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Toys’R’Us sees sentiments plummet over ‘soulless’ AI-generated ad

Toys’R’Us has seen its sentiments plummet from 12.2% positive, 13.5% negative and 74.3% neutral to 3.4% positive, 53.4% negative and 43.2% neutral after it released an ad that was entirely created by OpenAI’s new text-to-video tool, Sora, according to media intelligence firm CARMA.

According to CARMA, many netizens expressed “disappointment” and “frustration” with the ad, calling it “soulless” and “cynical”, according to its world cloud after the incident.

Some commented on the use of an AI-generated child actor, while others noted that the ad did not show any real children playing with toys.

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Social media chatter also picked up on criticism about the use of generative AI in commercial work, saying it may replace human creativity and kill dreams, said CARMA. 

“The volume of mentions of Toys R Us on social media is typically low, and despite this one incident bringing more negative social sentiments, it has thrust the brand into the spotlight. The focus of the conversations has been about their ad campaigns using AI, or not displaying the toys it has earned repute for,” said Divika, head of marketing, Asia, at CARMA.

“Being a brand that some look back fondly upon or even still patronise, it will be interesting to see how they leverage their strongest reputation pillars and claim back their narrative to win the hearts of the public,” she added. 

The ad in questions features a  young Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys’R’Us and creator of Geoffrey the Giraffe, dreaming of a magical place that will change toy stores forever.

Toys’R’Us Studios, the entertainment production arm of the global toy brand, partnered with creative agency Native Foreign for the ad, the toy company said in a statement. Together, they premiered this brand film during the 2024 Cannes Lions Festival.

The origin of Toys’R’Us brand film was co-produced by producer and Toys’R’Us Studios president Kim Miller Olko as executive producer and Native Foreign’s Nik Kleverov as director.  

“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 Olko.

“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,”added Olko.

“The creative industry is experiencing a renaissance, much like Toys’R’Us,” said Kleverov. “Through Sora, we were able to tell this incredible story with remarkable speed and efficiency. Toys’R’Us is the perfect brand to embrace this AI-forward strategy, and we are thrilled to collaborate with their creative team to help lead the next wave of innovative storytelling.”

OpenAI’s Sora enabled Toys’R’Us Studios and Native Foreign to bring a concept to reality in just a few weeks, condensing hundreds of iterative shots down to a couple dozen. The brand film was almost entirely created with Sora, with some corrective VFX and an original music score composed by Aaron Marsh of famed indie rock band Copeland, Toys’R’Us said. 

Sora is an AI model that can create realistic and imaginative scenes simply with text instructions. With Sora, industry professionals will now be able to create realistic and complex one-minute-long videos all without leaving their seat.

This is more important than ever before especially as more brands are turning to brand or campaign films in order to capture the hearts and minds of consumers.

In fact, consumers today watch more videos and the demand for short-form content has rapidly increased, with 66% finding the type of content to be the most engaging, according to a report done by Munch, an AI-powered automation platform for social media.

Saying that, 50% of consumers are able to spot AI-generated copies. In a study by Bynder, it was revealed that millennials were the most successful at spotting non-human content which comes as no surprise as the demographic is also the most likely to use AI when creating content.

Interestingly, the survey also revealed that 56% of participants said that they preferred the AI version over the human-made work. 52% of consumers cited that they would become less engaged if they suspect a copy is AI-generated.

In contrast, participants aged 16 to 24 were the only age group to find the content created by a human more engaging than the AI-generated version (55%).

Toys’R’Us is not the only brand to have come under fire for ads lately. Tech giant Apple recently apologised for its ‘Crush’ advertisement. The advertisement, in promotion of the brand’s new iPad Pro, depicted a tower of everyday and analogue items such as paint, a metronome and an arcade machine being crushed by a hydraulic press with slow motion and close-up shots for dramatic effect.

The press then opens to reveal the thinnest iPad it has made and highlights the vast features and capabilities of its new M4 chip.

In an exclusive statement to AdAge, Apple apologised for the ‘Crush’ ad and said it didn’t mean to cause offense among its creative audience. 

Tor Myhren, VP of marketing communications at Apple said creativity is in Apple’s DNA and that it’s incredibly important to the brand to design products that empower creatives all over the world. 

Myhren said the ad missed the mark and that’s Apple is sorry. 

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