The Genius of E*Trade ‘Monkey,’ the Most Subversive Super Bowl Ad Ever

A look back at GS&P's bit of brilliance from 2000

E*Trade was initially worried about openly saying it was wasting money. E*Trade
Headshot of Tim Nudd

Whenever we sit down with creative directors for our “Best Ads Ever” video series and ask about their favorite Super Bowl spot, we often—not surprisingly—hear “1984.” But a close second, eclipsing all other runners-up, is E*Trade “Monkey,” the spot from the 2000 Super Bowl that brilliantly lampooned the expense of advertising on the big game.

So many creatives are fans of the spot, which was made by Goodby Silverstein & Partners. In the video below, you can hear from some of them, as they discuss their affection for one of the great meta moments in Super Bowl history.

We got some of the backstory about “Monkey” this week when we sat down with Gerry Graf, who was the copywriter on it, for a podcast chat. Graf told us the idea came about through a circuitous route. Originally, he said, he and partner Dave Gray had thought of having E*Trade invest the $2 million instead of running of a Super Bowl ad.

“Then we got down to the idea of, well, if they’re not going to invest it and they spent it on the Super Bowl, then they were kind of wasting $2 million,” he said. “Which got us thinking, how would you waste $2 million on the Super Bowl?”

They couldn’t think of anything, so they skipped work and went golfing. “On our way back from golf, I remember saying, what if have a monkey? And the monkey’s just dancing with an E*Trade T-shirt?” said Graf.

Here’s the full spot, which was directed by Bryan Buckley of Hungry Man:

It worked on a number of levels, Graf added.

“You have high entertainment value,” he said. “A what-the-heck-is-going-on-here kind of thing, so you have people leaning in on the Super Bowl. And at the very end, you really bring it back to a point you want to make about the brand.”

Initially, the client didn’t want to do it, fearing backlash if a financial company were to openly say it was wasting money. But agency co-founder Rich Silverstein was a big believer in the idea, and pushed it hard. He offered to make the spot on the agency’s dime and show it to the client, who could then decide if they wanted it. In the end, of course, E*Trade bought it—and aired one of the classic spots ever to run on the game.

Hear more from Graf in the podcast below. The E*Trade chat starts around the 7:47 mark.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.