135 East 57th Street
New York, New York 10022
Telephone: (646) 521-4300
Fax: (888) 276-9771
Web site: www.etrade.com
In early 2000 the high stock prices of America's technology industry were reaching their zenith. E*TRADE Financial Corp., along with other brokerage firms, such as Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., allowed stock traders to monitor and trade stock online. The flippant buy-sell behavior of day traders—along with the overvaluation of technology companies—was greatly responsible for the stock market's drastic collapse in mid-2000. Although E*TRADE was considered a dot-com, meaning it was a business that existed primarily online, its financial services included ATM retail banking, institutional brokerages, and asset management. E*TRADE released its "Monkey Trilogy" campaign to suggest that it was not just another half-baked dot-com but a formidable brokerage that could compete with established firms such as Charles Schwab and Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.
The campaign consisted of three commercials created by the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The first spot, "Monkey," aired during the 2000 Super Bowl. At that time the technology sector was still flourishing. Of the game's 36 spots, 17 were purchased by dot-coms. "Monkey" featured two disheveled men clapping while a chimpanzee danced to the Mexican folk song "La Cucaracha" in a garage. The spot concluded with the copy "Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?" At the 2001 Super Bowl, after the technology industry had imploded, E*TRADE aired "Monkey II." The spot featured the same chimpanzee walking through a ghost town consisting of failed dot-com companies. The final Super Bowl commercial, in 2002, featured an E*TRADE executive firing the chimpanzee for creating an over-the-top E*TRADE commercial complete with dancing showgirls and big-band music.
Many advertising critics considered the "Monkey Trilogy" an insightful commentary on the rise and fall of America's technology industry. The first commercial garnered a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. In 2000 Shoot magazine ranked "Monkey" above all other Super Bowl spots with its "Top Spot of the Week" rating. Audiences polled by Adweek also rated "Monkey" as the most memorable commercial out of all the 17 dot-com spots.
Trade Plus first surfaced in 1982 as an electronic brokerage firm for companies such as Charles Schwab. Ten years later Trade Plus created E*TRADE, an online service available only to stockbrokers. When www.etrade.com launched in 1996, E*TRADE's services also became available to the general public. Soon afterward the firm
hired Christos Cotsakos as CEO, and the new executive took the firm public. The technology boom in the late 1990s fueled the popularity of purchasing and selling stocks online, which boosted E*TRADE's sales; in addition, the company's own stock price flourished.
In 1999 Goodby, Silverstein & Partners pitched its services to E*TRADE's Cotsakos, who quickly undermined the ad agency's concepts. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' cochairman Rich Silverstein explained the experience in Campaign, an advertising-industry magazine. "The first meeting with him was like boot camp," he said. "It was really, really awful. Someone in our team—and I won't say who—came out saying they would never work for the man. He was challenging us to go to war with him, to see what we were made of. You don't usually get attacked in the first interview—usually it's a love fest. But he would ask you a question and you'd answer and he'd say, 'Wrong! Next!'" Despite an unfavorable start, however, E*TRADE awarded its ad account to the agency. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners soon released the "It's Time for E*TRADE" campaign, which collected a Gold EFFIE from the American Marketing Association in 2000.
Rich Silverstein explained the demands that Cotsakos placed on the agency leading up to the 2000 Super Bowl. "Christos always wanted to [advertising during] the Super Bowl," Silverstein continued in Campaign. "And he beat us up for six months. 'What's the Super Bowl commercial? What's the Super Bowl commercial?' It was unbelievable. Yeah, it was more pressure than anyone needs."
The agency believed that other dot-com ads were funny but that few connected their humor back to the brand. As a result, even though audiences enjoyed the commercials, they could not recall what was actually being advertised. The observation prompted Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to comment on its competitor's wasted advertising money and then contrast the wastage with E*TRADE's prudence.
The original "Monkey" spot targeted the free-spending consumers who were still enjoying the technology boom at the beginning of 2000. One year later America's economic landscape had changed. Internet-based companies that could afford a $2 million Super Bowl spot in 2000, such as Pets.com, were no longer in existence. The economic slump of 2001 and 2002 changed the "Monkey" campaign's target. The second and third "Monkey Trilogy" commercials targeted America's growing jobless population that had once worked for dot-coms. It also targeted the suddenly sheepish investors that were recoiling from the damaged stock market. "E*TRADE always wants to be timely and on top of things," Dave Gray, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners group creative director and art director, explained to Shoot. "So, basically, [Monkey II] was just an observation of the condition of the market now&a lot of [dot-coms] are now out of business. The fact that there were only three [dot-com] companies advertising on the  Super Bowl made it perfect timing."
With an estimated 135 million viewers during the 2000 Super Bowl and 131 million during the 2001 Super Bowl, the campaign reached one of America's largest audiences. Talking to Shoot magazine, Paul Cappelli, the president of the advertising service the Ad Store, New York, lightheartedly described the Super Bowl audience as "a bunch of morons sitting around a TV, watching a football game and drinking beer." Cappelli also explained that this target expected Super Bowl commercials to be funny. When the commercials were not, audiences sometimes felt confused.
The three "Monkey Trilogy" spots parodied other dot-com commercials. According to advertising analysts, using parody was a cost-effective method of reaching large audiences. Parody poked fun at something the target market already understood; it avoided the risk of creating an entirely new joke. "Advertising is one of our most popular forms of entertainment. So making jokes about ads can be a fun, 'in' thing to do," the marketing and advertising consultant Michael Markowitz explained to USA Today.
Christos Cotsakos, the CEO of the online brokerage firm E*TRADE, had an atypical approach to leadership, according to Campaign, an advertising magazine. Inside an office building that served as E*TRADE's Menlo Park headquarters (the company moved to New York city in 2004), Cotsakos installed a regular garage door along an office hallway. The out-of-place furnishing was to remind E*TRADE employees that "behind some garage door somewhere, someone else could be working on ideas better than theirs."
On December 31, 1999, Merrill Lynch, one of the world's largest financial-services companies, released a $150 million campaign to herald its new online services under the tagline "Be Bullish." Although Merrill Lynch dwarfed competitors such as Charles Schwab, Ameritrade,
and E*TRADE, the Merrill Lynch brokerage division had been criticized for its late delivery of...