MBNA is perhaps lesser known than rivals Bank One and Capital One. It has relied mostly on affinity partnerships for awareness—it issues cards with sports teams, retailers and environmental groups, among other organizations. But as the credit-card market heats up, the Wilmington, Del.-based bank enlisted The Helm Agency, a consortium of bank experts within WPP Group, to advertise for the first time.

The agency—formed specifically to service MBNA—began developing a campaign about a year ago and decided on the theme, “If you’re into it, we’re into it,” featuring some of the company’s 1,500 partners.

Nobody knew the 30-second launch spot would be a Super Bowl ad when it was produced late last year, says Tom Coleman, cd and copywriter, who worked on it with copywriter Paul Spencer and art director Kevin Kearnes. @radical.media’s Jon Hollis was the director. The spot shows an England rugby player passing the ball to Knight, who runs with it. “Both have a lot of hits, but what do they have in common?” John Travolta asks in a voiceover. They both have MBNA credit cards. The spot ends with shots of England Rugby- and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-endorsed cards and the tagline, “If you’re into it, we’re into it.”

The spot was envisioned as the first of three to air during the first quarter of the year. As the agency and client discussed the launch, Carl Hartman, Helm’s managing director, suggested using the Super Bowl as the springboard for the campaign. He had never advised a client to advertise on the game before, but he says the ad had “power” and many elements common in Super Bowl ads, such as an elaborate production and star cameos.

It wasn’t difficult to convince the client. “Everybody understood the power of it,” Hartman says. “The Super Bowl audience wants to be entertained, and this does it on a grand scale.” MBNA will roll out new spots throughout the year.