Whether you’re a NY Giants fan or a New England Patriots fan, one thing was clear. Super Bowl XLII was pretty much devoid of financial services advertising fluff while beer, soft drink and car ads dominated, as usual.

 

At a record $2.7 million on average for a 30-second spot on Fox’s broadcast of the game, most financial services companies took a pass.

E*Trade, which provides a variety of services including allowing investors to buy and sell 7,000-plus mutual funds and every ETF that exists, was one of the brave few which ran not one, but two, commercials featuring a cute-as-a-button baby wielding a surprisingly adult male voice. The spots evoked visions of the rough talking Baby Herman from 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—only sans the cigar and bad attitude.

In one of the spots, the baby talks directly to the audience, musing on what must be a hot topic among the daycare bottle warmers, are you too young to invest in the market? He then goes on to supposedly buy a stock via an online trade while clicking a computer mouse in an attempt by E*Trade to show just how easy online trading is. He then spits up on himself in an attempt to add a bit of humor—and reality—to the spot.

The second spot features the same tiny tot telling of musing with “the boys” about what to do with “extra coin.” Our baby star admits he used some of his savings to rent a clown (seen from the neck down in the background, shaping a long balloon into a figure). His post decision assessment: “I really underestimated the creepiness…” Our baby goes on to note that his E*Trade savings account earns eight times the national average. While the ad was meant to attract new customers with the lure of earning more at E*Trade, it no doubt had at least part of the estimated 97 million viewers wondering how this small fry could have done the math necessary to calculate a national average on anything. But the spot allowed E*Trade to showcase its new tag line: “1,000 new accounts a day.”

According to E*Trade, those two Super Bowl ads represent a significant portion of the firm’s 2008 advertising budget, which is 30% higher than 2007’s. These and other marketing initiatives are meant to reinforce the strength of E*Trade’s brand with consumers. The ads were developed by Grey New York, E*Trade’s advertising agency since November 2007. Moreover, the new ads were intended to attract new customers by showcasing the firm’s innovative, user-friendly and low-cost solutions.

Whether the E*Trade baby’s likeability will give birth to more customers is unknown. But E*Trade is banking on a demographic supplied by data compiled by The Nielsen Company: People with $100,000 or more in household income are three times as likely to watch the Super Bowl as people in households with $30,000 of income. In addition, a significant (but undisclosed) percentage of Super Bowl viewers are active stock traders and use discount brokerage services.

Other financial services firms have advertised during the Super Bowl in past years, but have notably not returned. These companies have apparently learned that lesson that less costly appropriations to other mediums and/or national TV ads, or even local TV spots is more cost-efficient and perhaps more effective—although that debate rears up each year.

One thing is for sure: Among the industries that typically spent the most on advertising for the first nine months of 2007 (auto, telecomm, restaurants) the financial services industry came in a distant seventh place, spending a collective $387.4 million versus the colossal $2.6 billion spent by those spendthrifts, the big automakers.

It’s not that financial services firms are unwilling to spend on TV ads. After all, Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Franklin Templeton, T. Rowe Price and Wisdom Tree now have several ads that air throughout the TV schedule and on various channels. It’s just that creating a memorable and audience-catching ad for a non-tangible asset such as a brokerage, mutual fund, retirement account or ETF is truly difficult at best.

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