Shoppers 'R' Us

Kids in a new Toys 'R' Us ad go wild with joy when they learn they're going to a Toys 'R' Us store instead of going on a nature hike.
 Read this, and then take your kids outside.

With a shopping season coming up speckled with uncertainties—fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an anticipated 2-percent drop in spending, and so on—retailers are doing all they can to bring potential customers into malls and stores. Instead of getting bent out of shape debating the finer points of capitalism, consumerism, and materialism, I'd like to simply draw your attention to one call to arms that I find offensive in particular.

I get that people who own businesses want to sell stuff, and people working at those businesses want to continue to have work. So, I expect the usual marketing ploys like commercials designed to get people into stores and shelling out cash.

But does it have to be done like this?

Toys 'R' Us, which incidentally has on its website a stunningly blank sustainability page, has a new ad campaign called "Make all their wishes come true." According to Toys “R” Us, the story is about how the company “surprises some lucky kids by letting them pick any toy in the store. Toys 'R' Us is making wishes come true this holiday season.”

Basically (and as you can see in the above video) Toys 'R' Us takes some kids on a bus with the promise that they're going on an outdoor excursion to a forest. The kids are portrayed as underwhelmed as some Toys 'R' Us rep invites the kids to shout out names of leaves. Then—surprise!—they're actually all taken to a Toys 'R' Us store and invited to pick out any packaged, plastic schlock they like. The kids react like those ladies on Oprah when they all get new cars (okay, maybe not that bad). And the Christmas spirit is saved.

Awesome. Ho, ho, ho. Stuff! Lots and lots of STUFF! The message in this ad is so obnoxious not only because it glorifies consumerism at its worst (that is, when it's targeted to unsuspecting children), but because it's being done at the cost of demonizing natural, healthy activities that are actually 100-percent great for children. So here's what the toy store has told the world with this ad:
  1. Interacting with the environment is super lame
  2. Getting toys is super cool
  3. Stuff is awesome
  4. What kids really want are toys over experiences
  5. Buy more stuff for your kids
Happy early holiday season, everyone. Can't wait to see how the next four or five weeks shake out.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.