Two Men and a Baby

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During the 2008 Super Bowl, sometime between when the Patriots were ahead and the Giants' David Tyree making that jaw-dropping helmet catch, about 100 million people watched a baby puke on TV.

The commercial was for E*Trade and it was one of the first by Grey, NY's newest CCO Tor Myhren since he landed at the agency from Leo Burnett, Detroit the previous fall. The campaign's third spot, Baby Mobile Coming Soon is once again directed by Randy Krallman and keeps the humor bar set high. But while E*Trade's business has grown by leaps and bounds since the Super Bowl and the talking baby has been getting millions of online views, including the requisite parodies that now mark a spot's popularity, what Myhren's still really excited about is the collaborative creative process behind it all.

We spoke with Myhren about what makes this campaign unique and why he sees it as an example of a creative work model of the future.

E*Trade has a history of some funny ads – the monkey, for example – but what makes the talking baby so popular?
I don't think the idea itself is a particularly new one, I think the way it was executed was what always surprises people. So while it's certainly not the first talking baby in the history of advertising, but like anything, it's the tone of voice, the words he's saying and the overall tone that feeds it's popularity.

I've heard there were no scripts and a lot of adlibbing involved. What was the process behind these spots?
It's a unique thing in the world of advertising. Originally, we did have a script for the puking baby spot. When we were shooting the baby for it and all these voice-over guys were coming in, meanwhile I had spent the last two weeks with the director Randy Krallman. And after seeing all these people for the voice, I thought, 'Oh god, this is going to suck.' So I turned to Randy and said, 'You have to be the voice!' Because if you talk to Randy you know he has this cool, laid-back voice and his dialogue is just hilarious.

From that point Randy and I would just go on Garage Band and record a bunch of voice-overs to a bunch of different cuts of the baby, and there was a lot of back and forth until we got to a place where we thought the script was where we wanted it. It was all just adlibbing between the two of us. So we brought it in to the client and that was a bit shocking because there was only one word in it that matched the original script. And that one word was E*Trade. But the minute they saw it they thought it was so much better. That made the process for the second and third spots that much better, so we'd just hang out after each shoot and bounce back for a couple weeks until we came up with something we thought was funny.

Randy Krallman (middle)
Randy Krallman (middle)
Were you surprised at all that the client so readily accepted this working model?
It's so unique, for a client to really embrace a director and not mind that's he's going to help write these things and he's going to be the voice-over talent. But they did. And I think it was also great how our agency and Smuggler embraced how much time Randy was going to give to the campaign, because he didn't have to. Even in the creative process, we'd write ten scripts then I'd talk to Randy and go over a few scenarios and then we'd just go back and forth for a couple weeks. And it wasn't writing anything down, it was all on Garage Band because something like this can look funny on paper and be anything but on camera.

But in terms of the client, we had to make sure the spot was funny and also hit on specific things for them. So as random as the spots are, they're actually crystal clear – one is about trading online, the other is about saving money and the third is about the mobile service.

Tor Myhren
Tor Myhren
Is this sort of agility in adapting a work model to fit the project something you can take and institute on other projects?
Absolutely. I don't know if this is a perfect model for every campaign but, and this is a bit heady, but there is kind of curator-versus-creator thing going on and I think agencies, though clearly looked upon to create, are increasingly called on to curate and find the best people for specific projects. The landscape is so broad now that I don't think any agency can be an expert on everything. This is just an example where Randy is just a hilarious guy and we needed him to make them look and sound as funny as they are. I think production companies have been very willing and eager to work with agencies like this for a while, in allowing their directors to get more involved in projects, but I think agencies have been a little shy about it, for whatever reason. As we move forward, there's great talent in production companies and our other partners and it would be foolish not to tap into that. Because when you do that and work together in a good partnership, the work is just better for it.

What's next for Baby?
The fourth spot is in the works and should be out in the next couple of months. The only thing I can say right now is that he may have a friend.
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