I started yelling at my TV last night the moment I realized how vile the new Toys "R" Us commercial was. I don't generally speak much to my television set but the toy sales company has reached a new low with a spot that opens with an adult dressed in safari clothes standing in front of a bus with "Meet the Trees Foundation" painted on it. The next shot shows the man on the bus telling a bunch of children that they're going to look at leaves.
The camera pans to the bus full of children, making them all look like prisoners on their way to a hard labor camp. Visiting nature, according to Toys "R" Us, is something children must do because they're being punished. The kids on the horrendous commercial are bored, miserable and hostile toward the prospect of spending time in the great outdoors.
The idiot guide then reveals that he is not really forcing them go on a nature excursion. They're going to the vile toy store in question, where they can obtain any toy they want. The kids erupt in cheers.
I didn't hear anything after that because I was too busy fuming. I will never set foot in a Toys "R" Us store again and I encourage people everywhere to shop elsewhere this holiday season. The company should have to suffer consequences for sending such blatantly offensive and inaccurate messages to parents and children alike. News flash to Toys "R" Us: Giving children a chance to spend a day in the natural world makes for a much greater gift than buying cheap, plastic crap made in China.
I am all for advertising. I myself am in the retail sales business -- selling antiques and collectibles. Advertising serves its purpose and I strongly support any company's right to free speech. Companies should be held accountable, though, when they convey messages as crass and disgusting as what the "Meet the Trees" commercial does.
Giving children a chance to experience the genuinely wild world around us -- the real world -- is truly one of the greatest gifts any parent could ever give a child. Experiencing nature gives children and adults alike the chance to connect with something larger than ourselves. It gives us a chance to think, reflect, and explore. There is extraordinary beauty and majesty in the woods. Even looking out the windows from my home office as I write this, I see enormous trees with deep orange leaves glimmering in the mid-day sun. Black-capped Chickadees are fluttering around with sparrows, cardinals and nuthatches as they look for a snack. Big bushy-tailed squirrels are goofing around chasing each other all over the back yard.
Memories are flooding my mind from the times I took my then kid brothers out to explore parks and woods all over the place. I'm also thinking about a time a decade-plus ago when I took the youth baseball team I coached in Decatur, Georgia to Sawnee Mountain in Forsyth County. I was then working as a public affairs manager for the Georgia office of the Trust for Public Land and I spent a lot of time promoting the work TPL was doing to save Sawnee Mountain from development.
I didn't know what a couple of car loads of kids would think about spending a day in the countryside but I took them up there with no plan other than to just start walking up the mountain and go wherever nature and the day took us. We carried no electronic devices.
It only took a couple of minutes for my diverse group of baseball players to begin appreciating the natural world. They picked up flowers and asked for their names. They asked about all the different kinds of trees and insects. They ran through the woods, jumped over logs, stood atop tall peaks overlooking ponds, lakes and green grass that stretched into the horizon. They marveled at deer that bounded by us in the distance and became mesmerized by an array of other wildlife calling Sawnee Mountain home. They started playing old-fashioned games like hide-and-seek and then began to invent their own games using their imaginations and the natural world around them.
I introduced them to a woman who grew up on that mountain. She recounted stories about what life was like growing up on that spot. She even showed us a little one-track wooden roller coaster that her father made when she was a child. The kids took turns sitting on a small seat on wheels not much bigger than that of a skateboard, pushing off and racing down a little hill and then up the other side -- whooshing back and forth until they came to a stop.
We spent the whole day on our real "meet the trees" trip. I chose to stay quiet once we were back in my car so that I could just listen to the guys talk to each other. I hoped that they had been inspired by the day. Sure enough, one guy announced to his friends, "That was cool!" All the others agreed and began talking about what they liked best. One young man called me out.
His teammates cheered him on, then another spoke up. "This was even better than a trip to Six Flags," he said of an amusement park by that name.
More than a decade later, an adventure to meet the trees is also worth infintely more than a trip to the vile Toys "R" Us.
[Update from Nov. 13, 2013. I just received an email from Toys R Us responding to my blog post and email and informing me that it has yanked the commercial! The backlash against the commercial ultimately came from people all over the country so congrats to everyone who spoke up! Here is how the company couched the retraction -- and I do give the company credit for responding to me personally.
Dear Christopher –
We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts regarding one of our recent commercials. It certainly was not our intention to infer in any that going to a toy store is better than going on a field trip. The bus detour was simply a surprise for a group of kids from various organizations who might not otherwise receive a toy they wished for during the holiday season. Also, please know that this commercial is no longer airing on television.
We value and thank you for your comments, which we will be passing along to our Marketing team for review.
Toys“R”Us Corporate Communications