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 halfbaked 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.
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 an online trading service. Television spots for ‘‘Be Bullish’’ aired on cable channels such as CNN and USA. The campaign’s premier television spot, which resembled a largebudget action movie, featured commandos rappelling from helicopters that were hovering above Manhattan. The helicopter squadron subsequently airlifted the 7,000-pound bull statue that was commonly associated with the New York Stock Exchange and Merrill Lynch’s logo. ‘‘We’re bringing the bull back,’’ James Gorman, chief marketing officer at Merrill Lynch, said to USA Today, referring both to the company’s logo and to an aggressive attitude within the stock market.
Charles Schwab reigned as America’s largest online brokerage firm in 2000. Charles Schwab’s ‘‘Smarter Investors’’ surfaced during the 2000 Super Bowl with three spots created by the ad agency BBDO New York. Until the Super Bowl ‘‘Smarter Investors’’ had only featured high-profile athletes such as tennis star Anna Kournikova and football player Shannon Sharpe. Hoping to stand out from the athletic climate of the Super Bowl, one Charles Schwab Super Bowl spot titled ‘‘Ringo’’ featured former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr explaining the stock market to younger musicians. ‘‘Using a non-sports personality, such as Ringo Starr, helps demonstrate the depth and breadth of this campaign,’’ Ted Sann, cochief executive officer and chief creative officer of BBDO, said in a press release published in the PR Newswire news service.
The first ‘‘Monkey Trilogy’’ commercial cost an estimated $2 million. The 30-second spot ‘‘Monkey’’ began in front of a suburban-looking garage. Inside it one older man sitting on an ice chest was beside another man in a lawn chair. Next to them was an overturned bucket supporting a boom box. A chimpanzee dressed in an E*TRADE T-shirt pressed play on the boom box, which played the Mexican song ‘‘La Cucaracha.’’ The ape began dancing; and the two men struggled to clap in time with the song. At the spot’s conclusion copy read, ‘‘Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?’’
The spot was originally conceived by Goodby, Silverstein & Partner’s creative director Dave Gray and associate creative director Gerry Graf. Bryan Buckley of the production company Bicoastal/International Hungry Man directed the spot. Buckley explained his first impression of the commercial to Shoot ‘‘Gerry and Dave called me and said, ‘OK, there’s two guys clapping, and a monkey standing on a street corner, and it just goes on for thirty seconds,’ and I’m thinking, ‘This spot sounds terrible,’ ’’ Buckley mused. After he heard the spot’s punch line, however, Buckley said, ‘‘I just laughed out loud because you just never expected that.’’ Buckley explained that two of the spot’s main challenges were choosing the right actors and selecting a filming location. Instead of using a street corner Buckley chose an unassuming garage for the location. One of the men cast in the spot was not even an actor, but the father of an actor with whom Buckley had worked previously.
Buckley then directed the 2001 E*TRADE commercial titled ‘‘Monkey II,’’ which also used the chimpanzee from ‘‘Monkey.’’ Instead of parodying wasted dot-com advertising, ‘‘Monkey II’’ commented on the bankruptcy that had plagued dot-coms since mid-2000. Only three dot-com companies, E*TRADE, Hotjobs.com, and Monster.com, aired commercials in the 2001 Super Bowl; a drastic difference from the 17 companies featured in 2000’s game. ‘‘Monkey II’’ began with the chimpanzee riding his horse through a ghost town of fictional startup companies such as Pimentoloaf.com and TieClasp.com. The vanity plates of an abandoned Porsche Boxster read ‘‘DOT COMER.’’ After a wrecking ball smashed through the ‘‘LeSocks.com’’ building, the sock-puppet dog that had starred in the previous year’s Pets.com commercial landed at the chimpanzee’s feet. ‘‘Monkey II’’ was not entirely humorous. For the conclusion, tears began running down the chimpanzee’s cheek, and the copy ‘‘Invest wisely’’ appeared with E*TRADE’s logo. The final spot, ‘‘Monkey Musical,’’ aired during the 2002 Super Bowl. Although the spot continued E*TRADE’s previous wasted-money theme, it received less acclaim from the advertising industry. The spot began with a chimpanzee bedecked in a shiny green suit before an ensemble of Las Vegas showgirls. After a 30-second musical act the white copy ‘‘Tomorrow morning’’ appeared on a black background. The chimpanzee was shown sitting in the office of E*TRADE’s CEO, Christos Cotsakos. The disapproving executive held a newspaper with the headline ‘‘Monkey Flops’’ and berated the chimpanzee for advertising with a musical. He fired the chimp but set him up with a new job manning space flights for NASA.
The first two ‘‘Monkey Trilogy’’ spots collected some of advertising’s most coveted awards. In 2000 ‘‘Monkey’’ won a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival (in the investment, insurance, and propertydevelopment category). The same spot collected an ANDY Award in the financial products and services category of the International ANDY Awards, given out annually by the Advertising Club of New York. In the banking and financial category of the Clio Awards, it won a silver in 2001. ‘‘Monkey II’’ also collected an ANDY Award in the television category in 2002. It was short-listed in the investment, insurance, and propertydevelopment category at Cannes.
From 2000 until 2002 Goodby, Silverstein & Partners created other E*TRADE advertisements that coincided with ‘‘Monkey Trilogy.’’ The combined effort safeguarded E*TRADE against the very thing ‘‘Monkey’’ accused other dot-coms of doing: wasting money. E*TRADE weathered the stock-market recession between 2000 and 2002 better than Merrill Lynch or Charles Schwab. Both posted a sales loss of 37 percent between 2000 and 2002. Even though it was grossly outsized by both Schwab ($4.4 billion in 2002 sales) and Merrill Lynch ($28.3 billion in 2002 sales), E*TRADE only decreased 13 percent during the same three-year-period. Sales for E*TRADE were $1.9 billion in 2002, a 13 percent decrease from the $2.2 billion posted in 2000.