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E*Trade Wants to Be Super on Sunday

What do Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and E*Trade (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) have in common? Well, they'll all be playing in the Super Bowl over the weekend.

Yes, E*Trade is back on the ad warpath, paying as much as $6 million for a pair of ads that will appear in the Super Bowl. It's a gutsy move, but an important one. E*Trade needs to reach mainstream audiences to let them know that its retail brokerage business is still alive and kicking, despite the steep writedowns and fire sales within its troubled home-loan assets.

Remember when you weren't an Internet darling unless you bellied up to the bar with a Super Bowl ad? The E*Trade chimpanzee wasn't the only star to emerge before the dot-com bubble burst. Monster (Nasdaq: MNST  ) and Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) once memorably battled it out on Super Bowl Sunday.

According to Advertising Age, neither is committing to an ad this time around, though rival is on board for a pair of 30-second spots. Other Web upstarts that will grace your television screen throughout the game include Sales Genie, domain registrar, and

However, E*Trade has the most to gain with its timely ad purchase. Last week's quarterly report confirmed that there's a big retail-brokerage heart beating inside this cracked shell of a company.

E*Trade followed the healthy showings at rivals TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) and Charles Schwab (Nasdaq: SCHW  ) with its own growth spurt on the brokerage side. Daily average revenue trades at E*Trade clocked in 38% higher year over year. There may have been some defections from worried investors early in the period, but E*Trade still wound up adding more accounts than it lost during the quarter.

Reaching out to the largest viewing audience of the year is critical to E*Trade. Even if most beer-swigging, nacho-dipping gridiron buffs wouldn't know a call from a put, E*Trade's presence will be comforting to those who do. E*Trade will have the biggest broadcasting stage from which to pitch its international investing and high-yielding income-generating products, but the exposure will also give E*Trade a chance to pitch itself as a survivor.

The company still has challenges. The Citadel bailout comes with a lofty 12.5% interest rate. The quality of its banking assets is still iffy. Most analysts expect losses to continue until next year. However, for a pair of 30-second spots during the second half of the game come Sunday night, E*Trade will get a chance to tell the better side of its story.

Brady's going to score. Manning's going to score. Why not E*Trade?

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