Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

At Toys `R' Us, Holiday Rush Is Crucial

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

At Toys `R' Us, Holiday Rush Is Crucial

Article excerpt

The advertising that promotes Toys "R" Us for the holiday shopping season is always crucial for the company, the United States' largest toy retailer, which rings up 50 percent of its annual business in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

This year, though, as Toys "R" Us battles a sales slump, the stakes confronting the chain are as high as the orbit of John Glenn, who is featured along with models of his Discovery and Friendship 7 spacecraft in a new Action Pack set of Hot Wheels toys from Mattel.

As Toys "R" Us loses customers and market share, the company is reorganizing, revamping and retrenching, closing stores, cutting costs and paring inventory to better compete against discount retailers like Wal-Mart Stores, Target and Sam's Warehouse Club, as well as electronic retailers like Etoys (www.etoys.com), which is mocking the travails of traipsing through toy stores this time of year in a humorous campaign by Kalis & Savage in Pacific Palisades, Calif. So the ads being produced for Toys "R" Us by Kaplan Thaler Group in New York -- whose principal, Linda Kaplan Thaler, has created campaigns for the company for most of the last two decades -- must work harder to gain the attention of shoppers. For 1998, the preholiday campaign is infused with a wide variety of emotional and rational appeals. There are schmaltz and salutes to saving money, camp and celebrations of bargain-hunting, sly humor and bold cries of "Games and giveaways!" There is even a cameo appearance, in a commercial that parodies TV quiz shows, by Herbert Stempel, a central figure in the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s as recounted in the film "Quiz Show." Customers "are motivated by both wanting to feel good about the store they shop in and wanting the deals," Ernie Speranza, senior vice president for marketing and advertising at Toys "R" Us, said. "So while there will always be a place for price-and-item advertising, we also need a strong place to develop the Toys `R' Us brand." That accounts for the balance between hard and soft sell in the company's ads. The quiz-show spoof is one of three commercials that send up TV programming genres; a second is set in a police station and a third in a hospital emergency room. The make-believe quiz show, in which Stempel appears as the "celebrity judge," promotes what is billed as the "Fifty Percent Off Event," with 50 toys to be sold at half price at Toys "R" Us stores. The spot was directed by Jim and Vezna Tozzi, the creators of an amusing series of promotional commercials for the TV Land cable network that pitched an imaginary product, Twip. "I think it's one of the funniest spots I've ever been associated with," said Kaplan Thaler, president and chief executive at Kaplan Thaler Group, who also handled creative assignments for Toys "R" Us while working at the J. …

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