Super Bowl

E-Trade Returns to Super Bowl After Five-Year Hiatus

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E-Trade 2018 Super Bowl 3x2
E-Trade 2018 Super Bowl 3x2 Credit: E-Trade

E-Trade's back, baby -- just minus the baby.

The New York-based financial firm known for its wisecracking infant is returning to the 2018 Super Bowl after a five-year hiatus with a 30-second spot. Airing in the game's second quarter, the commercial continues the new messaging and marketing platform E-Trade rolled out earlier this year with its new agency MullenLowe—"Don't Get Mad, Get E-Trade."

The Super Bowl effort, which includes a robust social media component, will highlight the coming perils for consumers who have not saved or planned financially for retirement. The spot is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of "Little Miss Sunshine" fame.

"Right now, it's the right message at the right time," says Lea Stendahl, chief marketing officer at 36-year-old E-Trade. "The retirement message, and shining the light on the importance of savings and retirement planning has become increasingly important." She noted recent research that suggests Americans are not saving enough for their golden years.

Super Bowl streak

E-Trade was once one of the Super Bowl's most consistent advertisers, airing spots in the big game annually from 2008 through 2013. Yet five years ago, following sales declines and a rotating cast of CEOs and creative agencies, the trading company decided to end its streak. Stendahl, who was with E-Trade from 2004 through 2013 and rejoined the company two years ago, says the brand has spent the last several months returning to its "challenger brand routes."

The brand's return on Sunday is part of a larger rebranding effort. In 2016, E-Trade hired Assembly as its new media agency; Mullen was appointed as creative and strategic agency-of-record last April after a competitive review. The company has made a point of targeting younger consumers just beginning to contemplate their financial futures, in addition to its existing flock of trading loyalists. The new marketing tagline tackles the anger and envy many consumers feel around the wealthy. An early spot last spring showcased a man who is jealous of the ostentatiousness of the uber-rich. He decides to use E-Trade to get rich himself.

"'Don't Get Mad, Get E-Trade' was something we pitched from the jump—we saw the power in that insight of innate frustration around people with money," says Tim Vaccarino, executive creative director at Mullen. "You can harness that frustration and do something with that. It's getting people to act."

Financial payoff

The empowerment strategy seems to be paying off for the financial brand. Last week, E-Trade reported fourth-quarter net revenue of $637 million, a 25 percent increase over the year-earlier period, though net income of $129 million was down from the year-earlier period's $147 million.

"Last year was about reinvigorating the brand," said Karl Roessner, who was named chief executive in 2016, on a conference call with analysts, noting that this year, the brand will be "making a big splash on the national stage." E-Trade intends to ramp up its marketing spending to around $200 million this year, executives said on the call. In 2016, E-Trade spent $131 million on advertising and market development, according to the company's 10-K annual filing. Current 30-second Super Bowl spots cost around $5 million, industry experts say.

While the new marketing push appears to be lucrative for E-Trade, analysts caution that it is still early days.

"We aren't completely sold on the brand message (yet), but we give the company credit for shaking the tree with its irreverent ads and garnering the extra bit of attention that a relatively small company (at least by broker standards) needs to stay relevant," wrote Doug Mewhirter, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson, in a recent research report.

Second-screen social

Sunday's push will also include a series of short social media videos showcasing a group of octogenarian cheerleaders—again, the dangers of not saving for retirement. E-Trade's team intends to use the content for various situations during the match between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

"Given that this is a significant investment, there's an expectation that the investment has to work hard both before, during and after the game," says Stendahl. "The logical place for that is to live in the social and digital world."

The new marketing follows an earlier campaign from R/GA that featured Kevin Spacey as a spokesman. Spacey, whose E-Trade branding last ran in 2016, has recently been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen men. Stendahl notes that E-Trade's branding works best when coupled with humor—and right now, that does not include a celebrity spokesperson.

"For other brands at any given time, a celebrity spokesperson might be the right fit, but for us right now, we're comfortable," she says, noting the brand has other tenets in place such as connecting emotionally with consumers.

Contributing: Lindsay Stein

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