Toy Fair 2016 is now a distant memory. The displays have been removed from the Javits Center, the vendors have gone home, and the internet press has left the Big Apple. It was an exciting weekend filled with reveals, licensing announcements and more product debuts than a toy collector can shake an Episode 1 Jar-Jar Binks action figure at. Yet the more time passes since the event has concluded, the more it would seem that people are debating a single topic:
What did we learn about G.I. Joe at Toy Fair 2016?
Normally this is a pretty straight forward question– one that is answered by Hasbro at their annual media blitz presentation. However, this year, G.I. Joe wasn’t mentioned during any of the official announcements. (Neither was the new semi-hyped “Hasbro Cinematic Universe” but more on that in a moment.) In fact, if it weren’t for two individuals who were covering the event for entertainment sites that focus on a variety of toy lines, there might have been nary a peep mentioned about Joe anywhere. However, thanks to JayC of ToyNewsI.com and Fran from ToyArk.com (aka Destro of HISSTank.com), we have two seemingly conflicting reports. Or do we? Fans have embraced one and questioned the other but do these two reports really conflict at all? Pull up a chair and a frosty Yo Joe Cola and let’s take a look!
On Saturday, February 13th, Jay Cochran, the owner/admin/head honcho of ToyNewsI.com posted the following statement on Facebook following the Hasbro event.
DDP (Derryl DePriest, Vice President of Global Brand Management and a long-time 1:6 Joe fan) was on hand to answer questions after the panel. According to Jay’s post, the following points apply:
- No G.I. Joe was shown or mentioned outside of a side conversation.
- Some reveals will happen at Joe Con but no specific mention of a Toys R Us line.
- The future of Joe seems to be tied heavily to the new Hasbro Cinematic Universe, given the MASK, Visionaries, and ROM reference.
Now, let’s move onto the next piece of onsite reporting.
On Sunday, February 14, Fran O’Boyle, managing editor at HISSTank.com and ToyArk.com posted the following “State of the Union” article for G.I. Joe:
I’m not going to do Fran the diservice of quoting his article verbatim but the image above links to the original post. However, from his comments the following points can be learned:
- There will be an SDCC 2016 exclusive item.
- Bill Nedrow’s Stiletto figure will be made.
- There will be no main G.I. Joe at Toys R Us in 2016.
- The future of G.I. Joe as a brand is heavily tied to the Hasbro Cinematic Universe.
Most of this list seemed to be okay with fans except for point #3 which was the equivalent of a nuclear bomb dropped onto the fandom. This led to an immediate near hostile reaction to Fran’s comments and a bevvy of “but I heard…” and “we’re supposed to be getting…” comments regarding the 2016 line appeared everywhere from Facebook groups to posts on the few remaining active G.I. Joe forums left on the web. After all, the 2016 Toys R Us line was “confirmed” at Joe Con 2015, right? Right?
So what happened?
While it’s true, at Joe Con 2015, both Mark Weber and Derryl DePriest talked about some things that they’d like to see happen in 2016 neither individual officially confirmed the existence of a 2016 Toys R Us exclusive product line. Comments about new sub-teams (including the newly debuted “Wolf Squad”) and other thematic ideas from these two individuals were just that– forward-thinking statements. After all, Joe Con 2015 was a full TEN MONTHS before Toy Fair 2016, which meant that DDP and Mark were gauging fan reactions to proposed ideas. And what better place to pitch new concepts to G.I. Joe fans than at an event populated by G.I. Joe fans?
Toy Fair is the annual toy industry trade show in which companies debut their product for the forthcoming year to the press. More importantly, it’s where this product is shown and pitched to the retail chains. This is when interest is gauged, orders are placed, and the year is planned– at least that’s how it has functioned traditionally. (Some chains, like Walmart, have smaller periodic events throughout the year now but that’s another story.)
Hasbro may have had plans that they pitched to Toys R Us but that never guaranteed a line in 2016.
My guess is that, despite what Hasbro may have presented at Toy Fair 2016, TRU passed on Joe for the coming year. While sales of the 2015 line were brisk in some areas, the supply overall seemed to be much smaller than in 2014 and, in all honesty, the demand seemed weaker. Remember how long it took the SDCC exclusives to sell through on HTS this year? Did you notice that G.I. Joe lost its dedicated section in the action figure aisle this year and instead was relegated to random spots in the “adult collectibles section”? Plus, remember the sales of the TRU exclusive Kre-O line, which saw the giant Terrordrome playsets clearanced at first 65% then 75% – 80% off online? Aside from the very passionate members of the G.I. Joe fandom, there just isn’t a demand for the ARAH line anymore at retail and I’m willing to bet that Toys R Us made the decision to drop the current line based on the only factor that truly matters to a business: revenue.
