How Etsy Made Us Rethink Consumer-Generated Ads

Finalists in Online Craft Community's Contest Have Created Commercials Better -- and More Charming -- Than Many Professional Ads on TV Now

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As our worldwide cult of followers is only too well aware, AdReview has just published a book about the digital revolution, death of advertising, collapse of everything we've ever known and loved, blah, blah, blah.

In one of the chapters, titled "Off, Off, Off Madison," we explored the world of Consumer Generated Advertising, which we spent a lot of time watching and thinking about only to come away with a lot of skepticism about the future. For most of its brief history, CGA has consisted of shabbily produced, usually pointless and typically self-referential imitations of the very professional advertising it seeks to replace.

Title: Etsy Handmade Moment
Agency: Etsy's consumers
The results from online crafts marketplace/community's 30-second spot contest are positively remarkable.
In short, it sucks. On pretty much every level. We recommend marketers to embrace CGA not so much for the ads it may yield, but for experience in crowdsourcing, and for the corporate-culture change inherent in re-imagining the relationship between the marketer and the group formerly known as The Customer. Approximately like endlessly repeating "May I have a table by the window" in German is a good way to learn German, not necessarily a template for restaurant seating.

But suddenly we are obliged to reevaluate, thanks to The online consignment crafts marketplace/community ran a contest seeking 30-second spots from the general Etsy-sphere. The results are positively remarkable. The 10 semi-finalists are as a group better thought-out and realized than any 10 random commercial running on TV anywhere in the world. And a whole lot more charming. As for the three finalists, each is a means of telling the Etsy story in the Etsy-ish of ways.

Handmade ads
The worst of the three is still plenty cute, in a Mr. Bill sort of way. It features four finger puppets doing a tutorial -- in paper-and-aluminum foil-and-claymation -- on how to buy and sell handmade crafts on Along the way we see animated silk-screening, clay cutting, jewelry soldering, fabric embroidering and step-by-step instructions of how to use the site. "Your place to buy & sell all things handmade," it says, and that pretty much says it all.

Another announces an "Etsy Handmade Moment," and artfully features in the left side of the frame an attractive, hippie-dippy craftswoman by the name of Rebecca. This "ecologicalartist" in a big, floppy straw hat looks fresh and sweet and whole-grained, yet still, you know, pretty hot.

"I've always been into textile design and fashion -- but natural fashion, and ecologically correct fashion," she says. "The natural dyes, the found objects and then my interest in textiles came together and my natural-dye recipes were born. I've always been really fascinated with color and making color from things I can find around me. I'm Rebecca, and [big, toothy grin] I made it!"

WAITING FOR HIS WINGS: The standout ad for Etsy features a sad robot.
WAITING FOR HIS WINGS: The standout ad for Etsy features a sad robot.
Meanwhile, the video is filled with sun-dappled trees, billowing, translucent pastel fabrics, and natural yarns in muted, earthy tones. Lots of subtle lighting, slow pans, satisfying dissolves and revealing depth-of-field adjustments. It looks like it was shot by Pytka, cut by Red Car. It is, in short, gorgeous. But it is not the best.

The best ad comes on the screen as simple animation in the style of 19th-century postcards and/or a magic-lantern show. The central character is a sort of tin-man -- his faced metal-plated like a Russian icon -- consigned, in this narrative, to a life of soul-crushing assembly-line production. But the voice is from an unseen contemporary narrator -- the Etsy craftswoman who has crafted him.

"See, there's a lot of robots out there. A lot of these robots are sad, because they're stuck making these boring, mass-produced things. It's the shackles of robotic slavery. I, I really can believe all that great stuff about how it helps the environment and microeconomics and feeling special about getting something handmade by someone else, but the real reason I make handmade goods is because every time somebody buys something handmade, a robot gets its wings."

Which the animated robot does, flying away to a happier place. It is simply magnificent -- in a way that my book strongly implies CGA will seldom achieve. And in a way that the agency business had better take note of. In fact, here is what they should be saying:


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