Toys R Us’ Holiday Ads Employ Prankvertising

Element of surprise at center of huge effort

Headshot of Christopher Heine

It might still be five weeks before Black Friday, but Toys "R" Us already rolling out a holidays campaign isn't shocking. Better a little bit early than a little bit late if your this brand. Though, the Wayne, N.J.-based retail chain's feel-good twist on prankvertising comes off as a pleasant surprise.

Indeed, Toys "R" Us ran its first TV ad yesterday that featured a busload of kids who have been thoroughly convinced they're going on a field trip to look at trees (insert yawns). When they pull up to one of the brand's huge locations, hidden cameras capture the grade-schoolers' unbridled enthusiasm upon learning that a toy gift was in their immediate future.

"It's very real," Peter Reiner, svp of marketing for Toys "R" Us, told Adweek. "Our campaign theme is around 'wish.' You'll see us use that theme throughout our campaign. We are that one-stop shop for moms and dads. So we make it easy for them to be the holiday hero."

The hashtag, #WishinAccomplished, appears in the commercial's last frame, as the brand plans to push a series of related TV and video ads throughout the next couple of months on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. Additionally, through mid-December, digital ads will appear via, YouTube, Yahoo,, and popular social games such as Angry Birds. The brand is characterizing the digital spend as an increase compared to recent years.

"We've started using home-page takeovers and much more rich media than we have in the past," Reiner explained. "We have a 90-second version that is airing exclusively on Facebook and other social channels."

Created by Chicago-based Escape Pod Agency, the holiday TV spots will air as 60-, 30- and 15-second varieties on every major broadcast network, as well as a slew of cable channels such as A&E, TBS, Oxygen, USA, Animal Planet and Food Network. The retailer is also pushing free layaways until Dec. 15th, as well as a price-match guarantee.

When asked to compare Toys "R" Us' effort to its 2012 holidays, Reiner said, "Last year, it was more rational with a news anchor talking about reasons for a consumer to come to us. This year, it's a much better balance between the rational and the emotional, while bringing them both together."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.