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After The Baby: E-Trade Trades Its Long-Running Campaign For “Type-E” Personalities, Kevin Spacey

CMO Liza Landsman talks about the brand’s new direction, Kevin Spacey, and life after a talking baby.

When the talking baby first appeared on our TV screens during the 2008 Super Bowl, few knew it would become such a long-running, iconic ad campaign. For a campaign character to last more than five years, you’re moving into Jared, “I’m a Mac,” and Mr. Peanut territory. The personality becomes almost synonymous with the brand. The E-Trade baby was around so long, we almost forgot about Bruce Willis.

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For E-Trade CMO Liza Landsman, that was part of the problem. “Over time we sort of felt that the baby ate the brand,” says Landsman. “So we wanted to take a closer look at our customers and what would resonate best with them. There are things about the baby that were phenomenal–funny, approachable and likeable–those are the attributes we want to preserve but also reflect the evolution the business has gone through.”


Soon after taking over as CEO last year, Paul Idzik hinted that he wanted to see the brand’s marketing move in a new direction and that it “should be more scientific in measuring how its messages resonate with clients.” Landsman says the new campaign is grounded in a deep analytical look at the customer. “It’s understanding the needs, wants, and preferences of our core customers and those we’d like to attract to E-Trade,” she says. “We thought about how critical it was to evolve our brand and campaign platform to reflect that.”

The company dropped babymakers at longtime agency partner Grey New York in favor of Ogilvy & Mather New York. Before introducing the new direction, though, the brand made a smart move to send off the baby in style with an ad that made the split look entirely mutual.

The new spot celebrates what the brand calls a “Type-E” customer, which Landsman describes it as a “self-directed, independent, maybe a little irreverent, confident investor” who, by the looks of the ad, also likes to sing and dance an awful lot in public.

Ogilvy’s global managing director for E-Trade Russ Messner says the “Type-E” campaign aims to retain the core qualities the talking baby reflected on the brand. “The baby campaign was built on the idea that online trading can be a bit intimidating so we want it to feel so easy a baby could do it,” says Messner. “The world has moved on from that, people are now very comfortable now doing financial transactions online, so it was time to evolve, while maintaining the tone and tenor E-Trade has in the marketplace. The baby was special in that it brought a sense of fun to a category that can be very self-serious, so we wanted to make sure to keep that but also reflect the evolving nature of who our customer is.”


The next stage of the campaign, set to launch in late April, will feature Kevin Spacey as a talent scout seeking out these Type-E investors. “We saw him as a great person to bring this character to life because he’s smart, witty, and has a very modern sensibility,” says Landsman.

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Messner says it’s impossible to try and top the baby. “What you have to do is try to send it off in the spirit of what it was all about and recognize how brilliant it was, then take a fresh sheet and build something new,” he says. “If you try and replace something iconic as a direct objective, I think you could get lost along the way. Instead we went about finding out who the customers are, what their needs are and finding ways E-Trade can make their experience better.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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