Morgan Stanley: Tow Truck campaign

Debbi Mack


Known as Lombard Brokerage, Inc., until Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (later shortened to Morgan Stanley) purchased and renamed it in 1996, the discount brokerage firm Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., was a direct competitor with other online brokerages, such as Ameritrade and E*TRADE Financial Corp. In the late 1990s online trading flourished; E*TRADE, for instance, reported a profit increase of 300 percent a year. The worldwide access of the Internet allowed any consumer, for a minimal fee, to profit from the seemingly unstoppable stock market surge during the latter half of the decade. Hoping to target responsible, self-directed American investors—not the very wealthy or the risk-taking speculator—Discover Brokerage released its "Tow Truck" marketing campaign.

In 1997 Discover Brokerage Direct, Inc., hired Black Rocket, a young advertising agency in San Francisco, to handle its $20 million advertising account. Black Rocket created a print and television campaign that used humor and atypical characters and settings to make the point that investing was not just for the rich or the reckless but was for everyone. The first commercial in the campaign, aired on television beginning in September 1998, was "Tow Truck." In this 30-second spot a businessman whose BMW was being towed commented on a copy of Barron's lying on the seat of the truck. It turned out that the tow-truck driver read the magazine and that he invested online with Discover Brokerage. As the conversation unfolded, viewers found out that the driver not only had made enough from online investing to retire but that he also owned his own island. "Tow Truck" ran until March 1999, after which five more television spots in the same vein were introduced, all featuring regular-looking people who turned out to be successful online investors.