April’s Springtime Miracle for Toys R Us

My Saturday morning began like many of yours: with an email alert that it looked like April was finally, really in labor this time. The baby was coming soon!

Like millions of others, I tuned in to see the miracle of birth…of a little baby giraffe, at a not so little 5’ 9” tall, 175 pounds.

April needs little further introduction, and no last name. Her pregnancy has been watched via live stream from the Animal Adventure Park’s “Giraffe Cam” by hundreds of thousands of us at a time. Even in the middle of the night. For months, we’ve been sticking our necks out waiting for this little thing.

In March, as viewers became increasingly anxious to meet April’s baby, another giraffe appeared on screen. It was not April’s mate, Oliver. Nor was it one of her other children. Rather it was Geoffrey the Giraffe, Toys R Us’s long time mascot, smiling at us from the store’s logo that was now included on the live feed.

April was said by the zoo to be at full term when Toys R Us jumped in with the sponsorship. The company capitalized on a tremendous, though possibly limited opportunity to sponsor an event with no known kickoff time or end date. In fact, though, the sponsorship afforded the retailer a continuous marketing campaign that has lasted longer than anyone expected, and reached a massive captive audience that rivals television’s most popular showings. Published numbers have viewership of the live stream at about 14.8 million views.

I was thrilled to see the return of Geoffrey. I remembered him and the “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us Kid” jingle from the 1980s. Which was exactly what Toys R Us had hoped. As Toys R Us and other toy retailers know, reaching kids is as important as reaching adults. For adults, nostalgia for our childhoods has a big influence on our buying decisions. Toys R Us has been known to bank on that nostalgia.

The Giraffe, originally named Dr. G. Raffe, made his mascot debut in 1957 print ads for the retailer, when it was called Children’s Bargain Town. In 1969, the chain changed its name to Toys R Us and the giraffe was renamed Geoffrey.

Geoffey,  an oversized stuffed animal, starred in TV ads throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 2001, the Leo Burnett agency introduced an animatronic Geoffrey the Giraffe, in a rebranding effort that announced the retailer’s redesigned stores.

“We didn’t think the cartoon would be as fun or dramatic as an 18-foot animal walking down the streets,” Jon Moore, executive creative director at Burnett told Ad Week at the time.

In 2011, the retailer brought back two spots previously used in the 1980s, ahead of the Christmas season. Both executions featured Geoffrey, and one included the jingle, which was written by ad executive Linda Kaplan Thaler.

Showing just how much nostalgia plays a role, Greg Ahearn, the retailer’s CMO at the time, told the NY Times that the spots featured toys and games no longer available for sale. “There’s old toys in old toy commercials,” Mr. Ahearn said dryly, adding that the return of the spots was “more about the emotion” than about selling specific products.

Toys R Us, a company with 60 years of brand equity from using a giraffe as a spokesanimal, spawned a new generation of giraffe fans (and of Toys R Us) when it sponsored the live stream of April and her growing family.


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