OPINION: G.I. Joe - A Real American Hiatus
Will the Joe Team Live to Fight Another Day?...
G.I. Joe fans have had a strange six years. The shift from the 25th Anniversaryís success to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobraís mixed reviews, led to a sharp decline in G.I. Joeís credibility to some collectors. G.I. Joe: Retaliation did not restore the sense of credibility, despite being a box-office success. The average moviegoer found Retaliation to be more-or-less forgettable. Between films, Hasbro gave collectors the Pursuit of Cobra (2010-2011) and 30th Anniversary (2011) themed line of action figures and vehicles, which included some of the brandís best offerings of all time. But the perceived failure of G.I. Joe: Retaliation products further soured an already controversial brand for many of the big-name retailers.
Of course, one can understand the frustration for G.I. Joe collectors. In 2007 and 2008, retailers, big and small, found great initial sales due to the 25th Anniversary lineís nostalgic appeal, mixed with modern action figure aesthetics and engineering. Many retailers bought heavily into the first assortments of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra products, again, expecting strong carryover success when G.I. Joe was brought to the silver screen. Instead, early sales were slow, and many co-branded and licensed products (such as motor oil and antivirus software) failed to reach the public in any meaningful way. Distribution and availability issues of the subsequent series (such as the aforementioned Pursuit of Cobra and 30th Anniversary) forced hardcore fans to scour the country for products, barely keeping the brand on life support.
(Editorís Note: much speculation exists as to whether the spotty distribution of 2010-2011 G.I. Joe products was the result of retailers abandoning the brand, poor case assortments received by retailers OR if Hasbro simply changed their philosophical marketing direction for the G.I. Joe brand. Statements below are speculation by the author.)
In 2011, retailers were willing to bet big on G.I.Joe: Retaliation, but an eleventh-hour decision by Paramount studios threw the second filmís merchandising into disarray. Initially, wave 1 and 2 of Retaliation action figures and vehicles were on shelves, for a film delayed by 9 months, followed by a recall until the movie was ready. In the end, Retaliationís later waves were limited to online retailers, a few Toys"R"Us stores, and eventually regional discounter outlets.
This brings us to the past year and the internet speculation about G.I.Joeís status on life support began. Back in the fall of 2013, with the lack of exhibition of anything G.I. Joe by Hasbro at NYCC, and the surprise Toy Fair revelation that there would be a 50th Anniversary G.I. Joe line, collectors were nearly hysterical that just a handful of items would be available and exclusively sold at Toys"R"Us. The lack of Hasbro's presence at the 2014 Official International G.I.Joe Collectors Convention seems to further lend credence to the belief that G.I.Joe, as a mainstream brand of any significance, is done.
Sure, Joe collectors have offerings from Sideshow Collectibles, IDW Publishing comic books, Kre-O (exclusively at TRU), and an admirable amount of product by the club, but without Hasbro directly in the mix, the brand feels lost. G.I. Joe collectors believe their characters, and the universe they inhabit, are worth far more than a few niche products (and rightly so). Given what weíve seen over the last six years, however, letís just say (for the sake of discussion) that the online conversation is accurate. Letís admit that G.I. Joe, at any retail scale, is dead.
Fans need not worry. And they need not worry for three reasons.
First, Destro. (Editorís Note: see the 50th anniversary version HERE.)
Second, Paramount has a 3rd film slated, and when they make it, some level of merchandise will accompany the marketing blitz. G.I. Joe will return to store shelves, in some form or fashion, in the next 3-4 years (And, yes, it may take that long).
Third, even if the film goes unmade and the G.I. Joe brand goes dormant, we know that the G.I. Joe team will live to fight another day. G.I. Joeís disappearance will be nothing but a hiatus, and G.I. Joe can survive a hiatus. It did in the late 1970s, only to return in a big way with several incarnations in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, each with varying degrees of success at different scales (Sigma Six, represent!).
The real trouble is not G.I. Joe, but the perception of G.I. Joe, which is that itís a silly little brother to Transformers, the REAL American toy-line-corporate-cash-cow. People donít realize the connection of fans to the Joe brand or its characters, nor do they respect that the concept of the property is deeper than what was presented in the films. Hopefully, some day, they will; but not with the current movie's they have to reference.
But let's be honest, the bread and butter for the large part of the fanbase is the 3 ĺĒ offerings, and outside the online shops and discounters, Joe is absent at retail... but not really.
I think that Toys"R"Us can keep the brand alive for at least the next year and, if the 50th offerings fly off of shelves, possibly maintain a small presence for G.I. Joe until the third film. But the chance they are taking on the 50th Anniversary line must be successful.
Time will tell if it can find that success.
As for bringing G.I. Joe back to cultural relevance, I donít have any advice for Hasbro. I know what I would propose if I was on the brand team, but I could not guarantee its success (and I would be cautious of anyone who claims they could). G.I Joe is a tough sell in a modern context, but itís a brand worth sustaining, and it can prove profitable again. It may just need a few years before it returns to active duty.
By C.J. Stunkard
Edited By Terrance Dizzard
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