By Jed Horowitz
NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - Digital discount broker E*Trade Financial Corp on Thursday bid farewell to the precocious baby who starred in the television commercials advertising its trading platform for the last seven years.
Or rather it gave the baby with the baritone voice the chance to angrily announce that he has resigned.
In a 30-second ad that debuted during the opening games of the NCAA March Madness tournament, a singing cat named Beanie interrupts the baby's announcement that he is funding his retirement account through E*Trade.
Told that the cat, who bursts into song with nonsensical lyrics about bundling and options and ETFs, is his new sidekick, the baby smashes his cellphone and barks: "I'm done. I'm out of here."
For the brokerage firm that is recovering from a near-fatal venture into mortgage lending and banking, the baby's retirement is no laughing matter.
Chief Executive Officer Paul Idzik said soon after his arrival in January 2013 that E*Trade was taking the wrong approach to marketing and should be more scientific in measuring how its messages resonate with clients. He fired marketing head Nick Utton, along with many other top executives. Last summer, he replaced Grey Advertising, which created the baby ads, with Oglivy & Mather.
"The baby was a wonderful iconic expression of what we were," new chief marketing officer Liza Landsman told Reuters. "But we want something that better reflects our present and where we are going."
She wouldn't be specific about the new marketing campaign that will be launched in the next few weeks, but said it will be delivered mostly through online channels such as Yahoo Finance, search engines such as Google and Bing and social networks such as Facebook rather than on television.
An increasing number of E*Trade clients of all ages and wealth levels are using digital means to research investment ideas, communicate with each other and trade. Digital reflects the client experience and is "becoming the brand, to a certain extent," Landsman said.
E*Trade President Navtej Nandra, who like Landsman was hired last May, told Reuters that about 10 percent of the company's trades are now executed through mobile and tablet devices, just behind the 12 percent of trades that rival TD Ameritrade Holdings recently said were sent through smartphones and other mobile devices.
Nandra described the firm as a "digital hybrid" that works across many platforms, including those that rely on customer service representatives and live advisers for clients who want the "human touch." E*Trade is no longer trying to be all things to all people, he said, but it is also going well beyond its old image as a firm whose major appeal is discounted stock trading commissions.
Landsman promised that the new campaign will be as iconic and "witty" as the baby-centric ads. She also said that the firm's advertising budget is "up a little" from last year.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)