Doug Schommer is an art director at Core Creative. Here, he recounts the story of his time working with an agency in New York and the experience of working with the team who developed the famous E*Trade talking baby ad.
It was an “All-Hands-on-Deck” creative meeting in October of 2007. Some 30-plus creative teams at Grey New York, including myself, would be competing for the winning idea for a new client – an E*Trade commercial to debut during the 3rd quarter of the 2008 Super Bowl. A creative’s dream. Grey had a new Executive Creative Director after they went public earlier that year, and although we all wanted to impress our new boss, Tor Myhren, our real motivation was to get the coveted Super Bowl spot on our reel. The ultimate prize for any creative.
The mission was simple. Come up with a Super Bowl caliber spot. The creative brief was less than a page long. E*Trade would later run a separate campaign to cover the nuts and bolts, reasons to believe, key selling points and target audience. My copywriter and I were on the heels of a successful Captain Morgan campaign and were eager to keep the ball rolling. We hibernated in our midtown office in New York to bounce ideas off one another. This is all we did for two weeks. Solid. Day and night. It wasn’t uncommon for one of us to get a call late at night (usually from the bar) with some kooky idea. They were always brilliant until we revisited them the next morning.
When it was time for the creative department to regroup and present ideas, everyone wanted to go first. Why? What if someone else has the same, brilliant idea as you do? Who wins? The team who presented it first, that’s who.
After two and a half hours of sharing ideas, there were some good nuggets, but no winners. We brainstormed as a team and someone mentioned a talking baby. Most immediate reactions were, WHAT?!? How many times have we seen that? Not to mention Quizno’s had just wrapped its successful campaign featuring “Bob” the talking baby. Funny? Yes. Original? No. But, yeah, it WAS funny. Tor Myhren made the decision to roll the dice. (Watch his TED Talk on “The Daydreamer’s Dilemma.”)
We broke for the night and it was announced to us the next morning that the ‘talking baby’ idea was going to move forward based on the concept, “so easy a baby can use it.” We had already produced two spots for E*Trade which appeared to be shot on a webcam and it seemed to be a logical style to move forward with. So, the talking baby would be an extension of that campaign – talking to a webcam.
It was presented to the client and approved.
So how do you film a baby, get him to look at camera and remember his lines? A teleprompter of course. No, seriously. We had a teleprompter of sorts set up just to get the baby to look at camera. Manolo Gonzalez was the baby and his mother’s face was projected on to the teleprompter to get him to look at camera. Strange? Yes. Effective? Yes. The mouth of a 4-year-old was eventually filmed separately and superimposed on the baby. (A 4-year-old can talk and their mouth still looks like a baby’s.)
The two spots were in the can just days before Super Bowl XLII. One of the creative directors at Grey held a Super Bowl party at his DUMBO apartment and all of us were there. If you’ve never been to an advertising creative’s Super Bowl party, it goes something like this …
Talk, eat, yadda yadda, drink, yappity yap, drink some more, blah blah, blah, did you hear the one about the account person who…. SHHHHHH! COMMERCIALS ARE ON!
E*Trade Baby aired, we cheered and we all felt something special. It was a team effort. Even though the E*Trade baby was conceived during an “All-Hands-on-Deck” creative session, everyone felt like the father or mother. The only true father would be Tor Myhren. He had told us this would end up being either genius or stupid. But he had the courage to roll the dice, and won.
The next day, E*Trade had more new account sign-ups than it had ever recorded in its history. A couple years later in the campaign, Lindsay Lohan sued E*trade for calling the baby Lindsey a “milkoholic.” That fiasco, which E*Trade settled for an undisclosed amount, turned into 47,600 pieces of media coverage. To date, E*Trade’s YouTube channel has more than 64 million views. In 2009, 19 million people viewed the E*Trade baby outtakes.
And that, son, is where E*Trade babies come from.