Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Toys R Us ad campaign is the perfect example of the clash between business-as-usual and nature

It's times like these I sure wish I was a better or more experienced writer. That I could dig deep and write a shining gem of cutting wit. Because, when I first saw this ad, I was appalled. Then, I was flooded with other emotions-of disgust, sadness, disappointment. I wish I had it in me to write biting sentences that would convey to my readers how sickened I am by this commercial.

Now, I'm not saying that kids automatically would have been excited to "Meet The Trees"-I've done enough outdoor and environmental education myself to know that toys are more exciting than trees, at least on the surface. But we'll never know, will we, because "Brad" is not (I strongly presume) an environmental educator. No-he's some shill for Toys R Us, duping kids into being excited about...wait for it...free toys. Are you kidding me? This is clever? That's like taking a bunch of kids on a tour of Willy Wonka's - sure they're going to be excited about all the free candy but it's not sustainable. It's fun for an afternoon, but ultimately it leaves you bloated and no better off.

To me, this ad is everything that is wrong with our consumerism society (our country in particular), our connection to the natural world around us (or lack thereof) and our cynicism about it all. Whoever was responsible for this ad campaign has obviously never spent an afternoon in the company of the amazing environmental educators that work tirelessly to impart some sense of wonder for all that nature gives us. But, let's face it, there's no money in taking a walk through the forest or enjoying clean air and clean water, so let's just make fun of it, shall we? Let's all jump in a bus and drive off to the nearest toy store where we can buy cheap plastic junk that's going to break after 2 days. That'll make "every wish come true."

I'm not saying every kid shouldn't get a new toy. I'm sure some of the kids on that bus will remember that trip for the rest of their lives. And, probably remember it fondly. But, you know what else they would probably remember? That time that Mom and Dad took them to the local park and played with them all day.

Ugh...I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting to this commercial. Maybe it's that I grew up with the woods as my playground and I'm thankful for it. Maybe it's that I've spent my entire adult life trying to instill an environmental ethic in everyone around me so that those same kids will have clean air and water to grow up in, too. Maybe it's that I've actually seen (on more occasions than I can count) the sense of awe and wonder and excitement that comes from kids being in the outdoors. Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical myself. I hope not. I have no biting wit with which to finish. I just want to say: I think there's a better world than the one portrayed in this commercial. I'm going to keep fighting for it. I hope you will, too.

10 comments:

  1. I completely agree...I think this commercial is a horrible message for kids. The outdoors is a playground with tons of exciting opportunities that none of Toys R Us's toys can offer. I am definitely disgusted with this commercial and makes me never want to shop at their stores.

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    Replies
    1. Anon,

      I agree with you. I wonder how many people who have this reaction to this video are people who probably wouldn't have chosen to shop there in the first place, though?

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  2. Argh! I'm not sure what to do about this, but I wanna do something. Online petition? Video where all the kids are playing in the Toys R Us and slowly pass out because of lack of oxygen? Take their video and estimate the price of all the toys, compared to kids running around in a park and a price tag showing "free" or "priceless"?

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    Replies
    1. Brighton,

      We were brainstorming about the same thing! I'm IN! I think it would be good to have a counter-argument piece to this. Let's talk? I'd love to work on this with you.

      Delete
    2. Brighton,

      One of my colleagues had the idea to take the kids to a "Toys R Us" factory and make them work for 12 hours making toys that they will never hope to enjoy playing with. A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but...

      Delete
  3. I am happy to report the Toys R Us Facebook page is full of negative comments about this ad campaign. However, I suspect it is from people who would probably not shop there anyway. I wonder how their regular demographic is responding?

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    Replies
    1. Jenni,

      Yes-agreed. I wonder the same. Although, before this ad, I would have said that I would *maybe* shop there. Now? Nope!

      When I was talking about this with my colleagues, someone mentioned that these are kids from underserved communities and that they don't have many opportunities to do something like this (go to a toy store and pick out one thing...) but then someone else mentioned that they are also the same kids who are traditionally underserved for natural education, as well. I thought that was a good point.

      Delete
    2. Exactly! I read a comment from someone who was with the kids on the bus and he said they were super excited initially to go see and learn about trees. They actually drove around for quite awhile before revealing the real destination. Growing up in suburbs and now raising my kids on a rural island, I try not to let them take for granted the easy access they have to nature. They usually get a good reminder when their city cousins come for a visit in the summer.

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    3. Jenni,

      Yeah, I read that too. To be honest, reading that made me more angry about the commercial and the obvious "creative editing" that went into it to make it seem like kids always find nature boring.

      I remember when I was a kid how my cousins (from the city) would react when they came to our house. I remember one cousin being really excited about snow, as she was from L.A.

      About 5 years ago, I took my nephew to my mom's house (where I grew up) and we walked all through the woods, crossing the creek a few times. He was so fascinated with how I could know where we would end up if we took this trail instead of that one. I explained to him that those woods were my playground and I just remember him being so pleased to be experiencing all the natural wonders of the world.

      In the reaction vids, there's some footage of the little boy holding a salamander (probably the first time) and I love that footage. It's totally non-scripted and the face he makes is just precious and is the perfect example of why this commercial is misguided, at best.

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  4. I'm a Toys R Us employee. You might be interested to know two things.

    A) That ad was real. Those are real kids, really being absconded from a normal school-day, taken to a Toys R Us, and given free reign to pick any one toy in the store they want.

    B) Those kids were selected because they come from troubled backgrounds.

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