With its announcement of a subsidiary's name change this week, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. underscored the fresh look it is taking at its credit card strategy.
After years of trying to establish Novus as its umbrella payment and acceptance mark on cards and at points of sale, the company said that it is changing the name of its Riverwoods, Ill., card subsidiary from Novus Services Inc. to Discover Financial Services Inc.
Morgan Stanley seems to be bowing to the fact that more Americans recognize the Discover name.
Accompanying the corporate identity change will be the laborious task of adding the Discover logo to the decals that thousands of merchants display in their stores.
There had been signs of a greater emphasis on Discover. The name has cropped up, for example, on mortgages and certificates of deposit, which are issued through a Delaware affiliate, Greenwood Trust Co.
Morgan Stanley's on-line brokerage service is called Discover Brokerage Direct, and its Discover Connection Internet Service gives cardholders Internet access for $18.95 a month.
"It makes sense for us to take advantage of the equity we have established in the Discover card name," said David W. Nelms, president and chief operating officer of Discover Financial Services.
Mr. Nelms himself is part of the face-lift. The 37-year-old executive joined the card unit Sept. 21. He succeeded Thomas R. Butler, who resigned after a 12-year tenure.
The company had originally said Mr. Butler would stay until yearend, assisting in the transition, but he has already left. Analysts contended that Mr. Nelms was brought in to expand the card unit's product offerings beyond the flagship Discover card and to export the brand overseas.
"We think this name change will position us better internationally," said spokeswoman Beth Metzler.
"The recognizability of the Discover card is a plus," said Steve Szekely, president of Market Intelligence Research and Consulting Co. in Tampa, "and they need to exploit this."
The new spotlight on Discover is a throwback to the way Sears, Roebuck and Co. launched the service 12 years ago. The Novus logo was introduced in 1993 with the intention of using it as a single acceptance mark for multiple affiliated products or sub-brands.
Starting in 1995, "Discover tried to establish Bravo, Private Issue, and Prime Option as freestanding names, and they missed it," Mr. Szekely said. "There was a mistake there."
Of those three, only Private Issue survived. From now on, all Private Issue cards will carry the Discover logo, as will any other product the company initiates.
Ms. Metzler said no plan exists to eliminate the Novus mark, but observers said its prominence seems to be fading fast.
New York-based brand expert Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., said, "I'd be willing to bet that Novus disappears."