Three years ago, during Super Bowl XLII, eTrade entrusted its public image to a talking (and puking) baby. The next day, eTrade registered more new accounts than it had on any other day in the company’s history. Dozens of promotions and a couple NFL championships later, the “eTrade baby,” as he’s been christened, is one of the most recognizable ads on television, and one of the most famous spots in Super Bowl history–last year’s ad helped eTrade reach an estimated 768 million people.
But it was never a sure thing that the eTrade baby would mature into such a phenomenon. In fact, when the idea was first born, the agency behind the spot, Grey New York, wasn’t sure whether it had struck gold, or produced an ad no more appealing than one of its animated baby’s dirty diapers.
“When we first created the baby, we had no idea if it was the dumbest thing we’d ever done or if it was genius,” says Tor Myhren, chief creative officer at Grey. “I was terrified.”
For Myhren, who joined Grey after stints at Leo Burnett Detroit and TBWA\Chiat\Day, the eTrade baby would be his first big ad–a Super Bowl ad, no less, costing many millions of dollars to get on air–since taking over the creative helm at the 93-year-old agency.
“I had just come to New York, and this was my big chance–here’s the first big Super Bowl spot for my agency–and it was a talking baby, which had been done a million times,” he says. “It was scary.”
But when the spot debuted during the Patriots-Giants championship, Myhren says it was “impossible not to know” that it was a big hit. Soon, it was one of the most talked-about ads at the water cooler, and had racked up millions of hits on YouTube.
Yet even with all that buzz, Grey wasn’t confident the eTrade baby would turn into a cash cow.
“Truth be told, our agency did not believe that this was something we wanted to extend past the Super Bowl,” says Myhren. Ironically, it was Grey’s client that saw the ad as having the potential to be a long-term campaign.
Says Myhren, with a laugh: “We thought, how long of a shelf-life could a baby possibly have?”