ToysRUs have recently released this ad. If you haven’t watched it, please do. The main message of it is that nature is boring, shiny plastic is good. Not only is ToysRUs using ads to create demand amongst children for their products, they are also putting out a negative message about nature.
Nature is having a hard enough time to get kids to spend time with her and get to know her (and, of course, we are part of nature, rather than separate from, but that is another argument), without explicitly anti-nature messages being added to the marketing mix.
Given this ad, I thought that I would look up what ToysRUs had to say on the subject of the sustainability, given that they are, in their own words, the world’s leading toy and juvenile products retailer, and you would think that they would at least have a passing interest in the future of the world’s youth. There was nothing to be found in the main navigation or under the About Us section, so I did a search on the site. This is what I found:
A blank page.
To be fair, there was one other search result for sustainability on their site, a press release about the installation of solar panels on the roof of their warehouse from 2011. I then thought that maybe the information is housed under CSR or Corporate Responsibility. This brought up more responses, but the most relevant ones were about charitable giving. Philanthropy, but not sustainability as we know it.
A recent BBMG survey showed that 78% of Aspirationals are excited by going shopping. And at the same time, 9 out of 10 say that we need to consume less. It is hard for me to understand how we are going to consume less as a society, if we are excited about shopping, as the kids are shown to be in the ToysRUs ad. I engaged in a little bit of a Twitter debate about this, when I said that values needed to change, and I was told that being excited about shopping was not a value. I admit is not a value as such, but to me it is an expression of extrinsic values taking precedence over intrinsic values – seeking fulfilment in that which is outside of ourselves, rather than on the rich resources that lie within us. If companies are really going to help us go down the path of sustainable consumption, then they have an important role in promoting the intrinsic values that are at the heart of any long-term sustained behaviour change.
In the video for the petition against ToysRUs, the little girl says that kids ‘can go out and play in the dirt’. ToysRUs would no doubt counter, in private, ‘Where is the money in that?’ ToysRUs is about providing ‘products for magical playtime memories’ – but we all know the old truth that kids are often more interested in the box than in the product. Children have their imaginations, and being in nature is one of the best ways that children can both express their imagination and have their imagination stimulated. But if ToysRUs wants to exist as a business in the long-term it needs to be looking at how it can provide services as well as products – and helping kids connect with nature could be one of these services.
Clearly, ToysRUs having any kind of public sustainability strategy would be a start. But once they had that in place, they could start to take some responsibility for encouraging the wellbeing of the whole child, which includes being able to enjoy spending time in nature, valuing nature, promoting creativity and imagination and not fostering a reliance on consumption to generate happiness. Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, they are at least using the opportunities that they have to communicate with children through Happy Meals to educate them on nutrition and wellbeing. ToysRUs have a similar kind of opportunity – and after all they do show products in the ad such as a telescope and a bike which are ideal for exploring nature, although lost in the overall message.
When is ToysRUs going to take responsibility for the young people that it purports to stand for? I would like to see ToysRUs developing a sustainability strategy, and at the heart of that strategy would be a commitment to education, and particularly helping children to learn about nature. Companies need to start thinking about the long-term implications of their actions. They have a moral duty of care.
And perhaps ToysRUs could take on a little more of SMCG in its behaviour – Slow- Moving Creative Good – rather than just be about pushing disposable consumer goods. I hope that ToysRUs will listen to the voices that have risen up to express their views about this ad, and will use it as a catalyst to begin to take a stand for the genuine wellbeing of children.
If you would like to express your views about the ad, you can sign the petition.