Toys ‘R’ Us Makes a Poignant Christmas Ad About a Gift That’s Better Than Any Toy

Can you guess what?

Toys "R" Us is making a heartwarming addition to the Christmas ad file.

The new commercial, from BBDO Atlanta, opens with sweet footage of a father and his young son preparing for the holidays—making a gingerbread house, prepping for the school play, visiting Santa at the mall, and so forth. 

But before long, you might start to wonder: Is someone missing?

By the time the answer rolls around, it feels poignant, if a touch predictable: The mother is military, and was stationed away from home.

The returning-hero payoff has been done elsewhere, and particularly well lately, which makes it more familiar here. Guinness's "Empty Chair," by BBDO New York, perfectly captured the suspense-and-surprise element of the genre for the Fourth of July last year. This summer, Duracell powered a soldier's message to his young daughter, conveyed through a stuffed teddy bear with a built-in recorder. It was a poor substitute for the man himself, but it also set up his homecoming in the ad.

Toys "R" Us's work is a hybrid of the two—the palpable absence of a loved one in service to her country, and a meager material present as a screenwriting springboard for the real gift. 

Regardless, the brand gets extra credit for playing on the audience's expectations. Viewers are so used to seeing nuclear families in Christmas ads that it's implicitly jarring to watch holiday rituals play out with only two. And the inversion of gender roles helps the element of surprise: That it's a servicewoman returning, and a father tending to his son while they wait, is refreshing and deserving of praise. 

Still, we can't help but wonder: When will we know that using the uniform in the service of commerce has fallen into poor taste—especially when the products being peddled are likely made outside the U.S.? (About 75 percent of the world's toys are manufactured in China.)


Client: Toys "R" Us

Agency: BBDO Atlanta

Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars

Chief Creative Officer, Atlanta: Wil Boudreau

Creative Director: Rhea Hanges

Creative Director: Brett Baker

Associate Creative Director: Bryan Lee

Associate Creative Director: Chris Miller

Executive Producer: Alberto Enriquez

Account Director: Danielle Willett

Account Executive: Hannah Aaronson

Group Planning Director: Emily Viola

Senior Planner: Nina Hensarling

Production Company: MJZ

Director: Fredrik Bond

Director of Photography: Roman Vasyanov

Music Producer: Wool & Tusk