Toys 'R' Us sticks its neck out for April the Giraffe

Toys "R" Us' comms team shares the inside story on why it sponsored Giraffe Cam, the behind-the-scenes look inside the pen of April the Giraffe.

Toys "R" Us assistant PR manager Candace Disler noticed late last month that Animal Adventure Park was on the hunt for a new sponsor for the world famous video feed that made then-pregnant April the Giraffe a household name.

The park’s livestream contract with Mazuri, an exotic animal nutrition company, ran out in mid-March—the baby giraffe took longer than expected to arrive—as onlookers waited breathlessly for the birth of April’s calf. Disler seized the moment and called Jordan Patch, the park’s owner.

"We thought it was such a natural connection for us, being that Geoffrey, our mascot, is a giraffe," she said. "We got caught up in the April frenzy ourselves. It was exciting to play a more proactive part in baby watch."

PR firm Shane Strategies has been supporting Toys "R" Us with this campaign. The brand did not disclose financial details about its deal with the park.

Amy von Walter, EVP of communications and customer care at Toys "R" Us, said the brand struck the deal because its CEO, Dave Brandon, challenged the communications team with growing and building the brand.

"[Brandon] was previously CEO at Domino's Pizza when it tore up its pizza recipe and started anew, and he was featured in those spots at the time," said von Walter. "He has challenged us with growing and building our brand, so what a perfect moment for us to do so in a way that felt natural and organic and allowed us to support the zoo’s philanthropic efforts as it relates to conservation."

He agreed to sign Toys "R" Us as the main corporate sponsor of Giraffe Cam because Geoffrey is already a household name.

"Taking a corporation that already has a giraffe in their corporate culture was a home run from the start," said Patch. "When we further communicated with them our mission towards conservation, they were 100% onboard with that."

He added that the park has been able to make a sizable financial contribution to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, which helps giraffes in the wild, through its relationship with Toys "R" Us.

The stream has garnered 300 million total views since the Toys "R" Us logo was added about two weeks ago. Seconds after the baby giraffe was born on Saturday, the logo changed to the Babies "R" Us brand image. From Saturday to Monday, the live feed received 45 million views, according to Shane.

Toys "R" Us also created its own April-themed video and social media posts for a special section of the brand’s website and its Facebook and Twitter pages. The content reached more than 23 million people, and social engagement on the Toys "R" Us channels increased by more than 2,000% since the sponsorship began, Shane said.

Disler, and Jack Cognetta, Toys "R" Us manager of multimedia for corporate communications, were onsite at the park for several days, capturing footage including interviews with Patch, veterinarians, and April’s caretakers.

Toys "R" Us added the live feed of Giraffe Cam to its website two weeks ago, then moved it to the Babies "R" Us website following the calf’s birth. It added giraffe toys, such as the Sophie the Giraffe teether, to its April website.

"We had a lot of customers asking for April or giraffe items from our stores," said von Walter.

Toys "R" Us secured an ABC News global exclusive with two live shots on Good Morning America and coverage on World News Tonight. Today, Fox News Channel, and CNN also covered the Toys "R" Us sponsorship.

Toys "R" Us’ next step is to sell plushies of April and her baby calf on its website in partnership with Animal Adventure Park, a deal that will be announced this week. The park also set up a contest to name the calf, giving visitors to its website an opportunity to vote and make a monetary donation to the facility.

"Our partnership continues to evolve," said von Walter. "We are in regular conversation with the zoo about forward-looking opportunities."

Spotless results for Animal Adventure Park
April's livestream received more than 232 million live views and 7.6 billion minutes of live watch time since February, second only on YouTube to Riot Games’ League of Legends eSports channel, which has been around since 2012, according to Variety.

The park’s Giraffe Cam channel had its biggest day on Saturday, with more than 14 million live views. More than 1.2 million viewers were watching the livestream on YouTube when April gave birth Saturday morning, making it one of the top five most-watched moments.

A GoFundMe page set up in late February to sponsor and support the park’s giraffes has raised $143,000, easily surpassing its goal of $50,000.

"Each day has harnessed more attention, publicity, and opportunities for us as a park and our conservation efforts," said Patch. "We are running with it as best we can and taking advantage of it as an opportunity to impact on a global scale." 

This story first appeared in PR Week.

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