Tuesday, September 13, 2016

1987 Sgt. Slaughter Chilling Events Mail Away Promotional Material

We all know that Sgt. Slaughter was first offered as a mail away in 1986.  While mail aways would later become a means to clear out old retail stock, in the mid 1980's they were still part and parcel to a toyline's overall success.  The 1986 carded figures included special certificates that were redeemable for a Sgt. Slaughter action figure. There was a 1-900 number where you could call in and get a special code that would take the place of a certificate, too.  But, the general gist was that any kid buying Joes would get the Slaughter mail away on one cardback and then persuade his parents to buy more figures so he could get the special character.

This was all fine and good.  But, at the same time, Hasbro was starting to build up a thriving mail order business, too.  While G.I. Joe's first forays into the mail away world were preview figures of the upcoming year's characters.  Hasbro soon started Hasbro Direct as a means to also sell vast amounts of toys that were no longer shipped to stores directly to consumers.  In the 1980's, there was still a large percentage of the U.S. population that lived in areas with limited access to retail stores.  This was as much a function of the shifting population distribution between rural and urban areas as it was the fact that large retailers had yet to infiltrate smaller population centers with the ubiquity you see today.  Mail order companies were still going strong, though the cracks in armor were there and the model's collapse was closer than those in the industry probably realized.  Hasbro made it a matter of course to include mail away order forms in their various vehicles and playsets.  However, in one of the early implementations of automated data resources, Hasbro also targeted families who had made prior orders of mail away items with direct mailings designed to entice them into another order.  One such advertisement was the "Chilling Events Are About to Unfold" mail away.  

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Chilling Event are About to Unfold Mail Page

The focal point of the advertisement was Sgt. Slaughter.  His face greeted you when the promotion came in the mail.  And, when you opened it up, there was a full body painting of the Sarge, basically ordering you to buy some toys.  Inside the mailer, you see both the 3 3/4 Mail Away Sgt. Slaughter figure and the 8" vinyl figure of Sarge offered.  The vinyl figure was compatible with the WWF figures available at the time.  You see Sarge lording over vintage Hulk Hogan and other wrestling figures in the ad.  It was a blatant cross promotion that was not overly careful in dulling the lines between Hasbro and other toy companies' licensed brands.  But, Hasbro's Sgt. Slaughter standing on Hulk Hogan's neck was a not so subtle jab that G.I. Joe was on top.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Sgt. Slaughter Full Body Painting when you open the mailer.

In addition to Sgt. Slaughter, the promotion offered kids a chance to get a large amount of discontinued toys.  Major Bludd and the Cobra Officer were offered as individual figures.  (Seeing the $3.00 price tag for each is weird to me after I bought bagged versions of both figures from Hasbro Canada in 1999 for .99 each.)  You could also get the Sky Hawk, Slugger, AWE Striker, Snow Cat, Stinger, Water Moccasin, FANG or Hiss Tank.  There was a 6 figure Vehicle Driver pack as well as offers for the Steel Brigade and Starduster.  You could order a G.I. Joe digital watch or join the fan club as well.  In short, this offer gave kids a chance to get a nice assortment of vehicles, their drivers, some Cobras and a few Joes all at once.

As a kid, I'd see these mail aways and find something I wanted.  I always wanted to have access to more vehicle driver figures.  So, seeing them available was often an enticement.  However, I never actually ordered any of them.  The reasons were many.  But, mainly, I was turned off by the prices and figure selection.  I remember wanting a Crankcase to replace the one from my childhood whose weapon had been damaged.  But, I had a good Frostbite, Copperhead and Hiss Driver.  So, it made no sense to get more of these figures I didn't want just to get one that I did.  (How foolish that mentality seems now when I look at drawers and boxes full of the same figures over and over again.)  So, in spite of filling out the forms, I never actually sent away for any of the figures.

One of the things that oddest about this mail away offer is the prices.  The Hiss is $4.00.  The Stinger, though, is $6.00 and the Snowcat is a whopping $7.50.  As shipping and handling are just $1.50 per order, it's possible that the differing prices are a way to offset the actual shipping cost.  It's noteworthy that the newer items are more expensive.  So, maybe Hasbro had paid off the older molds and could offer them cheaper.  Or, it might be they just had overstock of the cheaper items.  It's interesting to see items that were the same price point at retail have such different direct to consumer pricing.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Vehicle and Figure Descriptions and Pricing

Aside from the cool painting of Sgt. Slaughter in a wooly, winter coat, the advertisement features full card art type pictures of the Stinger Driver, Hiss Driver, Copperhead, Frostbite, Crankcase and Thunder.  They are not the cropped filecard photos from the vehicle box art.  They are new full body shots of each charater.  The art, to be fair, doesn't seem up to the standard of the released card art from the era.  But, it's odd to see full body paintings of vehicle drivers.  It's even odder to see Thunder with a walkie talkie (awkwardly posed as it it were intended to be a gun, but was altered at the last minute), Copperhead with a pistol that looks like an oversized version of the Kenner Return of the Jedi pistols that debuted in the 1983 Star Wars line and awkward pose on Frostbite and Crankcase.  If that weren't enough, the Hiss Driver is drawn with a rope that appears to have a large knot and a bit of a hook on the end.  It makes no sense, but is what makes this so entertaining.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Vehicle Driver 6 Pack Page

The other thing of note is the price of the Steel Brigade.  I can not recall how many times I filled out a Steel Brigade order form as a kid...only to not mail it in.  Not one person I knew who played with Joes (and there were a LOT of them) mailed in for the figure, either.  The reason?  The price point.  The Steel Brigade is $7.50.  With $1.50 for shipping, that's $9.00...or, more than the retail price of three figures in 1987.  I simply couldn't justify spending that type of money for one figure when I could buy a vehicle with driver, or three figures at the local stores for the same price.  Starduster with a Pocket Patrol is only $4.50.  A much more palatable price when you consider you also got a Pocket Patrol (regardless of how useless they actually were) along with the figure for the slight premium.  It's amazing there are as many Steel Brigade figures as there are in the collecting world when you realize how expensive they were to acquire back in the vintage days.

