The Toys 'R' Us AI-generated ad is more 'shopping list' than story

By Ruby Derrick | 10 July 2024

A Toys R 'Us'  commercial generated by AI is full of inconsistencies and imperfections that are frustrating to watch as a creative, according to industry insiders.

The video clip, showing the late Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys 'R' Us, as a child with the chain's mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, was made using text to video OpenAI tool Sora.

The one-minute commercial, which Toys R 'Us' sees as an opportunity to experiment, has drawn the creative industry into a fierce debate over whether or not it does its job and connects with consumers. 

“Great creative that drives an emotional connection always requires a human touch, which this spot clearly lacks,” DDB creative partner Jenny Mak told AdNews.

AI is a tool, not the next Don Draper of Mad Men fame, Mak says. 

“In the case of the Toys 'R' Us spot, the intention to tell a human story is clearly there, it just doesn’t land. It’s easy to imagine what prompts were fed into the machine, because the machine has spat them back out with no emotion or flair. Watching the ad feels like you’re watching a shopping list of prompts rather than being told a story."

“The most important lesson here is, just because you can use the most cutting-edge technology available, doesn’t mean you should.”

When it comes to those tear-jerking, goosebump-inducing ads - that's where human creativity shines, Mak says.

“As storytellers, we possess an unmatched understanding of cultural nuances, emotional triggers, and brand identities that AI simply cannot replicate. It's our ability to infuse campaigns with authenticity and empathy that forges.”

At the end of the day, what makes a great ad isn't just data - it's heart, she says.

“It’s people who understand what makes people tick, what makes them laugh or cry. It's our gut instincts and storytelling prowess that turn a good ad into an unforgettable one.

“AI is still a tool. It’s an enabler of advertising, rather than a creator. Take note, Toys 'R' Us.”

Marie-Celine Merret (MC), head of creative technology at MADE THIS, Clemenger BBDO’s specialist production company, says in a creative’s world, the Toys R Us ad would have been an awesome brief to work on, with much to gain from all the talent that could have delivered on it without AI. 

“On the flipside you could argue that because the brief itself was about depicting a wonky and surreal dream of Charles Lazarus, that AI was perhaps a great fit for the job,” she says.

There is also the reality that AI is slowly transforming the industry and ways of working and with that comes slow adoption and acceptance of this new technology, Merret says.

“As part of that, negative backlash and critiquing of AI content is predicted and very often rooted in confirmation bias, which means that people select and favour information that supports their belief while ignoring information that does not. 

“It’s easier to critique something that is a threat to their profession than to accept it, learn how it works and use it to their advantage.”

Merret says AI is here to stay; it’s not going anywhere and it’s only getting smarter. Most of her global network today consists of AI Artists; creatives who have taken AI as an opportunity to expand their art and creative expression. 

“They are demonstrating that the best outcomes are when human creatives develop their own bespoke AI workflows,” she says.

“This is exactly what I think is required to propel our industry forward, own the technology and turn it into a competitive edge but also to take creativity to new heights.”

The most astonishing thing about the recent Toys 'R' Us AI generated TVC is reconciling the disbelief that this is a real commissioned piece of advertising as opposed to the work of rank amateurs doing a flaky cosplay impression of advertising, independent creative Adrian Elton told AdNews.

Everything about it wobbles perilously, he says.

“From the languidly long run time, to the shambolic, industrial cheese grade script, to the asinine and clunky visuals that flow with all of the sinuousness of custard festooned with shards of broken glass. And let’s not forget the lukewarm slops of the warbled ‘jingle’.

“Of course the reason this is so awful has nothing to do with the fact that the footage was generated by Sora, or AI generally.”

But rather because of the horrifically badly written script, Elton says, matched only by the cloying generated footage which all reflect remedial human choices and prompts.

“From the faux vintage cinema styled bike-shop flashback, to the ridiculously naff and stilted animated toy giraffe shots, it felt - as an overarching observation - like it was the work of someone completely bereft of clue, taste, experience or discipline.

“All that aside though, it’s a cracking spot for the ages *sarcasmfont*.”

QUT College educator Michael Klaehn says the Toys 'R' Us ad exemplifies how AI can transform advertising, offering exciting possibilities for the future of digital storytelling and engagement. 

“As AI continues to evolve, its role in amplifying human creativity and transforming advertising will only become more significant, paving the way for more personalised, innovative, and effective marketing strategies,” he says.

According to Klaehn, AI's unique ability to handle complex creative tasks, transforming raw data into compelling narratives and vibrant visuals, is a testament to its potential.

“It’s not just about efficiency but about amplifying existing creative skills and enabling creators to push the boundaries of their imagination without traditional constraints. AI-generated scripts and animations are not static,” he says.

“They can adapt to real-time audience feedback, refining content to meet viewer expectations better. This adaptability ensures that content remains dynamic and responsive to evolving trends.”

Klaehn says AI democratises content creation, providing independent creators with tools that were once exclusive to large studios, thereby fostering diverse voices and perspectives.

“One of AI’s most significant opportunities is in content personalisation. By analysing vast user data, AI can create highly personalised ads tailored to individual preferences and behaviours.”

This level of personalisation enhances user engagement and conversion rates, as consumers are more likely to respond to content tailored to their interests and needs, Klaehn says.

“AI in video production represents a fusion of technology and creativity, accelerating the creative process while preserving creators' unique styles and visions.”

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