Do these reports really conflict and what does the future hold?
If you look closely, neither of the two reports actually state that a 2016 line is scheduled to happen. As much as we as fans may want to infer that a line is coming, it has never been stated anywhere officially that this was the case. The rumors circulating about a new Rattler in production are really just that– rumors. Until we see a press release or a product sample, it’s all just potential product.
Neither ToyNewsI.com or HissTank.com said that G.I. Joe as a brand was dead but they both mention that Hasbro indicated the next iteration of Joe would be heavily tied to the Hasbro Cinematic Universe. It just might mean that Joe evolves once again into a new iteration beyond ARAH. At Joe Con 2015, both Mark Weber and Derryl DePriest commented they were actively exploring new ways to connect G.I. Joe with today’s kids. After all, Joe was a kids line when many of the current collectors were first introduced to the characters of Stalker, Gung-Ho, and Snake Eyes back in the day.
Look, I’m an ARAH-era fan. I was only three when the Adventure Team era ended and while I discovered that I owned one Super Joe figure as a pre-schooler I have no real memories of it. I cut my teeth as a nine year old on G.I. Joe in 1982 and never looked back. As such, I want to see my era of G.I. Joe continue on and I know that I’m not alone. Yet, as nature has proven to us time and time again, nothing stays the same forever.
Time moves on.
Let’s be honest– if G.I. Joe as a brand is to survive then it needs to evolve once more to keep pace with the play patterns and interests of today’s kids. While it may be collectors that are driving what remains of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero sales today, our numbers aren’t increasing– in fact they’re diminishing at a rapid rate. The current crop of Joe fans, like the 1:6 scale collectors before them, are getting older and with age comes new priorities. Everything from kids to mortgages to car payments to retirement savings are all now vying for the contents of our wallets and our bank accounts. Add to the fact that the prices for new G.I. Joe items have only increased over the years and you end up with a decreasing number of older fans that have remained active collectors. Factor in the endless cycle of creative stagnation brought on by the adherence to the design concepts of the 1982 – 1994 line and you’ve got the recipe for a well that is long becoming tapped out.
To grow, G.I. Joe needs to hook the next generation of fans, which are today’s kids. Aside from the children of passionate collectors, when is the last time you heard a child show an active interest in G.I. Joe without prompting by an adult? In fact, when was the last time you saw children actively playing with action figures?
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was very much a product of its time– specifically the mid-to-late Cold War era of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. It tied into pop culture and socio-political elements of that era to achieve relevancy. It utilized, better than any other line before it, the media of the day that kids were actively consuming to ensure that G.I. Joe was front and center in the minds of the kids and this led to its unparalleled success. However, the kids of the original ARAH era and the kids of today aren’t the same. The same strategies (including media placement, design concepts, etc) that once made Joe so dominant won’t necessarily connect with today’s young consumers.
In order to grow, G.I. Joe needs to evolve and in order to do so, Hasbro needs to move beyond the beloved A Real American Hero era. It needs to put a fresh face on a brand that has, with only a few exceptions, remained focused on collectors since 2007. That’s nine years since Hasbro really put forward a concerted mass market approach to G.I. Joe as a brand that targeted the interests of the kids of the 21st century. By all accounts from the two Toy Fair reports, this is what Hasbro is going to do as part of their Hasbro Cinematic Universe. It also means that the G.I. Joe that resurfaces might not resemble the G.I. Joe we’ve all known, loved, argued over, and ultimately purchased for the past 34 years.
There’s an expression that says “If you love something, let it go…” For G.I. Joe, it might be time to let Hasbro take G.I. Joe to the next evolution. If that evolution isn’t the same as what the current crop of fans remember, it’s okay. No one can take OUR Joe away from us but we shouldn’t deny the next generation their G.I. Joe either. As the owner of the brand, Hasbro will do what Hasbro will with G.I. Joe– and the impression is that this includes making it relevant to a new generation with a potential new interpretation based on the world of today’s children. If nothing else, that is the one truly positive bit of news that can be garnered from Toy Fair 2016. G.I. Joe will return— it just may not be in the form that we’re all used to seeing.
Of course, that’s just one Joe fan’s opinion…