Behind the Scenes of the E-Trade 'Milkaholic' Commercial

Lindsay Lohan is none too pleased with this ad's new talking baby, but, trust us, it could've been a lot worse or at least a lot funnier

Before the Baby

October 30, 2007: Advertising giant Grey Group, in a Draperian client grab from rival BBDO, pitches a struggling online stock brokerage a campaign for the YouTube era. "Amazingly, no one had ever done a campaign shot as a webcam before," says Tor Myhren, Grey's chief creative officer. Two spots — a Korean family buying stock for the first time, and Myhren himself (left) posing as a night trader — were successful enough for E-Trade to shoot for the biggest night in commercials.

The Baby Vomits

February 3, 2008: The most talked-about ad during the Super Bowl is a twist on the webcam: a talking (and puking) baby. Giants beat Patriots, 17-14.

The Baby Gets a FriendFebruary 1, 2009: The most talked-about ad during the Super Bowl is a twist on the talking baby: a singing baby, Steelers beat Cardinals, 27-23.

Time for a New Baby

February 2, 2009: E-Trade commits to a 2010 Super Bowl ad which, on average, will go for $2.8 million. "We never discussed not having the baby," Myhren says. "But the third year is always the hardest year because you've seen it twice — there's always a bit of public backlash. I don't care how cute the baby is or how funny the script is, people are going to go, 'Enough with the baby.'" Another problem: The original E-Trade baby, Manolo (left), had grown up.


Going After the $500,000 Investor

July 6, 2009: Beginning the creative process "incredibly early," Myhren and creative director Paul Behnen target an older, wealthier audience. "But then again, it's a fucking talking baby," Myhren admits. "If I'm a sixty-year-old millionaire, am I ever going to trust that baby? Probably not."


Spot No. 1: Frank and the Lotto Ticket

August 11, 2009: Three Super Bowl possibilities emerge, the first of which features the new E-Trade baby at a deli counter next to Frank, a middle-aged man scratching off a lottery ticket. He does not win. But the spot does become E-Trade's lead-up to Super Sunday, airing throughout the NFL playoffs.

Spot No. 2: The Plane Back from Vegas

August 11, 2009: Sitting first class on the return flight from a bachelor party, the E-Trade baby accuses his friend, Mike, of being a bad dancer. Like Elaine Benes bad. This makes Mike cry, but not before our star declares that E-Trade has saved him a "pant load," which is more disgusting than funny. You'll see this one immediately after the game.

Spot No. 3: 'Girlfriend'

August 11, 2009 (before the Tiger Woods scandal): This is the commercial you'll see during the Super Bowl: The new E-Trade baby gets himself a lady, and she's none too pleased with him for being too busy with his portfolio to call her back. Turns out he's been busy with another "woman," Deborah, who pops into the frame when the baby's girlfriend accuses her of being a "milk-a-holic" and delivers what could become the water-cooler catchphrase of 2010. You'll see.

The Hunt for a New Voice

September 2009: Just as important as the face of 2010's E-Trade baby was the voice actor. Grey auditioned dozens of high-profile comedians ("a bunch of guys from 30 Rock and SNL alums," Behnen says) but settled on Pete Holmes, a relatively unknown aside from the New York stand-up circuit (left), to be the voice of the 2010 E-Trade baby. "Everything that comes out of his mouth," Myhren says, "is just completely weird and random."

The Woman Behind the Baby's Girlfriend

September 2009: Glennis McMurray, another New York comedian (left), lands the female lead. "She was always the girlfriend," Behnen says. "But the milk-a-holic took us four rounds of casting. It was an allusive voice. We wanted someone disruptive and pissed off and angry but E-Trade thought the voices were too ghetto." After four rounds of casting, the team settled on Jennifer Harris, a not-comedic actress.

