Toys R Us Wants Your Kids To Go Play

Following their recent bankruptcy announcement, we all kind of wondered what Toys R Us’ plans were for the future. In a world where children have every moment planned out for them and would rather spend their few free minutes playing with tablets and phones than toys (my own four year-old daughter sits next to me, watching Netflix on my phone as I write this) how would they save their company? Could they save their company?

Toys R Us is launching a new ad campaign and store design that hopes to answer that question, by guilt-tripping parents into giving their kids less structure and more time to play on their own. The trying-way-too-hard press release explains their new “philosophy” and points out some troubling statistics.

When is the last time you tossed a few toys in the yard and told the kids to be home before the street lights come on? Between school, homework, sports, activities, play dates, detention (oh, just my kids?) – these days, children’s schedules are packed more than our own.

So, what’s the solution? Leave them kids alone. “Play” is under attack! It’s more structured and less fun than ever before., games are now called “learning activities,” playdates are scheduled, and sports are over-competitive.

  • Children’s free time has dropped by 25% since 1981
  • Kids today spend 50% less time in unstructured outdoor activities than children in the 1970s
  • As children play, they develop critical cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills

So, where does Toys“R”Us come in? Well, we’ve spent some time thinking more about how we can better serve our customers and communities. Are we the World’s Greatest Toy Store? Absolutely! Are we equally as obsessed with toys as your kids? You bet! Is that it? No way! We are so much more – we are CHAMPIONS of PLAY.

As we evolved our brand’s philosophy, we saw an incredible opportunity to use our powers for good (aka, leverage our position as a leader in the toy industry), and join the global conversation about the importance of ‘free play’ for kids. We know that there is so much more to a toy than what’s in the box – it’s the imagination, invention and creativity that goes into playing with that toy that makes it fun.


They add –

In a nutshell, we don’t want families to just shop with us – we want them to play with us. With that, we are working on some exciting new programs and initiatives that our customers can look forward to:

  • This fall, we are launching PLAY LABS at 42 Toys“R”Us stores where kids (and parents!) can play with some of this season’s hottest toys. Not sure if an item will be too advanced for your little one? Now’s your chance to “test” toys on kids’ holiday wish lists before making a purchase!
  • Looking for a seasonal job? We created a brand-new team member role in our stores – drum roll please SEASONAL TOY DEMONSTRATOR! If by “working” you mean demoing toys and playing with kids, then you can count me in.


NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 26: A general view of the Grand Opening of the new Toys “R” Us Times Square Holiday Shop on August 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Toys “R” Us)


  • We want families to find ways to “etch out some playtime” – so we are creating experiential moments in places where you would least expect it. Imagine your typical Friday morning rise and grind was intercepted by a moment of play.
  • On Friday, October 6, we are bringing a giant, interactive Etch a Sketch screen to the Fulton Street Subway Station in NYC, reminding nose-to-the-ground commuters that EVERYONE needs some unstructured fun! Quick game of tick-tack-toe before heading to the office?



  • Or let’s say you’re in need of a study break and Toys“R”Us rolls up to your campus ready to its Frisbee on? This fall, we will be visiting select colleges with a van filled with toys to remind the “big kids” what it’s like to play.
  • Members of the proud nerd nation will love our presence at New York Comic Con this year. For the first time ever, we will have our own shoppable booth for fans. We’re also super excited because our booth at the show will serve as the official first-look at Fan Vault, our new in-store collector experience.
  • And it’s not just us – our partners want free play for kids too! This summer we teamed up with Nickelodeon to host a handful of special outdoor play events at our stores leading up to Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play on Saturday, September 30. And this past July, our very own President of Play, Ariana Gentry, joined hundreds of kids along with Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA, Nickelodeon and Playworks to celebrate youth sports programs around the country.

We’re just getting started – stay tuned throughout the holiday season for more – including the announcement of a new app that brings our stores to life and a special partnership with New York City’s famous Christmastime #squad!


Some of these ideas sound great. Retooling into a place where you can play with everything (you know, how kids already imagine toy stores) is brilliant . The college takeovers sound like a blast (and have certainly worked out well for Adult Swim, among others). And, god, I’d love that seasonal toy demonstrator job.

On the other hand the subway station Etch-A-Sketch is… let’s go with “ill-advised.” No one has time to play with a giant Etch-A-Sketch when they’re running to catch a train and the people who do stop to play with it will just draw dongs.

And it still doesn’t answer how they plan to get kids to put down the tablets and pick up a GI Joe. But I guess that’s on us. On that note, I think it might be a good day to head over to the park. Maybe we’ll bring some toys.

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Skott Stotland is a thousand monkeys in a people costume. They have been writing for the internet for over a decade.

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