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Content Marketing Lessons From G.I. Joe, Transformers and LEGO

There I was playing with a transformer (yes it’s a weird looking bat Transformer) and explaining to my kids why this transformer wasn’t in the cartoons or movies. That Hasbro actually made the original cartoons in the 1980′s as a way of selling their toys, they didn’t make the toys because of the cartoons - as is the case with most action figures.

Then I had one of those *big-duh* moments. Hasbro is probably one of the most successful examples of extreme, content marketing ever! G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers, My Little Pony, etc, etc. Basically every must have, Gen X, childhood toy. (Did I mention the previously mentioned Transformer was mine not my kids?)

So I did some research, on the internets, about Hasbro and their clever marketing efforts. Turns out it was the idea of an ad agency, Griffin Bacal.  Those of you in the ad business who go back a ways probably already knew this. I didn’t.

This is kind of freaking brilliant. Check it out:

Following its initial popularity in the mid to late 1960s, the G.I. Joe line underwent several rebrandings and redesigns in the ’70s with varying degrees of success. In 1982, Hasbro decided to try a complete overhaul, drastically reducing the size of the figures, broadening the cast, and commissioning the advertising agency Griffin Bacal and Marvel Comics to develop a brand-new universe for them to occupy. The resulting comic book and toyline, dubbed “G.I. Joe: A Real America Hero”, proved massively popular, and Hasbro quickly expanded the scope of their marketing to include a television cartoon by Sunbow Productions in 1983. (Since advertising toys through cartoons was still frowned upon—if not outright banned—by that point, Hasbro circumvented that limitation by declaring the cartoon an advertisement for the comic books instead. The ban on toy-promoting cartoons was eventually lifted in 1984.)

So I did a little bit more research on the agency. From a 1997 article on Griffin Bacal (BTW I’d suggest subscribing to Kidscreen’s RSS feed. Good stuff.)

‘We know how to speak to families and children in a way that motivates them like nobody else does,’ Griffin says. ‘We recognize that to speak to a child, you’re not just speaking through a single TV commercial or print ad. You’re really speaking to all of those elements that pervade the culture: those entertainment aspects that help define and make big hits of properties. It’s as applicable to Chester Cheetah as it is to The Tick as it is to Transformers.’

Griffin and Bacal headed out on their own in 1978 in search of a new adventure, and they’ve never stopped looking for higher mountains to climb. They wanted to reach beyond advertising and become involved in programming. ‘We thought our advertising skills and our skills of communicating with and understanding kids would be really helpful for us in developing programming for children,’ Griffin says. When the pair launched their agency, they also founded Sunbow Entertainment, the Peabody Award-winning production and distribution company that has been responsible for developing shows such as The Mask and The Tick.

In the end Griffin Bacal met the same fate most small and insanely successful ad shops face, they were acquired by one of the mammoth, holding companies, DDB in this case. After a while Hasbro moved the business away from Griffin Bacal, who was their largest client. Again, a common result of small, insanely successful ad agencies that get acquired by the mammoth, holding companies. Griffin Bacal was eventually folded into one of DDB’s other agencies and no longer exists. Sad.

Marketing That’s Not Marketing

Another similar and equally cool example IMO is LEGO and their wildly successful videogames, with all their cross merchandising and brand extensions with Star Wars, Harry Potter and now Pirates of the Caribbean.  As a recent Wired article points out, the really cool/weird thing about the just released Pirates of the Caribbean, LEGO videogame is that

It’s a videogame that’s based on a toy line that’s based on a movie that’s based on a theme park ride.

Talk about brand extensions. But really it’s just really great content. Who cares who made it.

Do you have a favorite content marketing example?


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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://frugallysavvy.com Frugally Savvy

    See even G.I. Joe is a good marketer and most people did not even realize it

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    “Now you know.”

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