Jen Katz ’19

The Words is thrilled to feature the writing of Carrigan Miller ’19 for this month’s edition of Wordplay. Hailing from West Orange, New Jersey, he is majoring in English literature and psychology and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He has also served as sports editor and editor-in-chief of The Mac Weekly. Miller has been a four-year starter offensive lineman on Macalester’s football team since his first year, earning three Academic All-Conference honors in three years. His English capstone project, Football’s Second Crisis: A season with America’s teenage gladiators, joined his passions for football and narrative non-fiction in an in-depth exploration of football’s relationship to race, class, and popular culture. Today, though, he brings us an essay on“E*Trade and the sense of despair that young people feel.” He believes that a better world is possible.

We thank Carrigan for his contribution and hope you enjoy!

I have a new favorite commercial. This is the sort of sentence that stupid people say, but I really mean it. Commercials have skewed too far towards the serious. Who cares how many pacemakers Duracell powers? Give me the Geico cavemen.

My favorite commercial opens on a red-headed woman working on her computer

“You should be mad they gave this guy a promotion,” a voice says.

“This guy” is a smirking creep with a mustache. He’s twirling a golf putter. Our heroine shoots him a weak smile.

“You should be mad at forced camaraderie.”

A woman is surrounded by blank-faced suits, staring at a cake that says, “Happy birthday CO-WORKER.”

And now the elevator doors open. This is the best part of the commercial.

“And you should be mad at tech that makes things worse.”

A drone holding a tray of coffee cups flies out of the elevator, careens through the office and crashes into a wall with a horror movie splatter of brown coffee. Cut to the boss, grinning.

“But you’re not mad.” Why, ad? I feel mad.

“Because you have E*Trade.”

Good comedy lives in the space between expectations and reality. That makes this commercial a stroke of genius. Let’s be clear: this is an iceberg selling you a seat on the life raft.

This doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem of corporate culture. Every coffee-drone company dreams of their IPO, every boss spends his time alternating between leering at secretaries and watching CNBC.

But it makes its warped sense. As the American economy increasingly configures itself around stockholder interests, it follows that justice looks like having a better return rate than your boss.

It’s the latest commercial in a two-year-long campaign. Other entries feature jet skis, champagne and jumbo jets. A print ad informs us that one rich person left millions of dollars in inheritance to a chicken.

“Don’t get mad. Get E*Trade.” Indeed.


E*Trade, founded in 1982, is a financial services company that allows users to invest their money without hiring a broker. The company exploded with the advent of the internet. In 1992, it had a revenue of $850,000; in 1994, its revenue was $11 million.

E*Trade made $2.9 billion in 2018. I know that because it’s a public company and has to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Because E*Trade is a public company, that also means that you can use E*Trade to buy E*Trade stock (ETFC: $48.44, -0.66 (-1.34%)).

E*Trade once had a lot of success with its “E*Trade Baby” campaign, which featured a baby, voiced by comedian Pete Holmes, buying stock. The punchline there was that E*Trade is so simple that a baby can use it. In one commercial, the baby is put in timeout, but sneaks an iPad into the crib so he can “diversify [his] portfolio.”

The ads were light-hearted and fun. Notably, they also debuted during the 2008 Super Bowl, when the New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots. That was a year after the Dow Jones set a record high of 12,786.

Five months later, IndyMac failed; seven months later, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were placed into conservatorship and Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual went bankrupt. A little more than a year after the first E*Trade baby commercial, the Dow hit a market low of 6,443.

But E*Trade continued running the commercials. As the government bailed out banks, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs and tens of thousands of homes were foreclosed on, people couldn’t get enough of the baby (In 2013, USA Today called it “one of the most famous and successful spokesbabies in advertising history.”) The ad ended its run in 2014, mostly because of an ad agency change.

So why is E*Trade running something that focuses on frustration and anger?


Last month, the official Twitter account of SunnyD, the orange-flavored soft drink, tweeted: “I can’t do this anymore.”

Previously, the account had mostly posted harmless memes and interacted with fans wearing SunnyD hoodies. (It seems like there’s a backstory there, but I don’t really care). It has 39,700 followers.

It had never sent out a cry for help before. And it was hard to read it as anything but that. The month before the tweet, rapper CupcakKe had posted a message to her Twitter about a plan to commit suicide. And the month before that, the comedian Pete Davidson had Instagrammed, “I really don’t want to be on this Earth anymore.”

And God forbid someone you know has sent a message like that out. God forbid.

The MoonPie twitter reached out for support. SunnyD retweeted messages of encouragement. Coverage of the tweet featured the Suicide Hotline phone number (1-800-273-8255).

Yes, coverage of the tweet. Because the tweet got 155,000 retweets and 351,000 likes.

The SunnyD despair tweet was by all measures a success.


As far as I can tell, the difference in E*Trade campaigns is because they’re aimed at different people. As Gen X got into golf and forwarding jokes by email, it made sense to sell them on getting into General Electric stock ($9.14, -0.76 (-7.67%)).

But Millennials don’t like golf and communicate exclusively by Instagram DM.

The message before was “Investing is democratic and accessible.” The message now is “The unqualified and stupid are entrenched in power, social security will dry up before you get gray hair and you’ll die before you retire. You should invest.”

I don’t know if that actually works, but it is speaking to young adults in their own language. It’s a language based around irony, class resentment, and despair, but it is the same language. Go back and watch the old talking baby commercials. They seem oddly dated now, even for something that came out 10 years ago.

Listen: I’m an optimist. Does an engine of corporate piracy advertising directly to the people it has robbed test that optimism? Yes.

But there are other solutions to the problem of bad bosses and worse tech.

The most obvious is voting. A deregulated economy is a trickle-up economy, one in which wealth is redistributed from the bulk of Americans to the C-Suite (that’s the kind of wealth redistribution that most politicians actually want). Vote for politicians who want to limit the influence and scope of public companies and vote out those who want to unchain these behemoths to further cannibalize our economy.

Another is responsible investing. If you choose to buy securities, think about that purchase as a vote in favor of a company’s current decision making. If you sell that stock, you’re voting against it. Choose to invest in companies that make ethical choices or in socially responsible funds.

Finally, don’t view E*Trade commercials as aspirational. The implicit message to these commercials is that investing can transform you into the object of your ire. You might hate Jordan Belfort of The Wolf of Wall Street, but wouldn’t you want to be him? Answer that question with a resounding no.

Friends: Don’t get mad. Get active.