Playing for relevance within a new generation of parents
How does a nostalgic brand reinvent itself for a new and totally different generation of parents? And, how do you successfully make this transformation when you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer whose entire industry is under siege by online merchants and languishing mall traffic?
After filing for bankruptcy in 2018, Toys “R” Us — with 1,600 stores in 38 countries — came to Lippincott to help build a brand platform that would carry them beyond their next chapter. What followed was a comprehensive overhaul for the iconic Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us brands to reclaim their iconic and preferred position.
According to PEW research, more than one million Millennials are becoming parents each year. While they grew up with Toys “R” Us as kids, the world is a different place for these new parents. “Parennials” have access to vast information on child-rearing and, in many ways, Google has become the new grandparent or neighbor in this overwhelming explosion of shopping options, recommendations, rankings and reviews.
So, we needed to find a way for the brands to appeal to this generation of new parents. We also needed to develop a brand offering that would compete against both ends of the market: with massive online retailers like Target and Amazon that emphasize price and convenience, through to local boutiques that offer the personalized experience and trustworthiness many new parents seek.
The brand transformation faced big challenges. Strategically and tactically, the first question was how to design two distinct visual systems that would give Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us independence across the digital ecosystem but also integrate seamlessly as part of the retailer’s co-located store strategy.
First, our Voice team got to work developing a resonant brand character for both brands. Since the Babies “R” Us positioning centered on helping parents to feel “prepared-ish,” we needed to capture the messiness of being a parent, including distinct brand voice guidelines that employees could use across the customer journey, from welcoming new parents into the Babies “R” Us family through to assuring grandparents that their purchase would be the right choice for their grandbabies.
For Toys “R” Us, with a purpose around unleashing the power of play, the brand gave us the opportunity to develop a voice for the ignitor in all of us. As with Babies “R” Us, we codified the new brand voice across the customer journey, providing signature copy and best practice examples for the marketing team to use throughout their communications and branded experiences.
We then devised familial visual systems – like fraternal twins, each brand’s system would stand out by virtue of its distinct brand voice and its own primary colors. Subtly, the familial unity is achieved by a secondary color palette which not only unifies the look and feel of both brands, but also helps the entire business get back to the core of who they are — the toyland for play. The two systems also share an icon palette, lifestyle photography, and hyperrealist illustration and animation, which creates a seamless visual experience between the brands while offering each license to play up to its personality at key brand moments.
Further connecting these two systems is a familiar icon. Lippincott research uncovered a nostalgic affinity amongst today’s new parents for the iconic backwards “R.” For these Parennials, the childlike “R” personified the whole idea of play. Armed with the insight, Lippincott designers reclaimed this key element of brand equity for the two visual systems, giving each brand’s “R” a distinct aesthetic treatment unique to its essence.
The Toys “R” Us bold color palette is a bright spot for customers. It uses a core blue as the lead color with a secondary palette inspired by the energy of play. We further celebrated the backwards “R” by telling stories about all of the ways the brand can unleash the power of play.
For Babies “R” Us, the visual system retains the iconic logo while reclaiming the spirit of play through color, typography, photography, icons, illustrations and more. Together, Babies “R” Us’ new visual language embodies the joy, imagination and humanness of parenthood.
The new system was interpreted across the entire customer journey, from in-store graphics to website applications with a focus on digital communications to packaging and gift wrapping. The roll-out of the new systems coincides with a re-envisioning of the in-store experience, including Play Labs (experiential play opportunities for kids to test toys in the store), investment in the baby registry business and more.
As of July 2019, the new owner of the Toys “R” Us brand plans to open two U.S. stores, following the former owner’s liquidation of its U.S. business. Armed with our new brand platforms, Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us have the toolkits they need to revitalize their brands and become relevant for a new generation of parents.