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Once a childhood staple, imaginary friends have been dying out at an alarming rate in recent years, a casualty of the screen time that has increasingly become synonymous with playtime. In a 2019 survey of daycare staff in the U.K., 72% of respondents said that fewer children have imaginary friends than they did five years ago, while 63% indicated that they thought screens are making children less imaginative. The study shows that the main reason fewer children have imaginary friends is that they have less time for themselves when they can fuel creativity and create a rich inner world where imaginary friends can thrive.
These are dark times for imaginary friends, but Toys’R’Us Canada is quite literally reviving them with a charming campaign from Broken Heart Love Affair that represents the agency’s first work for the retailer since quietly winning the business earlier this year.
The “Imagination Included” campaign is anchored by a video spot called “Mr. Ferguson,” which shows how the retailer—and its well-curated assortment of products—can help bring back the imagination once so central to children’s play.
"When a child picks up a toy, it only comes to life through their imagination. As Canada’s dedicated toy and baby retailer, we have the tools to make sure that children can do that. When a child walks through our doors watching the wonder and amazement in their eyes is like magic, their world of make-believe becomes real. We are focused more than ever on encouraging imaginative play and nurturing this development in children. “Allyson Banks, Director of Marketing with Toys’R’Us Canada.
The spot opens on a mom encountering her son sitting bored on the couch. When she asks why he isn’t playing with Mr. Ferguson, he responds “who?” The spot then cuts to a shot of the boy’s furry friend prone on the floor, eyes closed and comically oversized tongue lolling out of his mouth.
A frantic call for assistance leads to a rapid response from a team of Toys’R’Us “playamedics,” who use everything from action figures to a Baby Shark Water Blaster and a whoopie cushion to bring Mr. Ferguson back to his fun-loving self. The spot is running as a :60, :30, a :15 and a :06 across OLV, cinema, and pre-roll, supported by social, out-of-home, catalogue advertising and in-store.
The broader campaign is designed to provide Toys’R’Us with an ownable platform by presenting it as a leading purveyor of play—an increasingly overlooked component of childhood that can play a crucial role in fostering imagination and creativity.
Creativity has been deemed the skill of the future by academics for its role in problem-solving and developing new ideas that help societies adapt, grow, and progress. When fostered in children, it can last a lifetime.
“As a parent of two young kids and a creative myself, the stat about the dwindling number of childhood friends really freaked me out,” says BHLA’s chief creative officer, Craig McIntosh. “I instantly raced to Toys ‘R’ Us to load up on action figures and other toys without manuals, so I could stoke the fires of my kid’s imaginations.”
Toys’R’Us selected Broken Heart Love Affair as its new agency partner this year based on its reputation for creating breakthrough work built around solid strategic insights. “This is just the beginning of our partnership,” adds Banks. “The ‘Imagination Included’ platform is a long-term strategy that is still in its infancy. Our imaginations are going wild thinking about what’s to come.”
Campaign Title: Imagination Included
Spot Title: Mr. Ferguson
Client: Toys’R’Us Canada
Director, Marketing: Allyson Banks
Creative Director: Salvatore Stranges
Agency: Broken Heart Love Affair
Chief Creative Officers: Craig Mcintosh, Jaimes Zentil
Strategy: Kristy Pleckaitis, Jay Chaney
Account Team: Cass Farry, Maegan Thomas
Executive Producer: Erica Metcalfe
Junior Producer: Olivia Cousineau
Production Company: The Salmon
Executive Producer: Natalia Winardi
Director: Mike Warzin
Director Of Photography: Barry Parrell
Line Producer: Rory Halsall
Production Designer: Jeremy Macfarlane
Wardrobe Stylist: Melissa Shouldice
Casting: Mann Casting
Casting Director: Steven Mann
Editorial: Saints Editorial
Executive Producers: Michelle Rich, Mackenzie Goodwin
Editor: Griff Henderson
Assistant Editor: Sam Rousseau
VFX: The Vanity
Executive Producer: Stephanie Pennington
VFX Artist: Kaelem Cahill
Producer: Katie Oliver
Colour: The Vanity
Colourist: Andrew Exworth
Audio House: Berkeley
Creative Director: Jared Kuemper
Mix & Sound Design: Jared Kuemper
Media Agency: Prospect Media Group