America Finally Thanks France for the Statue of Liberty in Etsy's Debut Super Bowl Ad

The ad highlights the ecommerce platform's AI-powered features

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If you can remember back to grade school and the inevitable lesson about the Statue of Liberty, you probably recall that it was a gift to the United States from France. You might remember that it arrived in 1885. You may even recall that Gustave Eiffel built the iron framework inside the statue.

But did you know that the 151-foot-tall copper statue showed up in New York Harbor standing on the deck of a ship?

Well, actually, it didn’t—but it does in the Super Bowl ad for Etsy released today.

Titled “Thank you, France,” the 30-second ad is a rich (if not entirely accurate) historical tableau that invokes the biggest gift America ever received to pose a question that many of us can relate to: Once someone gives you a killer present, what on earth do you give them in return?

“We started the whole thing with this notion of: how do we turn ‘oh crap’ into ‘ooh la la?’” Etsy vp of brand marketing and communications Brad Minor told ADWEEK.

“Everyone knows that France gave us the Statue of Liberty. But has anyone ever asked what the Americans give the French in return? We thought that was ripe with opportunity to take an everyday stressor and elevate it to cinematic proportion.”

Behind the Gilded Age finery: a new AI feature

And there’s no shortage of cinematic drama in this spot, developed with Orchard Creative. In the story, an unidentified but clearly important American official gazes out of his office window just as a French naval frigate steams into New York Harbor with Lady Liberty perched on the bow.

“Oh crap,” he says. “That’s a really good gift.”

Then an adjutant bemoans, “Now we gotta get France something.”

Impressive CGI, lavish period costumes and crisp parody notwithstanding, Etsy conceived and timed this spot with multiple business objectives in mind.

When the company’s internal research showed that 71% of Americans admit to feeling anxious about giving gifts, Etsy developed a hub called Gift Mode, which debuted Jan. 24. Visitors in search of a gift key in a number of parameters—including the gift-giving occasion and the personal interests of the recipient—and Etsy’s new feature (fueled by machine learning and OpenAI’s GPT-4) suggests a range of items to purchase. (It suggests the gift that the characters in the ad purchase, too, but more on that in a moment.)

While it might seem logical for the ecommerce platform to have rolled out the feature just before the holiday shopping season, Etsy waited until now to reveal the feature and advertise it. Why? First, plenty of people already use Etsy for holiday shopping—so many that the platform risked being pigeonholed.

A strategic bit of timing

“We’re launching in January as a way to disrupt this perception of Etsy as being holiday-only brand,” Minor explained. “Etsy’s already synonymous with the Christmas holidays. So we decided to launch at Super Bowl, in January, because about 50% of our spend around gifting is related to everyday gifting moments.”

The timing also allowed Etsy to theme its Super Bowl ad around its Gift Mode feature instead of simply boosting brand awareness. If the ad accomplishes what Minor hopes, it will help to position the platform as a go-to destination for all-occasion gift giving.

“Everyone offers products that could be defined as gifts,” he said, “but no one really owns the space of gifting in terms of helping consumers be better gifters.”

Look ma, no celebrity endorsers!

Founded in 2005, Etsy hasn’t advertised in the Super Bowl until this year. But now that it’s joined the big boys, it’s noteworthy that the platform hasn’t followed the well-established practice of hiring celebrities—often a bunch of celebrities—to star in its ad.

“We wanted to make sure that it’s all very deliberate and delivering on a need—to feel like it was a proper story,” Minor said.

“The ad is definitely unique and funny and reinforces the brand’s width and breadth,” said retail analyst Bruce Winder, adding that the platform’s Gift Mode feature is “useful for finding gifts for people you may not know well.”

Like, say, the people of France.

In this ad, the thank-you gift that America decided to give to our Gallic brethren is a cheese board. (“Un plateau des fromages!”) Of course, that never happened. And neither did the Statute of Liberty showing up fully assembled on deck. Prior to sending his creation across the Atlantic, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dismantled his statue into 350 pieces, packing them into 214 crates.

“Yes, yes, I know,” Minor said, evidently corrected on this point already. “We wanted to lean on this notion of heightened ridiculousness.”

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