Storytelling

Toys ‘R’ Us Created Content Till the Very End

Watching the slow demise of the Toys ‘R’ Us brand play out was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had online. And that’s big—I used to roleplay on discussion boards, so I’ve seen some weird things.

To start, there was controversy over the final days. Toys ‘R’ Us was established in 1957, and this month, the retail toy store closed down all its locations, paying its bankruptcy lawyers and advisers “as much as $348 million in fees,” according to the The New York Times. Executives were given $16 million in bonuses, though not a single employee received severance. Most were given only a couple months notice before their jobs suddenly disappeared. To make matters worse for the brand, The Times estimates that Toys ‘R’ Us owes its 30,000 former workers about $75 million in severance, and a group of Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, have accused the private equity firms involved of purposefully tanking the brand into liquidation and denying workers what they’re owed.

Customers have emoted their grief and disappointment online and off, in some cases covering the closed-down stores with handwritten notes as if staging a memorial. On Twitter, users responded to the brand’s last few tweets with pained goodbyes often aimed at Geoffrey, the brand’s giraffe mascot. Surveying the brand’s last week of content and reading fan responses feels much more personal than watching a business fail; it’s clear through content that a lot of employees and consumers felt betrayed.

I reached out twice to the Toys ‘R’ Us media and press email address, and received the same automated FAQ response both times. The copy comes directly from the brand’s final blog post entry, “No Assembly Required,” which covers choosing a stroller, Black Panther, and tips for breastfeeding moms returning to work after maternity leave. The brand’s presence feels overwhelmingly human when you read it post-liquidation, and most of its content felt culturally relevant instead of purely promotional.

The brand’s YouTube channel hosted a few commercials, sure, but there are also promotional videos of community “Parents Night Out” events and trendy unboxing vlogs. It’s not clear who produced the short video clips posted to the company Twitter account in the last week of its existence, but the brand voice stays positive for a few weeks following the announcement of the bankruptcy and wind-down in March. Eventually, the voice degraded, and the Twitter account started posting short clips of customers with strange, nonsensical social copy like, “Toys R Us Closing Sale Final Day of Shopping all remaining US store Locations close closing.”

So the Toys ‘R’ Us digital presence lives on even though the brand doesn’t. I suppose that in a few years, when all of its locations have been replaced by gyms and discount clothing stores, and after Geoffrey the giraffe grows accustomed to his new home in a children’s hospital, few will even remember the content. While it lasted, the voice Toys ‘R’ Us chose seemed to affect consumers in a way more akin to a community center than a toy retailer. That might be the saddest and strangest part of watching it go.

Image by Michał Parzuchowski / Unsplash
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