January 13, 2014

TTTB Week Two: Reimaginings Part 1 - the folly of packaging

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 1:51 am

Preamble: There is (or rather was) no better way to start than to launch right into Day 8’s Generations Hoist. I say is because Hoist arrived this week and is the first of the new Generations figures I have been able to obtain and open. I say was because the post has become a long explanation and critique of a particular packaging decision by Hasbro Canada of such length that it blocks out the remaining six entries for the week. To compensate, I’m releasing Part 1 early as a stand alone, with Part 2 to follow at its regular scheduled time.

Day 8 - Generations Hoist, 2013

Let me get this right out of the way at the beginning - the recent decision to unveil comic specific renderings of classic characters, complete with IDW comic that ties into this particular imagination of the character is nothing short of awesome. Not only is it a great way to get amazing interpretations of familiar and less familiar characters, in a unified deluxe scale to boot, the packaging concept is highly reminiscent of the G.I.Joe three-packs that featured new and redecoed figures to match their Marvel Comic appearances, a series with which I have long been enamored (maybe a little too much as it turns out….) So this is a first rate endeavor for Hasbro U.S.A.

For Hasbro Canada, on the other hand, not so much.

For my American friends, you should be aware by now that les Canadiens et Canadiennes ont deux langue official. Yes, we speak both English and French officially up north, and as in other parts of the world with multilingual nations, this linguistic reality has long impacted how goods and services are marketed across the country. For toys, it means that packaging for the most part (more on this in a second) is prepared in both languages, so that it can be sold in Quebec as well as the rest of the country. In the 1980s, this meant Transformers came with a lot of extra text, although it did not negatively impact on the content - we didn’t get less content, just content in both languages. (This was unlike G.I.Joe which got measurably less content in Canada than compared to the U.S., although for me at least this was somewhat compensated with Canadian specific stickers.) Post North American Free Trade Agreement, it has led first to trilingual packaging, and more recently quad-lingual packaging, all the better to save on costing. This does mean that we get a lot less background information but, given that “tech spec” file cards have really disappeared post Beast Machines, it’s something loose collectors can mitigate. (It remains a significant challenge for Mint on Card collectors, as aftermarket prices have higher rewards for unilingual specimens.)

It's like Sunny is looking down with disapproval.

Now Canadians have had setbacks over the years in terms of packaging, notably the fiasco that was the original packaging for 25th anniversary Joes that featured an explosion and nothing else as the main selling point, something of which I’ve ranted about before. It did get better with more generic packaging that at least contained some level of artwork but you see the problem. For Transformer fans, we saw it with the Prowl classics wave where the artwork for Sunstreaker, Tankorr/Octane, and Prowl all featured Sunstreaker on the front and a cast assortment on the back. Transformers Animated was filled with examples of this and it made retaining individual card a pretty redundant kind of exercise. More recently things have gotten better and we are back to individualized cards, and we are finding English only packaging on store shelves owing to more U.S. exclusives making their way north.

Minimalism in marketing

Which brings us to Hoist and company. In the U.S., Hoist has a reprint of his IDW one shot, just as others of his class have individual IDW one-shots to accompany them. However, the packaging uses the comic strategically as part of the packaging, so when you buy Hoist, you see the comic. Hasbro Canada opted against going through the cost of translating a dozen odd comic books though and has released these characters to date without the comic book. And honestly, I would be fine with this situation if they then had the good sense to include something with the packaging to individualize it. Back when ToyBiz was working through its Marvel Legends line, it often substituted English only comics for posters, which allowed them to offer a toy that was at least visually appealing on the rack. Not so Hasbro Canada. No, they decided to take a picture of Orion Pax, make it into a poorly printed sticker, and run it across the otherwise individualized card. That’s right, when you buy Hoist in Canada you get a bad sticker of Orion Pax on the front, ruining an otherwise good looking back card with his particulars and pictures (or as in the case of initial productions, no picture at all.) The exercise ruins the package and hurts my eyes when I see what is an otherwise awesome toy languishing on the pegs. Would a poster insert have been too much to ask? Sheesh!

The irony that I am making a fuss about a comic book for which I already have the original is not lost on me. But sometimes these are the things that keep me up at night. Despite the $9.97 price tag on the toys at a few stores around town, I’m forgoing the Hasbro Canada failed packaging experience*, but I can’t bring myself to spend $24.97 at the specialty stores on the U.S. edition for what essentially means a $15 comic book I already own. Instead I’ve bartered partial payment of a Mighty Mugg custom for the U.S. editions that are retailing at a more manageable cost. It does mean I expect to end up ultimately with two Hoists because I netted one as part of the Predaking Amazon.com shopping expedition for $5.97, but that is mere collateral damage in the campaign. Given the sheer number of releases in this format (Orion Pax, Megatron, Bumblebee, Trailbreaker Trailcutter, Thundercracker, Hoist, Dreadwing, Goldbug Goldfire, Waspinator, Skids, Scoop, Armada Starscream, Centuritron mini-con team) I know this is going to get very old very fast (it already has) but I will continue to resist.

*I should admit for a minute that, despite the rant, I have a weakness for these toys. They must be on my shelf. So to take precautions while I await the U.S. versions in the mail from friends, I purchased five of the first six at $9.97 from Wal-Mart. They sit in the original store bag with the receipt. Once the U.S. versions arrive, they will be returned to the wild. But if for some reason something goes wrong… never let it be said I don’t hedge my bets…


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