THE BLOG
11/08/2013 09:08 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is This the Most Anti-Science, Anti-Environmental TV Ad Ever?

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.

OK, Stephen Colbert already talked about this, but it is such an outrage, it is worth piling on.

My wife and I were relaxing, watching TV (was it the World Series? I can't remember) when we saw this advertisement from Toys "R" Us. We were struck speechless with shock and anger.

In this ad, kids are loaded onto a school bus labeled "Meet the Trees Foundation." The guide, under the guise of being "Ranger Brad" says, "Today we're taking some kids on the best field trip they could wish for." He then shows them some pictures of leaves, while the camera pans around the bus at bored, tired, yawning kids. Then, surprise! He reveals they are not going on a natural science field trip at all, but to... Toys "R" Us! Celebration! Confetti littering the ground as the kids run from the bus into the store! Free wild rumpus in the store playing with whatever they want. Hooray!

Wow. What advertising company working for Toys "R" Us came up with this idea, and what executive at Toys "R" Us actually approved it?

This ad is offensive on so many levels:
  • It insults science and environmental education teachers.
  • It insults science and environmental education programs and field trips.
  • It insults science and nature in general.
  • It insults children (though no doubt these kids got free toys, and maybe even money, to be in the ad -- how awesome).
  • It promotes blind commercialism and consumerism (OK, I know that's the society we live in, and the purpose of ads, and the only real goal of Toys "R" Us, but to be so blatantly offensive and insensitive?)
  • It sends the message, as Colbert so cogently notes that "The great outdoors is nothing compared to the majesty of a strip mall."
My wife is an overworked, underpaid science educator, teaching university students how to teach science to elementary school children. It is an uphill battle: not because kids don't love science. They do. Frankly, young children are wonderful, curious, wide-eyed natural scientists. It is an uphill battle because the resources our society devotes to science education are pathetic. Elementary school teachers get little or no support or training for science education. Materials are outdated or confusing. There is no funding for decent field trips. And our kids are bombarded with subtle (and here, blatant) messages promoting blind, thoughtless, consumerism.

The results are beginning to show, as the United States falls farther and farther behind other countries in producing top-quality science, technology, engineering, and math students (STEM).

All of us, including major corporations, could change this. Some companies actually play an important and valuable role in supporting science and nature education in this country. But sending the messages that Toys "R" Us sent with this despicable ad only hurts that effort. I wonder: What did it cost to produce this ad, and what is being spent to air it? And how much does Toys"R"Us contribute to science and environmental education? It couldn't possibly be enough to counter the damage of this kind of message.

[A tip of the hat to Jess Zimmerman at Grist who also commented on this, here.]

Peter Gleick