October 31, 2013
AN OPEN LETTER TO TOYS 'R US FROM THE NORTH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
Dear Toys R Us Executive Team:
This letter is in response to your recently launched television advertisement entitled "Make All Their Wishes Come True," which depicts a real life surprise shopping spree for a group of underprivileged children (as your press release notes they were from organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters and other local NY charities) who are visually underwhelmed to be on a "boring" bus trip to the forest with a fictional "Meet the Trees Foundation" until they are informed of their real destination, a Toys R Us shopping spree.
We understand, based on your press release, that the advertisement is a kickoff to your holiday marketing campaign as well as the announcement of several consumer programs including "Free Layaway." While we appreciate the need for fresh and exciting holiday ads in a competitive retail market, as well as the generosity of your work with underserved segments of the population, your message about environmental education and the natural world was received with great disappointment by us at the North American Association for Environmental Education and our 54 state and provincial affiliates.
Though it is certainly how the current ad reads, we can't imagine that your intended takeaway when developing the spot was that kids, particularly those from less privilege, should value consumerism over education and connecting with the natural world. While you may say that these were the real reactions of the kids, we question the method in which you presented the nature trip in order to get the "bored" responses, as it is our experience that children, particularly those from urban areas, are delighted at the chance to connect with nature and explore. It is further disheartening that a large corporation with a sizable platform would choose to amplify such a message instead of create a learning opportunity. When we tried to research your work in environmental responsibility, we were saddened to come up with an empty Sustainability page on your corporate website, and hope it is only a computer glitch and not a true representation of your work in the area.
We ask you to reconsider running your advertisement in its current form. We also invite you to have a real conversation with us, or any other environmental education organization, about the current state of the environment and our natural resources, shrinking educational budgets (particularly in urban areas) and the proven value of providing high-quality environmental programming for all young people—especially those who have limited opportunities to get outside in an increasingly urban world. As research shows, environmental education helps enhance curiosity and creativity in young people, promotes healthy lifestyles, and provides a platform for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) comprehension, civic engagement and so much more.
The North American Association For Environmental Education