As a rule, credit card advertising emphasizes spending — think "Chase what matters" or "Visa: It's everywhere you want to be."

But with the recession turning many Americans into penny pinchers, Discover Financial Services is taking a different tack with its new ad campaign. Rather than encourage consumers to spring for that flat-screen TV or the Caribbean vacation, the latest ads tout Discover's "Spend Analyzer," an online personal finance management tool designed to help its customers "spend smarter."

Discover, of Riverwoods, Ill., unveiled the Spend Analyzer in February, and has been promoting it in a series of television, print and online ads. It is the first major card issuer to build a major mass media campaign around a PFM tool.

Larisa Drake, Discover's vice president of brand communications, said that the Spend Analyzer had been in the works for a while. The company made it the centerpiece of its campaign because consumers are becoming increasingly more budget conscious. "Given the pressure that people are under right now it does seem more relevant than ever that customers have this information to help them," she says.

The latest ads are an extension of Discover's "Brighter" campaign that debuted last summer. One television spot shows "Bright" — an animated sphere representing Discover's logo — quizzing a crowd of people. "Question," Bright asks. "How many of you know what you spent on coffee this morning?" Several people raise their hands. He then asks, "How many of you know what you spent on it this year?" and hands quickly drop.

Bright goes on to explain that the sooner customers understand where their money is going, the better. To which a man in the crowd asks: "Hold on here, why is a credit card going to help me out?" Bright responds: "Maybe it's a different kind of credit card." The spot concludes with a voiceover: "With tools to help you spend smarter, it pays to discover something brighter."

That last interaction is the differentiator for Discover, says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Aite Group, a Boston-based research firm. "[C]onsumer sentiment is not exactly behind the credit card companies at the moment," he says.

For Discover, it's a way of showing it understands that what's best for business is to have customers on solid financial ground. "It's not just a tool to help consumers budget, it's a way of demonstrating customer advocacy."

The television and print ads were produced in collaboration with The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., while the online productions were developed in collaboration with brand management firm Magnani Caruso Dutton in New York. The company declined to release the campaign's price tag, but Drake says, "it will be consistent with what we've spent for other mass communication campaigns." According to TNS Media Intelligence, Discover spent $65 million on advertising from January through September last year.

Many banks now offer PFM tools that compete with the likes of Microsoft Money or aggregation Web sites such as, and can go a step further than Discover because they can aggregate debit and check purchases. PNC Bank, for example, has an account called "Virtual Wallet" that helps customers budget, pay down debt and save for big-ticket items.

But Discover stands a good chance of quickly building awareness for its Spend Analyzer because it is the first big-name financial firm to wholeheartedly push a PFM product, says Marc DeCastro, research manager at Financial Insights in Framingham, Mass. "This is definitely Discover trying to get in front and gain some market share," DeCastro says. "It's a tie-in for them to say, 'Centralize all your purchases with this one credit card and then with the Spend Analyzer you can actually see where your money is going.'"

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.