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Toys, comics, and irony: Hasbro's TV network

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The news today that Hasbro and Discovery Networks are teaming to create a new network to showcase Hasbro properties recalled an earlier connection with comics — famously, Hasbro's role in creating what was likely the most expensive advertising campaign for individual comic books, ever.

In 1999's Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies that Make Them, G. Wayne Miller wrote of how Hasbro, contending with children's television rules prohibiting the use of animation in toy ads, came up with a novel idea — one that affected comics quite a bit. The idea in the prohibition seems to have been fears that kids would think the toys in the commercials actually flew or did whatever they did in the animations — so you'd only ever see kids playing with the real toys.

But with Hasbro licensing the syndicated G.I. Joe cartoon — and Marvel producing the G.I. Joe comics series since 1982 — Miller wrote that Hasbro hit on the idea of asking Marvel to advertise comic books on TV. Animated ads for comics were unheard of — and prohibitively expensive — but according to Miller, Hasbro put up several million dollars in the effort. Marvel, the happy recipient, ran several ads for individual Joe issues — and saw the series go from a cellar dweller in sales — 157,920 copies monthly in 1983 — to one of its strongest titles in 1986, averaging 331,475 copies monthly according to postal statements. The cartoon was a big part, of course, but the ads definitely played a role in helping the comics.

Now, in the cable era, toymakers get entire networks. What'll it take for a comics publisher to get one? Looking at what happened to Joe's sales, it might be a good move!

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