The Spot: Oh, Baby

E*Trade takes its talking tot around the world in a high-octane Super Bowl spot from Grey

IDEA: The E*Trade baby isn't known as a world traveler. All that changed Sunday in the company's high-energy Super Bowl spot, in which the talking toddler showed what you could do with the 401(k) dollars you're losing to hidden fees. In short, you could have one hell of a world party, as a photo montage during the spot demonstrated, showing the baby running with the bulls (in a BabyBjorn), sailing (poorly), taking a trip to space (with a dog) and playing polo (like a boss), among other expensive activities—all set to pounding music. It's a boisterous evolution for the normally highchair- and crib-bound infant. "It is a different kind of spot," said Tor Myhren, president and chief creative officer of Grey in New York. "In other ads, we've had a little puke here, a clown there. But mostly it was 30 seconds of a streetwise baby saying funny things. This year we went to a more visual solution." Added E*Trade CMO Nick Utton: "It's exponentially more difficult each year to keep it fresh and have a different messaging component. … Tor and the team haven't been sleeping much, but we are very pleased with how it turned out."

COPYWRITING: Writing started last May, yielding scores of ideas, but this script didn't come along until mid-December. "Having great music and great imagery, and taking the baby to places he's never been, seemed fresh and Super Bowl-worthy," said Myhren. In the front half of the ad, the baby broaches the fees issue with his typical jaded attitude ("Oh, this is tragic, man…"). He wraps the second half with a simple "Boom!"—echoing the "Whoa!" he uttered at the end of his first Super Bowl spot, in 2008, after spitting up on his keyboard. "We write hundreds of lines," said Myhren. "Finally you come up with 'Boom.' I hope America loves it. You play it for large crowds, and it seems to play well." The on-screen tagline is: "Less for us. More for you."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: There have been four E*Trade babies, and for this spot, Grey used footage of the original one, which was shot in late 2007. (Grey handles the production itself.) The agency has a 4-year-old say the lines and grafts the mouth onto the baby—somewhat crudely, but intentionally so. Combined with the visually flat bedroom scenes, it's almost "anti art direction," said Myhren. "The word I use is real. If you go over-the-top CGI with it and he's running around doing backflips, to me it's not funny." On the Super Bowl, he added, "where everything's loud and over the top, it forces you to pay attention." The creatives mocked up dozens of photos for the montage. In the end, some communicate financial excess, while others are more random. "The baby in the hot tub with the panda?" said Myhren. "It doesn't make much sense, but it was just funny. People would laugh, for whatever reason. You can't ignore that."

TALENT: Comedian Pete Holmes does the voiceover and helps fine-tune the scripts. E*Trade won't say much about the child actors. "We try to keep that magical component under wraps," Utton said, adding that trust funds have been set up for all of them.

SOUND: Music labels and commercial music houses were asked for ideas, but Grey's Zach Pollakoff found the track—"Drinking From the Bottle," by Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and English rapper Tinie Tempah. "It has a very, very positive vibe to it," said Myhren. "It drives the images forward and leaves you feeling really good about E*Trade."

MEDIA: The ad should stay in rotation for at least a year, Utton said. But wowing Super Bowl viewers is its primary job. "This is Q1," he said. "We've got to hit some numbers."