Realizing that Hasbro could not afford to produce a $30 million dollar movie in order to promote their new G.I.Joe toy line, Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal crafted an ingenious adverstising plan for the Joes' return to the market: animated commercials for a comic book.
Involved with the G.I.Joe line since the late 1960s, Bacal began his presentation to Stephen Hassenfeld, Hasbro's CEO, by recapping the success stories of the Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back toy lines. Noting that Return of the Jedi was a year away from its release date, Bacal explained that a one-year window of opportunity was available (Miller 35).
"'We don't have a movie,' he began slowly, 'but we do have The Book.' Bacal held up a mock-up of the G.I.Joe comic book" (Bozigian 61). The cover, which was produced by Marvel Comics for the presentation and featured exciting art, bold colors and the title G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero in a distinctive type, was handed to Hassenfeld. However, the presentation did not stop with the cover. Bacal then whizzed through several storyboards for the all-animated, action-packed comic book commercial (Miller 35).
Griffin and Bacal, like many marketing agencies, were restricted by the networks from showing an extensive amount of animation in toy commercials because of the fear that the lines between fantasy and reality for a product would begin to blur. However, there were no rules in the National Association of Broadcasters voluntary guidelines about comic book advertisements. Even the chairman of Marvel Comics was surprised when Steve Schwartz, one of Hasbro's senior managers, offered him three million dollars to advertise the new comic. Although the TV spot focused on a comic book, Griffin, Bacal and Hasbro's staff trusted kids to make the connection between the toys and the comic (Miller 36).
Bacal ended the presentation by playing a demo track for the commercial's score. Kirk Bozigian, Vice President of Boys' Toys, explained: "As the chorus rang 'A Real American Hero,' patriotic chills ran down my spine. I thought I was the only one affected. As the lights came up, we turned in our chairs to look at Stephen for his reaction" (Bozigian 61).
Hassenfeld, with his back against the wall, hands in his pockets and a slight smile on his face, looked at the staff in the room with misty eyes and simply said: "You all found a way to bring Joe back. I'm going to tell my father." He then left the room to visit his father's grave (Bozigian 61).
Deciding that a team of highly-trained personnel would be called G.I.Joe, Hasbro's research and development department delved into magazines, like Popular Mechanics and Defense News, and studied Star Wars toys and sketchbooks. Their goal was simple yet extremely difficult: "to produce the finest-quality figures and most action-oriented vehicles ever created" (Bozigian 63).
With the toys on the shelves and the comic book shipped out to newsstands and comic book stores, all that remained was for the commercial to perform its magic on a Saturday morning in the spring of 1982.
And the commercial's effect?
"Reaction came swiftly. By nightfall, devoted parents had stripped toy store shelves bare of the new Joe line, and store managers from Boston to San Jose were on the phone to Hasbro, placing reorders. At noon on Sunday, in a drugstore in Battle Creek, Michigan, two brothers snatched up the last remaining copy of G.I.Joe #1, as out-of-stock newsstands and comic shops besieged distributors for more copies" (G.I.Joe Yearbook #1).
The story of G.I.Joe had been successfully restored.
Presented now are the comic book commercials that helped launch one of the finest toy lines ever, a stunning comic book series, an incredible animated television show and still supports the legend of G.I.Joe in the imaginations of fans around the world.