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Toys ‘R’ Us calls AI-made video successful despite criticism

A Toys “R” Us executive called the company’s AI-made video “successful” despite the controversy it generated online, saying in an interview with NBC News that the company would add generative artificial intelligence to its “tool kit” in the future. 

On Monday, Toys “R” Us released an AI-generated brand video at the Cannes Film Festival to a wave of mixed reactions online. 

According to a news release, it marks the first time a brand video is created using OpenAI’s text-to-video tool Sora. The creative agency and production company, Native Foreign, had special access to Sora, which is not yet available publicly, the release noted.

The minute-long clip depicts a young Charles Lazarus, the late founder of Toys “R” Us, in his family’s bicycle shop alongside the brand mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe.

The video’s debut sparked immediate backlash online.

Many creatives who are concerned that AI will eventually replace job positions in acting, writing and design criticized the rollout of AI products and teams in their industries. 

“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,” writer and comedian Mike Drucker posted on X, receiving thousands of likes. “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.”

The sentiment was echoed in dozens of other posts that brought in millions of views on social media.

Comic artist and illustrator Andy Kluthe argued on X that Toys “R” Us should have hired actors instead, which he said would have made the video “look a thousand times less uncanny.” 

In the last several months, OpenAI and other generative AI companies have sparked various controversies for their relationship with creatives. In May, OpenAI paused a voice feature after Scarlett Johansson threatened the company with legal action following claims that the voice sounded like her own. This month, Perplexity AI has been under the microscope, facing claims from Forbes that the generative AI company was ripping off its work without proper attribution.

Despite the backlash, the creators of the video at Toys “R” Us and Native Foreign viewed the video as a success.

“I think this becomes part of our toolkit,” Toys “R” Us Studios president Kim Miller Olko said. “It was a test. I think it was successful. I think there was a lot of learnings. If the opportunity arises again, and it’s the right fit, we use it but it’s one of many different things that we would do.”

Responding to criticisms about AI and its potential to replace human workers, both Miller Olko and Native Foreign’s chief creative officer Nik Kleverov said that wasn’t the case with this specific project.

“​There’s a lot of fear out there and hearsay on what it all is,” Miller Olko said. “Until you kind of really see what it is and how it works, you don’t really have a true understanding.”

According to Kleverov, the amount of people — about a dozen — that worked on the video was around the same as any other job. He said that the team worked on and off over the course of three months.

“Geoffrey is an animation. He’s a cartoon,” Miller Olko added. “We weren’t going to hire a giraffe, you know what I mean? This was an animation.”

Native Foreign has worked with companies, including Vogue Italia, to create content using AI tools in the past. Kleverov said it was an easy choice to partner with Miller Olko after a meeting the two had, where they bonded over a shared vision of trying new technologies.

“The main thing was making sure that [the video] had emotion and soul,” Miller Olko added in the interview.

Despite the amount of online backlash, some viewers had positive impressions of the video. 

“It’s pretty impressive,” content creator Tim Simmons, who goes by Theoretically Media online, wrote. “I for sure think we’ll be seeing Sora in more commercial spots very soon. Thoughts?”

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