The Original Catchphrase

September 10, 2009: Before deciding the baby's girlfriend would call his mistress a "milk-a-holic," Grey took very seriously the process of finding a synonym for "slut" that was both funny and FCC-friendly. These included: tramp, cockadoodle, slee-otch, swashquotch, leaky diaper, and diaper rash. Twelve days later, alternatives would expand to include bimbus, jailbait, kanker, trike, and slitch.

More Dirty Baby Talk

September 28, 2009: The mistress gets a new name: Lindsay. Her nickname alternatives now include picklehead, bubblehead, food ferret, beasel, blooter, slummock, gutter hound, fish face, saddlebags, pudge muffin, skanky cake, rug burn, hangnail, and Mrs. Robinson.

The Catchphrase Arrives

October 1, 2009, 3:30 P.M.: After E-Trade rejected Grey's favorite catchphrase — "Who you callin' flank-steak woman?!" (see left) — the word "milk-a-holic" appears for what is sure to be the first time in human history.

The Great Baby Hunt

November 5, 2009: If you film babies in Canada, they're cheaper. And so fifty child actors, aged nine to thirteen months, descended upon Toronto — nearly half of whom spent the afternoon crying. "You are really at the mercy of these babies," Behnen says. "If they don't want to do anything, there's nothing you can do about it. Then you have the drama of the stage moms and you have these baby wranglers — people who are paid to wave stuff in front of the babies. They're kind of circus freaks."

The Runners Up

November 6, 2009: Using a tool developed by Errol Morris called an interrotron, Myhren tapes the babies against a green screen performing all three spots — with dots all over their faces for last-minute animation. Then came the hard part. "Everybody thinks babies are universally cute," says Behnen, "but some are really, really cute, and some look like old men." Myles and Logan (left and right) apparently fell into the "really, really cute" category, but looked just old-man enough to fall short to...

The E-Trade Baby

November 9, 2009: After a conclave with E-Trade, a Kundun is chosen: meet McCallister, a sixteen-month-old acting rookie. "He's got this great blend of natural body language," Behnen says. "When you put that with Pete Holmes's voice, it's hilarious."

The Mouth of the New E-Trade Baby

December 2009: The problem with a one-year-old star is that he can't actually talk. Six year olds, however, are perfect: "They can read and articulate big words, but they're mouths are still plump," Behnen says. After studying McCallister's lips ("He's got this big lower lip and cute little cupid-bow upper lip"), he chooses the mouth of a child named Jake from New Jersey. The mouth of his girlfriend would be played by Jake's sister, Hanna. "But at this point, the milk-a-holic wasn't cast yet," Behnen explains, "because it hadn't been approved yet. But we knew we needed some dumb-drunk-blond baby lips."

E-Trade Puts Its Money Where His Mouth Is

January 6, 2010: Based on the results from E-Trade consumer testing — and there's a lot of testing when millions are on the line — two spots are tapped as potential Super Bowl commercials: the milk-a-holic "Girlfriend" spot and the pant-load "First Class" ad. "'Lottery' just didn't feel like it was up to it," Myhren says. That spot still ended up on air, alongside the collapse of Brett Favre's legacy.

What the Punch Line Could've Been

January 8, 2010: E-Trade finally bought the final scripts for the "Girlfriend" and "First Class" spots. "We're locked in on the 'First Class' script completely," Myhren says, "and for 'Girlfriend' on everything except the very, very last word. It was something really aggressive but I thought hilarious. The girlfriend pops her head in and says, 'Say it to my milk-a-holic face!' I think it would have become a catchphrase, but E-Trade felt it was too aggressive. Provisionally, we have her saying 'Milk-a-what?' which doesn't quite have the edge. I think it falls flat, but I hope I'm wrong."

Making Those Mouths Work

January 15, 2010: New York animation firm Clik3X combines the mouth footage, original tryout videos, and still-unfinished copy in a hustle. "You can always get one word animated later," Myhren explains.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

January 31, 2010: After a final review, messengers deliver two of the biggest, most expensive commercials of the 2010 Super Bowl with — despite its mastermind's own hesitations — what may or may not be America's new favorite line: milk-a-what?!