TOYS 'R' US PITCH: KIDS FIND JOY SHOPPING HERE: FIGHTING WEAK SALES, STRONG RIVALS, RETAILER POSITIONS ITSELF AS FUN PLACE

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Hoping to reclaim the No. 1 toy retailer status, Toys "R" Us is running a dual-pitch campaign -- one to whet kids' toy appetites, the other to coax open parents' wallets.

The five-spot TV campaign is the first from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, which won the $75 million account in May.

The two child-targeted ads started Sept. 25 on kid's cable programming. One capitalizes on the kid fantasy of owning every toy in the store. The second portrays another child's dream: seeing a parent reprimanded with the same words he'd used earlier on the children -- "That's not a toy."

All three parent-targeted commercials feature ethereal music and whimsical themes. The strategy is to convince parents of the wonderment Toys "R" Us can provide their progeny. The theme line is "It's all for them."

'UNADULTERATED GLEE'

"We're trying to remind parents and children Toys 'R' Us' whole reason for being is uniquely dedicated to pure, unadulterated glee," said Jonathan Hoffman, managing creative director at Burnett.

The adult ads will run on cable and network TV on shows such as "ER," "Frasier" and "Friends."

TV, which also will include a version in Spanish, will be supported by radio spots.

Toys "R" Us Chief Marketing Officer Warren Kornblum said the campaign gives a gentle nudge to parents, letting them know warehouse retailers such as Wal-Mart may be convenient for them, but aren't fun for their children.

"We want to say to mom, in a friendly, smiley way, 'Hey, this isn't about you, it's about your child.'"

The campaign comes nine months after Mr. Kornblum joined the retailer from Bozell Worldwide. Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, had handled the account, but Mr. Kornblum launched a review just months after coming aboard.

"From the time I got here, we tried to dig in and say 'Where do we want to take this brand?'" he said.

Toys "R" Us turned to Burnett to answer the question. Last year's same-store results were down 7%, as compared to a 4% increase in 1997. The company recently lost its toy retailer lead position to Wal-Mart. In addition, Toys "R" Us CEO Robert Nakasone abruptly resigned this summer.

NO LONGER UNIQUE

"Toys 'R' Us has a clearly defined problem," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report. "They've lost their uniqueness. [When they started] there was nobody else out there except 10 million mom-and-pop toy shops. But now you have titans like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, as well as start-ups like Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle."

Toys "R" Us is also fending off the influx of online toy retailers.

Mr. Kornblum acknowledged parents will continue to shop at mass warehouse retailers, but "our job isn't to stop people from shopping at Wal-Mart. Our job is to stop them from turning down the toy aisle" there.

Toys "R" Us also is launching internal changes.

More than 100 stores have been renovated with a kid-friendly decor that includes

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