also allows Dean Witter to differentiate its new products from the prominent Discover card, which is largely perceived as a one-size-fits-all credit card.
While the Bravo card also is designed to attract a broad customer base, it specifically targets people who do not pay their balances in full each month.
The eye-catching aspect of this card is a six-month teaser rate, offering zero interest for all purchases.
"Dean Witter needed a competitive offer to capture attention, because Novus is not yet a well-known brand name," said Guy Moszkowski, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
While zero interest rate cards have been tested in the bank card arena, they are more prevalent in the retail store card market.
Industry observers agree that Dean Witter's Bravo offer, which has no annual fee, is competitive. But they also point out that the other product attributes have the potential to confuse consumers.
After six months the interest rate jumps to the prime rate plus 8.9%. During the six-month grace period, balance transfers incur a 4.9% interest rate.
And after the zero rate sale ends, another line of credit is added to Bravo, called the Reserve Line, which is accessed with checks. The interest rate on this line of credit is 5.9% plus prime. Dean Witter suggests that cardholders use the Reserve Line for purchases of $250 or more.
While cardholders are assigned one credit limit, each line of credit has a different maximum. For example, Bill Hodges, executive vice president of Novus brand marketing, explained that a typical card with a $5,000 credit limit might give two-thirds of the credit to the credit card portion, and one-third to the Reserve Line.
"The Reserve Line is for significant purchases that a customer might want to keep separate," said Mr. Hodges.
Also, customers receive separate statements from Dean Witter.
Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., Westbury, N.Y., suggested that Bravo could be simplified by tiering the interest rate based on the purchase size rather than the payment mechanism.
The Bravo card also allows cardholders to exceed their credit limit by 15% without incurring a fee.
The card is being tested in 29 major markets, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston.
Mr. Moszkowski said he expects Dean Witter to issue between 300,000 and 400,000 Bravo cards before the end of the year based on a 10-million-piece initial mailing.
"Bravo could be very attractive for Dean Witter," said Mr. Moszkowski, "but it will not be a major threat to the credit card industry."