E-Trade, the on-line brokerage, has started airing a commercial urging on-line investors to be sensible and level-headed.
But the commercial has nothing to do with the fact that the industry's top regulator last week criticized the strike-it-rich tone of some on-line brokerage advertisements, the company said.
The timing "just happened to be extremely fortuitous," said Russell Simon, a spokesman for E-Trade, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif.
In a speech last week, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt blasted commercials that hype the opportunity for average Joes to make a killing through on-line investing.
The E-Trade commercial, which actually started running shortly before Mr. Levitt's speech, is a tongue-in-cheek effort. In it, a young businessman using E-Trade finds that a stock he owns has gone through the roof.
Elated, he promptly announces to his boss that he's resigning, plants a theatrical kiss on a startled female co-worker, and sends some papers flying.
When he checks the screen again, his stock has plummeted, and the chastened investor sheepishly picks up the phone to tell his boss he was just kidding. The commercial ends with an admonition: "Don't lose your head."
In his speech last week, Mr. Levitt referred to a celebrated commercial for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's Discover on-line brokerage in which a tow- truck driver has bought an island.
Without naming any company, Mr. Levitt said, "I don't accept the notion that tongue-in-cheek is all there is to it."
He said the tow-truck driver spot "trivializes a process that is so crucial and so important," and he said on-line brokerages have promoted "grandiose and unrealistic expectations."
State regulators have also expressed concern about the surging popularity of Internet trading by individual investors.
A Discover spokesman said the tow-truck driver commercial stopped airing several weeks ago, as scheduled-and not because of regulators' disapproval.
But several other Discover spots with a tongue-in-cheek tone continue to run, including one that jokingly suggests that teenagers who trade on-line can afford to buy helicopters. The Discover spokesman declined to say whether the company plans to change the tone of its commercials in light of Mr. Levitt's views.
He said the company "supports Chairman Levitt's vision of an informed investing public" and would willingly participate in a roundtable discussion of advertising. Mr. Levitt stopped short in his speech of calling for new rules. But industry watchers said on-line brokerages will probably tone down their commercials to avoid a regulatory crackdown.
"You see people being very wary now of giving offense," said Chris Musto, an analyst at Gomez Advisors, a Concord, Mass., research firm focusing on consumer e-commerce. "You see them responding as a way to suggest that they don't have an argument with the SEC-they're on the side of the angels."