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Published: Mar 20, 2015 6 min read

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E.F. Hutton office in Denver, Colorado
E.F. Hutton office in Denver, Colorado
Jack Riddle—The Denver Post via Getty Images

What happens when E.F. Hutton talks? What's the old-fashioned way that Smith Barney makes money? Anyone over 30—OK, over 40—will know the answers to these questions immediately. (They are, respectively: People listen, and they earn it.) And they'll know them thanks to what seemed like an endless string of TV commercials that aired in the 1970s and '80s and always included the firms' essential catchphrases.

The brokerage firm E.F. Hutton was gobbled up in a series of mergers and acquisitions starting in the late '80s. But the brand E.F. Hutton lives on as a management team that includes the grandson of E.F. Hutton himself, and the company drew attention this week with the launch of Gateway, a go-between connecting financial professionals and customers.

The return of E.F. Hutton on the scene got us geeks at Money thinking about the financial service commercials from our youth—which seem shockingly basic and low-budget compared with the ads of today. Here are a handful of vintage ads, starting with a classic one for E.F. Hutton.


"When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen."
To create the idealistic vision of the leisurely life of tanned white rich people, this ad features girls in bikinis and a dashing man who for some reason is lounging by the pool in crisp white pants and a dress shirt. The shirt is unbuttoned and rolled up at the sleeves, though, so we know he's a cool customer who is off duty. It's also funny how the scene is presumably at a country club or a fancy hotel, but the pool looks way too small for that to actually be the case. Most likely, they filmed this in somebody's backyard.

When the guy turns to his equally attractive conversation partner and asks about her broker's advice, she removes her sunglasses and casually mentions where she gets her financial advice. "Well my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says …" Boom! The whole poolside party scene freezes and goes totally silent because, you know, everyone wants to know what E.F. Hutton says.

"They make money the old-fashioned way: They earn it."

Ah, John Houseman. The stern-looking actor won an Academy Award for his role in The Paper Chase, but children of the '70s probably know him—in particular, his amazingly aristocratic voice—from a series of TV commercials for Smith Barney, the wealth management firm that eventually merged with the Travelers Group, and was later acquired by Salomon, and … oh, we lost track.

So about this classic ad: Wearing a stuffy bow tie and a stuffy three-piece suit, John Houseman sits in a stuffy restaurant and employs his stuffiest John Houseman voice, alerting the audience, "Good investments don't walk up, bite you on the bottom and say, 'We're here.'" Perhaps most impressively—beyond using the word "bottom" in a TV ad—Houseman makes both "we're" and "here" sound as if they're two-syllable words. The ad ends with Houseman dropping one of the most memorable slogans ever, "Smith Barney. They make money the old-fashioned way: They earn it."

"Think of your John Hancock man. His business is protecting yours."
WARNING: Don't watch this one while on hallucinogenic drugs. In it, some seriously trippy hand-drawn animation—reminiscent of "School House Rock," only simpler and shakier—shows a hand burst through the ground. The hand quickly morphs into a tree, which turns into a home, then a pill-popping office, and eventually everything transforms into a group of cigar-smoking factory buildings.

The point is supposed to be that John Hancock Insurance can help you and your business no matter how big and complicated it becomes. OK, but can we get a little help making these freaky visions stop!

"Merrill Lynch is bullish on America."
Not a lot of subtlety here. To show that Merrill Lynch is bullish on America, we see (what else?) a broad swath of bulls running roughshod over a parched American plain. The voiceover is equally dumbed down for the unsophisticated masses: "We see America growing in many different ways … Merrill Lynch has a lot of different ways to put your money to work."

At one point, as the bulls are closing in, the camera seems to go askew, so apparently the guy behind the lens was being jostled around by the cattle. Anyway, "Merrill Lynch is bullish on America," so hand over your money and let the firm invest it for you.


Another E.F. Hutton Classic
In this one, the filming of an elaborately costumed Three Musketeers-like sword fight is disturbed when someone in an off-stage conversation just happens to mention who his broker is. Naturally, because it's E.F. Hutton, and people listen when E.F. Hutton talks, all the wild action comes to an abrupt halt.


Bonus: "Stratton Oakmont: Stability. Integrity. Pride."
This one never aired on TV. Instead, it's a fictional ad for the real-world shady firm Stratton Oakmont, made for the opening scene of the 2013 Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street. The commercial shows a lion casually making his way past busy, deal-making employees in a brokerage house, not unlike a 1950s ad for the Dreyfus Fund, in which a lion strolls around Wall Street. We surmise the lion serves as a symbol of strength and "pride." Given the mayhem that follows in the movie—dwarf tossing at the office, among other things—the ad is not only strange, it's laughable.