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Toys ‘R’ Us Debuts First Video Ad Using Sora, OpenAI’s Text-to Video Tool

Toys ‘R’ Us Debuts First Video Ad Using Sora, OpenAI’s Text-to Video Tool

Toys ‘R’ Us Debuts First Video Ad Using Sora, OpenAI’s Text-to Video Tool

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Revived retailer Toys ‘R’ Us is the first brand to use Sora, OpenAI’s highly anticipated text-to-video tool for its advertising — and the one-minute spot it debuted at a conference in France this week is garnering mixed reviews online. 

Toys ‘R’ Us, the once-ubiquitous toy store brand that shuttered all locations when it went bankrupt in 2017 only to be revived in Macy’s store locations in 2022, premiered the 66-second spot at Cannes Lions, the annual gathering of the ad world’s elite on the French Riviera. The ad utilizes Sora, the yet-to-be-released artificial intelligence tool from OpenAI, to which the brand’s creative partner, Native Foreign, had early access.

Charles Lazarus was a visionary ahead of his time and we wanted to honor his legacy with a spot using the most cutting-edge technology available,” said Kim Miller Olko, the company’s Global Chief Marketing Officer and President of Toys ‘R’ Us Studios. “Our brand embraces innovation and the emotional appeal of Toys ‘R’ Us to connect with consumers in unexpected ways. We aim to capture that nostalgic feeling and deliver it uniquely to Toys ‘R’ Us kids of all ages. Partnering with Native Foreign to push the boundaries of OpenAI’s Sora is truly exciting. Dreams are full of magic and endless possibilities, and so is Toys ‘R’ Us.”

The company said on its Studios page, now a landing page for the ad, “We are thrilled to partner with Native Foreign to push the boundaries of Sora, a groundbreaking new technology from OpenAI that’s gaining global attention. Sora can create up to one-minute-long videos featuring realistic scenes and multiple characters, all generated from text instruction. Imagine the excitement of creating a young Charles Lazarus, the founder of Toys ‘R’ Us, and envisioning his dreams for our iconic brand and beloved mascot Geoffrey the Giraffe in the early 1930s.”

Indeed, the new Toys ‘R’ Us AI ad takes viewers on an unflinching journey into the uncanny valley to tell the origin story of the brand and its founder, Charles Lazarus, and of course, the iconic Toys ‘R’ Us mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe.

“Did you ever wonder how Toys ‘R’ Us and Geoffrey the Giraffe came to be?” a female narrator asks as a 1950s small-town bicycle shop pans across the frame. “The son of a bike shop owner, Charles Lazarus had a vision that would go on to change toy stores forever.”

On-screen, a young Charles is seen inside his father’s shop in a scene that stylistically recalls the first 20 minutes of Forrest Gump. As the boy falls asleep at a table, a mini toy giraffe on the table next to him comes to life. Soon we are in Charles’ dream fantasy as he steps through a child-like vision of space and then floats toward, then into, a tunnel of sorts, where on the other end a crude, early version of Geoffrey the Giraffe greets him.

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Reactions online to the text-to-video technology, and how Toys ‘R’ Us used it here, have been a mixed bag. While some are marveling that “the use of generative AI in commercial work is here,” others like writer Mike Drucker aren’t impressed or find it too jarring, as he tweeted: “Love this commercial is like, ‘Toys R Us started with the dream of a little boy who wanted to share his imagination with the world. And to show how, we fired our artists and dried Lake Superior using a server farm to generate what that would look like in Stephen King’s nightmares.”

Nik Kleverov, chief creative officer of Native Foreign, told CNN that the process of working with Sora was also a mixed bag in terms of ease and speed. 

“Everything you see was created with text, but some shots came together quicker than others; some took more iterations,” he said. “The blocking, the way the character looks, what they’re wearing, the emotion, the background — it has to be a perfect dance. Sometimes you would create something that was almost right and other times not so right.”

Sora was first shown to the world in February with OpenAI touting its ability to create video with simple text commands that feature multiple characters, specific motion types and detailed backgrounds. OpenAI has not announced an official release date for Sora, but it’s rumored that it may be available to the public by the end of summer. 

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