Toys R Us Wants to Be a ‘Champion of Play’ With New Brand Positioning

CMO Carla Hassan says the reinvention includes partnerships, digital ads and experiential

Toys R Us looked at data that found children’s free time has dropped by 25 percent since 1981.

Toys R Us is revamping its brand positioning to tout the importance of playtime.

The Wayne, New Jersey-based chain filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, but that’s not the reason behind the rebrand, according to chief marketing officer Carla Hassan.

“I believe that we have a beautiful brand that is in need of reinvention,” said Hassan. “We’re in need of driving a little bit more relevancy with our consumer today. … The rebrand was happening way before the news of the restructuring came out. I think the timing is coincidentally symbolic. The fact that we have a tagline that encapsulates our vision, that says ‘Today We Play,’ which is a call to action for people to get up and do something, I feel like that puts us on a bright path for our future to be able to reinvest in our business and improve the customer experience and improve the engagement with our consumers.”

The new positioning, from creative agency BBDO, was born out of insights the brand found that children’s free play has declined in recent years. Toys R Us looked at data that found children’s free time has dropped by 25 percent since 1981 and that kids today spend 5o percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities than children in the 1970s. That’s a problem because when young children play, it helps progress child development.

“When you look at all of that you realize there is an epidemic in this world where kids are not having the time they need to play freely,” said Hassan. “What better way for us as a leader in this industry [than to become] champions of play?”

To roll out the new positioning, the brand has a new 30-second spot directed by Shawn Levy that showcases the joy of playtime. The effort will also include experiential elements, partnerships, technology initiatives and digital ads.

One of the brand’s partnerships includes a curated content strategy with a partner, Playworks, that will include blog posts, checklists, play recipes and family games. “In the spirit of being a brand that is about championing free play, we’re going to be able to go beyond the toys that we sell so the experience online will be content that brings that to life as well,” said Hassan.

As for experiential, Toys R Us is planning to test a play lab concept in 42 of its stores. It will be an open area in the stores where kids can play with the season’s hottest toys. “If they love the toys they can buy them, if they play and don’t love the toys, it’s okay; they had an experience in the play lab at Toys R Us,” explained Hassan. “We will have marketing behind that to let consumers know, and we have created a new team member role in our stores that is around demonstrating these toys, playing with these toys, and demoing the toys for kids and families.”

Another experiential effort will take place in New York City on Oct. 6: Toys R Us will have a giant Etch a Sketch screen that people can interact with at the Fulton Street Subway Station. The point? To remind commuters to play. Other experiential efforts later this year will include a booth at New York Comic Con and a van the brand will send to college campuses this fall during college football season.