E-Trade CMO talks advertising evolution: 'no monkey humor'

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E-Trade Financial Corp. recently launched an campaign pushing the tagline "Challenge the Ordinary ... Be E-traordinary." It's the first major work from the pairing of Nicholas Utton, former top marketer at JP Morgan Chase and MasterCard, and his new agency of record, Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York. Mr. Utton talked to Advertising Age's Matt Creamer about the new strategy.

Q. Over the years, E-Trade ads have evolved from funny, to product-oriented, to, now, emotional. One of the spots features a montage of geniuses like Bob Dylan, Arthur Ashe and Ernest Hemingway with a voice-over meditating on limitless possibilities. Has the brand that put a monkey on an overturned bucket in a Super Bowl spot grown up?

A. We've evolved. We have grown up. We're the intelligent activist rather than the irreverent rebel. Humor is great for a while but it's the mixture of the rational and the emotional that's helped get us to where we are.

Q. That little asterisk that separates "E" from "Trade" functions pretty prominently in the ads. Why?

A. Seventy-two percent of banks and financial institutions use the colors red and blue in their logo. Purple and green is definitely not red and blue. We tested this and consumers kept saying this is part of your heritage and part of your difference. We asked what brands have used their logos successfully. The classic one is the Nike swoosh and I will say to you, categorically, that the asterisk will be E-Trade's Nike swoosh equivalent.

Q. I'm trying to think of another financial institution that's done that successfully. Oh wait, your old employer, MasterCard.

A. I was part of the team there that said we had to find a way to showcase those twin circles that were proprietary, knowing that Visa and Discover didn't have one. The institution ended up with a mnemonic device. Our mnemonic device will be featured in all our online and print media. Not many financial institutions have hyped their icon as much as they might have.

Q. You recently hired BBDO, an agency that's trying to push beyond its TV-heritage and become more media-agnostic. Will we see any of that approach in the E-Trade campaigns?

A. Andrew Robertson's going through a sea change in creating the new and improved BBDO. What impressed us was the 360-degree branding element. They showed us how "Challenge the Ordinary" could come alive in every media type and collateral.

Q. But I'm guessing we're not going to see any monkeys in future E-Trade ads.

A. We'll have a few executions where there will be humor. But there will be no monkey humor. What was relevant in 1996 has changed. We want consumers to bring their assets to us and money is serious stuff.

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