In a recent episode of Flag Points, we spoke to former GI Joe marketer Kirk Bozigian about what he felt made the line great during the 80’s, and what could be done to return it to its former glory. Kirk said that in his day, the toyline was marketed in a way that made it seem bigger than in was. In other words, GI Joe’s presence was felt outside of the toy aisle. There were hundreds of ancillary products, from bath supplies to bed sheets to puzzles, models, and coloring books, even to a wood burning hobby kit. These things have been present to some extent with the 2009 movie, but it’s been, as Kirk put it “Happy Meal” marketing, meaning a limited exposure centered on a movie release.
As I thought about that conversation, I remembered back to the new sculpt era, particularly the Valor vs. Venom line, and recalled that it was probably the most recent time in Joe history that came the closest to what Kirk described.
The period has its fans and its detractors. Regardless of your opinions about the toys, there’s no denying the marketing effort that Hasbro rolled out with it. Not only was a full line of small Joes porduced, but the most impressive modern assortment of 12 inch figures as well. The era also had a few direct to DVD releases, there were puzzles, coloring books, a new comic was on the racks, and there was even a fast food toy tie-in. Most impressive to me however, were the store exclusives. There was even a small set of figures exclusive to Walmart stores.
Yes, the toyline whose presense has twice disappeared from the shelves of the retail leviathan in recent years had three exclusively decoed figure packs during Valor vs. Venom. It’s simply amazing now to think that the GI Joe marketers at the time were able to get Walmart, who now sometimes appear to have cold feet for Joe, to carry a store specific product without a movie or TV series to support it.
As a figure, the Neo-Viper is not all that impressive. A strange design, pre-posed hand positions and a squat body haven’t made it a classic troop builder. In fact, it’s become rather forgotten for a Cobra rank and file figure. The biggest claim for the Neo is that the name and genetic modification angle were reused in the 2009 movie.
The Neo-Viper in this case was supplied with an advanced suit rather than genetic modifications to allow him to function in all sorts of conditions. Was this a way to explain away the newly designed camouflage, or did Cobra exhaust its genetic tampering budget? The move also seems odd considering VvV was all about enhanced troops. Speaking of the exclusive camo here, I absolutely love it. The same assortment’s Iron Grenadier had an all-over pattern that also totally pushes all my exotic camo pattern buttons. The shirt only design is kind of disappointing on this figure however. Maybe I should have saved this guy for the future in case I decide to do a Nice Shirt Week.