The Toys That Made Us series has been fairly interesting. It’s supposed to be an 8 part series, and today concludes the first 4 available episodes, GI Joe.
Hasbro owned GI Joe, however it was during the time that a buzz saw named Star Wars was owning the market from Kenner. GI Joe used the built in patriotism that was in the country to get ahead, that along with multiple characters, comics and a TV series. But before that, back towards the beginning of it all in 1962, Hasbro was making the basics, color by numbers and Mr. Potato Head, which was really just accessories to use to dress up your own raw potato was the biggest sellers. When pitched with the idea of GI Joe originally the owner said no, thinking boys would not play with a toy doll. However during the initial pitch one of the head developers saw the pitch and wanted to pursue. So when the owner went on vacation they knew they had a 2 week window to hone and perfect the pitch.
The developer saw some mannequin models and bought 6 of them off a store display. They added clay mold for gear and weapons, which they copied down to the minute detail after an employee went to the national guard armory and loaded up on weapons that Hasbro copied for the figure. The pitch was a yes, so Meryl offers Stan a deal for GI Joe. Either $50,000 and 1% royalties, or $100,000 with no royalties. Stan takes the straight cash buyout amount, which was a huge no-no in hindsight.
So with the rights to the toys Hasbro went to work creating the figures. They didn’t want any section left open for potential customers so they made army, navy, marines, air force, in an attempt to squeeze any customers opportunity. At launch GI Joe figures were around $3-4 each, which was a lot back at the time when it could have fetched around 30 comic books.
I don’t know if by accident, or just happy accident, but the initial GI Joe figures had the thumb fingernail on the inside of the the thumb instead of the outside. A competitor had copied the doll, but they stupidly copied it by taking the bottom half, including the thumb issue and quickly won the case against the competition.
A short time later the Vietnam war came, it was a wildly unpopular war and hurt the brand. With the public eyes changing to the toy line that was always on the front line of the war, GI Joe gave the brand a new look. They had GI Joe go after all sorts of new enemies, like a giant squid for instance. It helped give the brand a new direction, next came things like adventure team, who brought new characters to know and collect, to a figure with “Kung-Fu grip”, something that is still talked about. In addition to having an image to overcome, the making of the all plastic figures were facing a problem with the oil embargo. With to many things to overcome, the brand closed in 1978 following a 14 year run.
As a company, Hasbro was in bad shape in 1978-79, and they were within 2 weeks of closing the doors forever. Meryl’s oldest son Steven got involved with the business, someone who was full of ambition. He was behind Hungry Hungry Hippos which was a huge success and helped save Hasbro. After Meryl passed away, Steven took over the CEO responsibilities in the middle of 79.
When 1981 rolled around, Ronald Regan became President and ushered in a new wave of patriotism. Members with Hasbro thought that now was the time to revive and bring GI Joe back to life, but instead of large figures as before they wanted to take a hand from Star Wars and make smaller figures. So the design team, grabbed 6 figures from the “Chips”characters and added clay pouches, guns, and etc, along with some vehicles for the pitch. Steven said no originally because they didn’t have a hook, he gave the team 2 weeks to prove to him it’s ready to go back to market because he knew that people would work hard on the project.
So going back to the drawing board and a 2 week window the group started to come up with ideas. For instance, in the early 80s, for every 30 second commercials you could only have 7 seconds of animation or special affects to boost the brand. However their was no regulation on comic books. So a member of Hasbro approached Marvel about advertising a comic book on TV for the GI Joe line. It was a win win proposition for both sides, so with Marvel on board, the new pitch was on.
The pitch was for the new characters, the advertising of a new comic book on TV to promote the brand, along with the now famous jingle. Steven was silent listening to the pitch for awhile, and finally saying that he is going to go see his dad, his dad passed away 2 years prior, as Steven went to his fathers grave to tell him they are betting on GI Joe again to save the company.
The first 12 of the new concepts,were all good guys. So the people at Marvel asked who they are going to fight? The Hasbro team was very short sighted, and thought the children would use all their other toys as bad guys, that they wouldn’t want to buy any bad guys. Finally an exec just suggested they fight Cobra, and the name stuck ever since. So Hasbro had to come up with Cobra members for GI Joe to fight.
With the new brand in place, figures, comics, TV show, they planned to launch in 2 years. When that was about to unleash Star Wars was coming out with another moving owning the market so they wanted to wait one more year. It gave the comics time to come up with ideas, backstories, attributes and characteristics for the characters, which ended up being used on the packaging of the figures to grow the brand awareness.
GI Joe was killing it during the new launch, earning $51 million that first year, and over $100 million year two. Snake Eyes, a character that was stripped down to the basics, as in having no paint at all is the top selling character. Vehicles is what drove the profits of GI Joe. Later, as we learned previously, Hasbro bought Kenner and with it Star Wars which owned the sector. Majority of the original GI Joe team was laid off. In 1994 the comic book and toys were cancelled. GI Joe is considered the most collected figure ever, with well over 200 figures. It’s believed that GI Joe made over 1.2 billion dollars by the end of the 1980s.