Based on the title of this article, you may think I’m here to condescendingly explain the evils of merchandising. You may think I’m here to talk about how stupid and damaging it can be to prostitute something of great artistic value by pasting it on a coffee cup. I’m not. Like any business-minded, free market-obsessed consumer who has watched way too many episodes of The Men Who Built America, I’m all for companies maximizing the return on their investments. I’m all for the powers that be doing anything on the right side of the law in order to generate money. Now that baseball has fallen off the cliff in terms of popularity, making a quick buck truly is Uncle Sam’s most beloved game, and apart from Star Wars, Barbie and KISS, few franchises have ever more aggressively tried to haul in cash than GI Joe.
So, don’t think of the following article as a big middle finger toward GI Joe. Think of it more as a stream of good-natured insults, much like the ones you would give a buddy if you found out he secretly slept with a truly unfortunate woman or purchased a gallon of milk only to return home and notice the week old expiration date. I like where GI Joe’s head is. I like the idea behind turning Snake Eyes and Chuckles into camouflaged cash cows, but for the love of Cobra, I just can’t figure out why they thought anyone would ever buy these damn things. Either because the basic connection to GI Joe doesn't exist or because the quality isn’t exactly impressive, these five items probably never should have been produced. But they were. So, let’s laugh about them…
GI Joe TV Table Tray
You know what I always think when I’m getting ready to eat? "A graphic war scene would really improve my appetite. If only I could actually eat off a picture of fully loaded men charging into combat." Wait. Nevermind. I’ve never thought that before and outside of a small percentage of young boys way too obsessed with battle tactics, I’m not sure anyone else has either. Besides, it’s not like kids need to be coaxed into eating in front of the television by GI Joe table trays. If anything, they should be selling GI Joe brand tablecloths. Sure, they would be ugly and emotionally upsetting to dinner guests, but they might actually convince a seven-year-old boy to have a family meal at the table without a fight.
I have no idea how many of these things GI Joe actually sold, but based on Internet searches and random stories, I’m pretty sure it was more than a couple. That being said, considering everyone seems to have paid between five and ten dollars for their item second-hand, it seems like most consumers eventually realized this ugly, off-putting monstrosity has no real value.
I have no idea where house slippers would rank on an ordered list of manly products, but I’m pretty sure they would be below conditioner and duster. Wearing them is tantamount to admitting your feet are prone to chilliness (or you’re worried about stepping on Christmas ornaments), which doesn’t seem like something most of the GI Joe dudes would be comfortable sharing. I’m not saying bedroom slippers shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be endorsed, but it seems like being the selling point should be an entirely separate dude’s area---like Bill Cosby or Anthony Clark.
Also, I’m not exactly Stacy or Clinton, but it doesn’t take a discerning eye to know those slippers are disgustingly ugly and made from cheap-looking material. I would be weirded out just going to my mailbox with these things on, and more than likely, a healthy percentage of seven-year-old boys would feel the same way.
Being forced to carry lip balm by his mother is exactly the type of thing a ten-year-old boy would hide from his friends on the playground. So, why the hell he would want to correlate that activity with GI Joe is beyond me. If anything, you would think the little kid would want completely nondescript packaging that he could pull in and out without making a fuss. It’s not like he’s going to be whipping it out and proving to his friends how cool he is by rubbing it on his lips. No dude in the history of civilization has ever looked like a badass tending to chapped lips. It’s maybe a half step above doing a one-legged dance after stubbing a toe.
And from a parental standpoint, how many mothers would really trust GI Joe to effectively treat chapped lips? There’s no way your average mom is going to be inside a store and choose Flint’s cherry flavored disaster here over something that actually looks like it was product tested and approved for use on children. Humorously, there does seem to be a few of these lip balms (from 1986) still around. Not surprisingly, they tend to sell for around a dollar, which sounds about right for a gimmick with no value beyond nostalgia and goofiness.
I’ve never tried GI Joe brand Gung Ho Grape Survival Beverage. Consequently, there’s always a chance this potion was a special kind of delicious. I can, however, speak to the marketing campaign, which is arguably the worst the food and drink industry has ever seen. Who the hell would want to drink something called a “Survival Beverage”? Doesn’t that sound like a disgusting concoction first responders would force down your throat if you got lost in the woods for three days and were on the verge of death?
Plus, it’s a pretty well known fact that grape soda is gross. There’s a reason why you can’t go into most gas stations and buy it, and that reason is it tastes like someone grinded up expired Spree candy and mixed it with shower water. That being said, I do approve of alliteration, and I do approve of the way these bottles look. If I really did need to survive, I might even try it too.
The other items on this list may have been stupid ideas, but at least they were rational thoughts. This product from 1982 doesn’t even make sense. Is it supposed to be legitimate protection from the rain? If so, why the hell is there a mask? Is it supposed to be a Halloween costume? If so, why is it a formless blob with a picture on it and why is it billed as a fun poncho? I just don’t get who the target audience is here other than mouth breathers not smart enough to think about whether they would actually use something before begging their mother for it.
Costumes don’t need to be complicated, and ponchos don’t need to be visually appealing. But if you’re going to go into said industry, you have to pick a lane. Otherwise the few customers who buy said product will wind up looking like this poor kid: miserable, friendless, constricted, overly warm and of non-descript size.