Guest-Editorial By Jason Krause
This year is the 50th Anniversary of G.I. Joe
. In 1964, the first G.I. Joe figure arrived in the form of a 12-inch Joe. Since then, the brand has evolved with the times. In the '70s it became Adventure Team, then in the early '80s it was reinvented as a 3.75-inch line of figures inspired by the success of Kenner's Star Wars action figures.
The 3.75 inch became one of the most popular and successful toy lines of the '80s and continued into the '90s. It saw 13 years of retail support. It then had a brief hiatus to return again in 1997 and has continued to have some presence on the shelves until today.
Recently, G.I. Joe appears to have entered into some dark times.
In conversations with other Joe fans, you can definitely get a feel for two different groups of optimism regarding the future of this beloved brand of Hasbro. One camp thinks that G.I. Joe is in a lull and will rebound in a year or two with the arrival of the untitled G.I. Joe 3 in theaters or the possible creation of a new animated series.
Others in the discussion think G.I. Joe has had its last hurrah. We saw some decent years with the arrival of the 25th Anniversary at retail in 2007, but sales definitely were up and down (mostly down towards the end). Since then, it always starts off well followed by a quick death to the line from horrible distribution and case packs, including Rise of Cobra, Pursuit of Cobra, 30th Anniversary and most recently Retaliation.
Now before you say I'm being a naysayer, I'm just being realistic. I definitely think G.I. Joe has seen its spotlight shine bright, but the bulb has dimmed a great deal, almost burned out. I don't think the second movie, G.I. Joe: Retaliation did the brand any justice. Sure you can say it redeemed itself from the first film, which wasn't overall a bad representation of G.I. Joe, but it certainly didn't help win over retail.
After releasing a wave of figures, then a 9-month delay, product seemed to linger and disappear at most retailers. Then Hasbro choose to re-release the first two waves right before the second movie hit theaters. Well this did nothing but prevent later waves from having little to no chance of getting out there.
This is just another example of G.I. Joe about to rise to fame again, then falling short. It seems as though Target all but dropped G.I. Joe from their shelves after Paramount and Hasbro announced the delay of the movie and supporting toy line, and Walmart (depending on the store) was hit or miss on even carrying it.
So what does this all say? That G.I. Joe can no longer find a foot hold in the retail market. We are in the 50th Anniversary of the G.I. Joe brand this year and the only retailer to carry what little product Hasbro is putting out, is Toys R Us. I've heard some say that this is still a good thing, but I don't think it really is. It's a last resort.
It seems like when no other retailer will carry a line, Toys R Us will some times carry it as an exclusive. Read that again, when no other retailer will carry a line. Speaks volumes, doesn't it? Let's be honest here, in my opinion the days are numbered for G.I. Joe at retail. Let me ask you, what if Toys R Us doesn't sell enough 50th Anniversary product, who's to say they will want to support more?
Furthermore with the rumors that director Jon M. Chu is dropping out of directing a third GI Joe movie to direct a Jem and The Holograms movie only further delays any chance of it happening. And at this time at least, it doesn't look like a new G.I. Joe animation project is coming anytime soon, if at all. Without any kind of media support, retailers like Target and Walmart are not likely to put G.I. Joe back on their shelves.
This past weekend saw the 2014 International G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention in Dallas, Texas. Guess who wasn't in attendance? Hasbro. That's right, the company that owns G.I. Joe did not attend the convention for their brand that was celebrating the 50th year of it. That says a lot to me. Considering there is no dedicated team for the G.I. Joe brand at Hasbro, it was clear nothing would be done, but still it was sad to see.
For some, the limited amount of 50th Anniversary product coming to Toys R Us later this summer, or early fall, is not a sign of the end, but in my eyes that is exactly it. So where does this all leave G.I. Joe?
Well, the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club is still producing exclusive membership and subscription service figures. Albeit a bit overpriced for a 3.75" figure if you ask me. I know some are hopeful, and I admire that and just because I say G.I. Joe is dead at retail, doesn't mean you still can't enjoy all the great product already out there.
If Hasbro wants to see G.I. Joe have a continued presence on the retail shelf, it needs to change its approach. One thing that plagues not just G.I. Joe but many other brands that Hasbro deals with is case packs. This is something that has haunted G.I. Joe for years now.
Instead of packing more of a sought after figure, something like a troop builder, Hasbro instead puts more Snake Eyes, Duke, Cobra Commander or Storm Shadow figures in there. Or even less sought after figures and then these just sit on pegs for months and months keeping any chance of future waves from arriving. This needs to be dealt with, or retailers will not be able to sell enough to warrant carrying the line.
They also need to get in front of the youth of today. How? Well that would be video games. Sure we've had some G.I. Joe video games over the years, but the last one was a G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie tie-in game and it was not very well received. They need to look at what is successful today, like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, and the like, to get the interest for a successful game. Transformers has seen some success with their recent games, so why not apply this thinking to G.I. Joe?
Lastly, Hasbro needs to get some kind of continued media support. Since movies take years to get in front of an audience, get a new animated show out there. G.I. Joe: Renegades was the their latest and last attempt at it, but was cut short with no renewal for a second season. Many felt it was just getting into its own by the end of the first season, so why not give it one more?
I don't know if taking the ninja approach is the formula, or more sci-fi is it, but they have a rich history to work with so there is plenty to play with to find that right formula. The success of the 3.75 inch G.I. Joe started with a toy line and a comic book series, then it saw some animated support. Sure the '80s were a different time, but it worked and it can work again with the right approach.
So what do you think? Can G.I. Joe survive much longer? Should it take another hiatus to return later?