Talk about a commercial we’d like to fast-forward through: Toys "R" Us debuted its latest marketing campaign, “Make All Their Wishes Come True” late last month with an ad that’s pissing off a lot of people.
Here’s the premise: A group of kids files onto a school bus for “the best field trip they could wish for” courtesy of a foundation called Meet the Trees. ("Meet the Trees" is the name of a real organization, by the way, and it's not happy about this commercial.) En route, their host, "Ranger Brad," plays a name-that-leaf game while the kids yawn and look bored. But wait! There’s a surprise! They’re not meeting any trees, after all -- they’re going to Toys "R" Us! And—here’s the kicker—they get to pick out any toy they want! Not surprisingly, the bus goes nuts. Cut to the kids running through the store, playing with princesses and Barbies, hugging Elmo, scooping up a bike and an XBox.
And here’s what we hate about this: Toys "R" Us has effectively just told a busload of kids that free toys are better than science education. As one YouTube video commenter put it, “Here is how Toys "R" Us apparently sees the world, and wants our children to see it: Nature sucks. Cheap plastic toys are great. Science education sucks. Commercialism is great. Field trips to see nature are boring. Running wild around a chain store is fantastic.” We couldn’t agree more—and that message makes us sad.
But here’s what the commercial doesn’t make clear, and it’s an important “but”: Those kids? They’re not actors, they’re from local New York charities, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Boys & Girls Club. And that makes the excitement over a trip to a big-box toy store and the promise of a free toy—things that would be totally alluring to any kid—even more understandable.
The sad thing is, if given the chance, those same city kids probably would have been totally psyched to spend an afternoon in the forest, learning about nature, too.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.