1987 Chilling Events are About to Unfold, Mail Away, Sgt. Slaughter, Hasbro Direct
Pricing Page, 8" Sgt. Slaughter Wrestling Figure and Watch

This mailer was first produced in 1987.  If you placed an order by December 1st of that year, you got a full color G.I. Joe poster, too.  When you consider printing costs in 1987, especially for high quality paper stock in full color glory, this advertisement had to have cost Hasbro a fortune.  Mass mailing it from a database mail merge at the time was also something that only big companies, with large budgets, could cost justify.  It's just another artifact proving the ubiquity of the Joe line and how important it was to Hasbro's bottom line.  They could spend massive amounts of money on these promotions because massive amounts of kids actually bought toys from them.

Mail Away promotions would continue for the rest of the Joe line.  However, as the Joe line died out, so did Hasbro Direct.  In the mid 1990's, the warehouses were shuttered and the remaining toys were sold to locals at blowout prices.  (One warehouse, up near Cleveland, OH sold figures for next to nothing.  A local grocery chain bought up tons of them and sold them for between .25 and .99.  Imagine finding bags and bags of Steel Brigade, Rampage and Cobra Officers for .99!)  Hasbro spent the latter part of the 1990's teaming up with food brands for Star Wars mail ins like the Fruit Loops Han Stormtrooper and the Frito Lay Spirit of Obi Wan Kenobi.  Hasbro brought the mail in back in 2003 with Agent Faces.  But, this mail in, and the few that followed, were more about appealing to collector nostalgia than an actual ploy to create new revenue streams.  Really, Hasbro could use the Hasbro Toy Shop as a means to sell exclusives that used to be the domain of mail away premiums.  It would be a way to keep offbeat brands like Joe going in the down years.  And, be enough of an audience to justify a production run large enough for Hasbro to turn a profit.  But, this hasn't happened in a decade, now, and the notion of a mail away format is all but a relic of a bygone era.

Paperwork collecting is a small subset of the Joe world.  Most collectors have large amounts of paperwork.  But, few pay it much heed.  However, some items, especially those sent out only to households that had ordered from Hasbro Direct recently, can be extremely difficult to find.  But, that usually doesn't translate to expensive.  Commonly, you'll find paperwork tossed into a character specific lot as a way to make something relatively common more enticing.  These items will sometimes sell for a premium.  But, on it's own, paperwork tends to be very cheap...even if it's pretty hard to find.  In a search for this item, I couldn't even find any pricing evidence or any examples that have been for sale in quite a while.  So, if you want some of the more obscure paperwork, it may take some time and effort to track it down.  But, when that work is rewarded with cheap prices, it can make the chase all the more satisfying.  I'm finding some classically overlooked Joe lore in some of these mail away offers and vehicle pack ins.  It's something I've ignored for nearly 20 years.  But, it's nice that the Joe line is vast enough that you can always find a new aspect to hold your attention...even when there's no retail product to keep you going.


  1. What a great read, full of fun art, pieces of history, and depression over how many figures I have paid huge sums of money for that used to clear for a buck!

  2. Yeah, for some reason the HISS tank was often cheaper in the mail-away forms than similar sized items and even items that sold for less at retail, like the Ferret.

    Cobra Officer's artwork shows a red cobra insignia. Strange. Bludd and Cobra Officer were first offered as main-ins from the ORIGINAL GI JOE TEAM main-in, but none of the Joes from that offer were later available individually.

    Bludd and Cobra officer aside, the character selection for the mail-in offers was odd, mostly past mail-ins or vehicle drivers. Having to get the drivers as a set only was a bummer. Even back then I would've ordered as many HISS and Stinger drivers as I could talk my folks into. Later they offered Bazooka and Jinx. Why them? If they made more Bazookas for the European Action Force relaunch (1987 or 1988?), why not offer Snake-Eyes V2, Flint, Shipwreck, etc.? They'd offer Zanzibar and Serpentor with their small vehicles, but not Destro or Zartan. And after Tomax and Xamot appeared in forms, they seemed available until the end of the line. Later on a few oddball figures without their original accessories...Hawk, Iceberg. Then came the actual repaints, too many really.

    1. I missed the red Cobra Officer logo. That is rather odd. I get some of the figure choices like the vehicle drivers. I assume they had a lot of leftover Major Bludd figures which made him an easy choice for mail ins. I'm curious if Hasbro would not sell any character through mail away if he had a figure available at retail? I guess that doesn't work since Hooded Cobra Commander was available for a long time. But, it would be interesting to get more insight into how toys were chosen for mail aways.