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E.T. comes home to TRU

While there's nothing like borrowing from the brand equity and likeness of a classic character like E.T. to produce a captivating spot, Leo Burnett Chicago had to be careful that Toys 'R' Us's branding and message wasn't overshadowed by the diminutive alien's big media comeback in creating 'Homecoming.'
October 1, 2002

While there’s nothing like borrowing from the brand equity and likeness of a classic character like E.T. to produce a captivating spot, Leo Burnett Chicago had to be careful that Toys ‘R’ Us’s branding and message wasn’t overshadowed by the diminutive alien’s big media comeback in creating ‘Homecoming.’

TRU – which holds worldwide merch rights for Stephen Spielberg’s recently re-released blockbuster E.T. – needed a spot that would be more than a simple promotional push. ‘To us, E.T. is an ingredient brand in what we are offering,’ says Warren Kornblum, chief marketing officer for the Paramus, New Jersey-based toyco.

‘The biggest challenge was doing something worthy of the movie,’ says Leo Burnett art director Jonathan Moore. ‘We could use the E.T. character and the John Williams score, so we had to rise to the occasion. We really went for the bombastic, cinematic sweeping thing and then pulled the rug out at the end.’

The spot shows the loveable alien following a trail of Reese’s Pieces into a Toys ‘R’ Us, where he comes face to face with the retailer’s long-necked spokesbeast Geoffrey the Giraffe. Industrial Light & Magic, which created the film’s digital E.T. character, lent its expertise to ‘Homecoming,’ providing a seamless transition from film to spot. The spot ran broadly for four weeks on national network and cable stations, beginning in March 2002 to coincide with the re-release of the film. Kornblum characterizes sales of E.T. merch, especially plush products, as robust, but states the connection with E.T. was as much about setting TRU apart from the competition as it was about moving product.

‘From the beginning, our goal wasn’t to get E.T. product in our stores and blow it out the doors – we don’t think that’s what the brand is about. We wanted differentiated content,’ states Kornblum. ‘Today’s parents are the first generation of Toys ‘R’ Us kids; they grew up loving the E.T. character and want to share it with their kids. Our goals were soft as well as sales.’

Testing of the spot was minimal, primarily to ensure acceptance and approval of the commercial amongst parents and children. Toys ‘R’ Us renews its annual marketing push in Q4, in time for the holiday season. The 2002/2003 branding campaign is currently being developed and will, in part, address in-store changes.

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