Comebacks

E.F. Hutton Gets Its Voice Back


Workers chalk up stock quotations as clients use ticker-tape machines and telephones at an E.F. Hutton & Co. stockbroker's office in 1925

Photograph by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Workers chalk up stock quotations as clients use ticker-tape machines and telephones at an E.F. Hutton & Co. stockbroker's office in 1925

Brands spend so much time and money getting into our psyches. Why not bring back old slogans, jingles, and logos to tap antediluvian reservoirs of goodwill and nostalgia? Who didn’t love Jordache jeans resurrecting its classic 1979 ad in 2000? Or the unlikely comeback of defunct scary-old-guy brew Rheingold Beer, which is reprising its Miss Rheingold Pageant with the help of irony-craving New York barmaids? I personally want long-neglected RC Cola to make a big marketing comeback (yes, RC still exists). Sun Drop already has. Ditto Throwback Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

Now that spirit of nostalgia has come to Wall Street, whose recent era of scandals and crisis makes the old ones look so lo-fi by comparison. Case in point: E.F. Hutton, a brokerage brand that has been defunct for a quarter-century and was briefly part of the old Lehman Brothers empire, is coming back as a boutique run by former executives.

Mention of the brand (est. 1904) will immediately bring to mind those ubiquitous ads from the ’70s and ’80s that reminded you: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” For several decades it was the country’s second-largest brokerage house, at its peak employing 19,000. But in the era of Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko, E.F. Hutton was done in by a check-kiting scandal and the crash of ’87, and had to sell itself to Shearson Lehman American Express. Such a golden age for Lower Manhattan stationery suppliers.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, former E.F. Hutton exec Frank Campanale said Hutton 2.0, with him as chief executive officer, will announce the hiring of brokers and other suits over the coming weeks. “We’re trying to create a great firm with great culture, something E.F. Hutton had,” he said. “We have a clean slate.”

It’s a curious time for any Wall Street brand to return from the dead. “How will a philosophy of hard work and ‘earning it,’ expressed in a blue blood voiceover, fly in a post-Occupy, economically volatile environment in which more consumers than ever have trust issues with financial institutions?” asks James Othmer, global creative director at Y&R New York. “On the other hand, I’m intrigued by the boutique idea. It sounds more appealing than a monolith and could have more sophisticated customized services than a local bank. Most importantly, since the brand was dark during the most gruesome of financial times, it’s one of the few to have both recognition and no blood on its hands.”

Since E.F. Hutton went silent, the brokerage business has gone through light years of disruption and evolution. Think cut-rate online trading. ETF-only model portfolios. Nonstop data online and on cable. Record numbers now swear by do-it-yourself index-fund investing.

The Hutton brand hibernated for years beneath a layer of metamorphic rock two miles underneath Citigroup (C) and its Smith Barney brokerage—which then morphed into Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Campanale and his partners registered the Hutton name this month, after it had been held by Retriever Brands, a warehouser of orphaned trademarks. (Paging Kidder Peabody?)

Campanale said Stanley Hutton Rumbough, a grandson of founder Edward Francis Hutton, will also be involved in the relaunch. No word yet on how many Quotron machines they’ll need.

Look for the return of Lehman Brothers sometime in 2033.

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Farzad is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor. Follow him on Twitter @robenfarzad.

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Companies Mentioned

  • C
    (Citigroup Inc)
    • $48.91 USD
    • -1.09
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