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The Story Behind the E*Trade Baby

6/21/11

By Ken Magill

Talk about publicity.

Lindsay Lohanʼs lawsuit against E*Trade Financial Corp. over a reference in its last Super Bowl commercial to “milkoholic Lindsay” resulted in 47,600 pieces of media coverage, according to Tor Myhren, president and chief creative officer of Grey New York.

“It kind of frightens me what that says about this country,” he said in a presentation at the Direct Marketing Associationʼs All For One conference in the New York Hilton this week.

Lohan sued E*Trade after the ad ran, claiming the online stock-trading trading company violated her rights by referring to “Lindsay,” the milkoholic other woman.

E*Trade and Lohan settled in September for an undisclosed amount.

Myhren said the ad did refer to a real Lindsay, a former Grey intern. He did not elaborate.

He said the before the first E*Trade baby commercial ran on Fox during the 2008 Super Bowl he expected things would go very well or very badly.

Of course, how things went is now history. It’s one of the most popular campaigns in recent memory.

For evidence of how popular the E*Trade baby has become, a video of outtakes posted on YouTube drew 8 million views.

When asked if he could have achieved the same results by spending elsewhere the $3 million E*Trade spent on that first Super Bowl ad, Myhren adamantly said no.

“I have a very strong opinion on this,” he said. “I call the Super Bowl ‘Americaʼs last campfire.’ Itʼs the last place people gather around to all watch the same thing.”

He said Super Bowl advertising gets much more exposure than just the spot during the game.

“Itʼs also the two weeks of publicity before the game” and all the publicity afterward, he said.

When asked by a marketer in the audience how long the campaign would run, Myhren answered with a question.

“How long do you think it should run?” he said. Earlier in his presentation he had said he was surprised the campaign has run this long.

The campaign is apparently expected to run at least through February 2012, though.

Nicholas Utton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for E*Trade said the company has bought another Super Bowl ad.

According to Myhren, there have been three E*Trade babies and multiple voices.

One of the biggest challenges in making the ads is getting the baby to look at the camera, he said.

“They look everywhere but at the camera,” he said.

To overcome the eye-contact challenge, Grey uses technology developed by a documentarian that allows a face to be projected on the camera lens.

They place the baby in a room and everyone leaves him. “Itʼs really kind of cruel,” said Myhren.

Then the babyʼs motherʼs face appears on the camera lens and she interacts with him through it until they get the motions they want.

To get the babyʼs mouth to seemingly form the words, they have a four year old read the script. Then they shrink the mouth a bit and superimpose it on the babyʼs.

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