Toys R Us is following in the footsteps of the biggest toy manufacturers and creating entertainment content to grow its brand.
The retail brand now has its own entertainment production division, Toys R Us Studios, which plans to give Toys R Us’ biggest and most recognizable asset, its giraffe mascot Geoffrey, a starring role.
Toys R Us Studios recently dropped the first episodes of Geoffrey’s World Tour, short films about Geoffrey visiting 10 cities, on YouTube, and it already has its first deal with an entertainment partner. This spring Geoffrey and scenes from his world tour will be featured on a kid’s game show on Nickelodeon’s YouTube channel.
Kim Miller, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Toys R Us and President of Toys R Us Studios, and an Emmy Award-winning producer with decades of experience working with TV celebrities like Martha Stewart, says Geoffrey definitely has star power.
“He really could be to Toys R Us what Mickey Mouse is to Disney,” Miller said.
In recent years the top toy manufacturers increasingly have been focused on creating TV and film content starring their biggest properties.
Mattel’s MAT film division this summer will release, in collaboration with Warner Bros., its Barbie movie. A Mattel executive said at SXSW XSW last month that it has some 200 properties with potential for development as entertainment content, and that having its own film division helps it control the story-telling.
Hasbro HAS collaborated with Paramount PARA to produce the Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie, which was top-grossing movie in the U.S. in its opening weekend.
In 2019 Hasbro acquired production company eOne for $3.8 billion to boost its content creation efforts. It quickly decided it didn’t need to have a full-scale production company, and is seeking a buyer for eOne, but plans to collaborate with production partners to create TV and film content for its toy and gaming brands.
Toy maker maker Spin Master’s enertainment division has created an animated fantasy-adventure series for kids, Unicorn Academy, that is scheduled to begin airing on Netflix NFLX in the fall.
Entertainment content, done the right way, can strengthen connections with a brand, Miller said.
“It’s important in today’s world to really be about more than just marketing toys, more than just always putting the product in the consumers face,” Miller said in an interview. “I think this is an opportunity to really build a relationship with kids and their families.”
Miller said she has seen time and again the strong connection both parents and kids, and even grandparents have with Geoffrey, the mascot that has been the face of Toys R Us since the early 1970s.
“Tik Tok loves him – multimillions of views,” Miller said. And Geoffrey was a hit in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year, she added.
“I saw grown men at Comic Con cry when they saw him,” she said. “I think we have something here.”
She is hoping that Geoffrey, through TV and film projects, can become a “feel-good advocate for children” and work with production partners, celebrities and public figures to create messages for children that support and empower them.
The first thing Toys R Us did to launch Geoffrey’s new entertainment career was to send him on a world tour of 10 international cities where he met with local kids, learned facts about their cities, and visited Toys R Us stores.
There are 1,350-plus Toys R Us stores in 30 countries, which were not impacted when the Toys R Us parent company in the United States went bankrupt and closed all U.S. stores. The international stores operated independently, under licensing agreements which were taken over by the current majority owner of the Toys R Us brand, WHP Global.
The 10 short films created during the world tour are airing every other week on Wednesdays on the Toys R Us YouTube channel. Three episodes have aired thus far.
Nickelodeon will use content filmed during the world tour for a three-episode game show, What A Mess, in which contestants will be asked to answer questions about Geoffrey’s travels. The show is scheduled to air on Nickelodeon’s YouTube channel in late spring.
Toys R Us is partnering with marketing agency Known to send Geoffrey on a tour across America this summer, with his own tour bus, and in-person appearances and family-friendly activities. That tour is expected to also generate entertainment content, Miller said.
“Known also has an entertainment development arm to it, so we’re going to be partnering on the content we can create around that and see what magic magic we can do with that, in longer form stuff and possible podcasts,” she said.
Miller predicted Geoffrey has enough star power to pull off larger projects down the road, including feature-length films.
“We definitely would like to do a movie, for sure, and we’ve already been exploring what that might look like, Miller said. “The wonderful thing about content right now is there’s so many different ways to deliver it, that it’s really very exciting.”
Miller also expects that a good number of celebrities will be eager to work with Geoffrey. “We’re already in conversations,” she said. “People, celebrities, you name it, have memories of this brand. When you’re a kid and you have an emotional memory, as an adult you’re very excited to be a part of it, and that’s a very lucky thing for Geoffrey.”
And as far as celebrities go, Geoffrey is a delight to work with, Miller said. “Geoffrey is the easiest to direct,” she said.