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Street Dates and Wal-Mart Leave Customers in Need of Revenge

I worked in retail long enough to “get” street dates. I understand the purpose they are supposed to serve and in some birthday/holiday surprise kind of way I even appreciate them.

I can remember having a great time at the Phantom Menace toy premiere. Heck, that even played a part in me getting into collecting again.

But this half skidplated travesty Hasbro is perpetrating on the fandom and its younger and wider base is an embarrassment. Street dating a product is about focusing your marketing potential; it’s about generating excitement, demographic focus, and most importantly, advertising.

Like the atomic doomsday device in Dr. Strangelove, it doesn’t do any good if no one knows about it.

“No one,” he says? That’s right. Only the Transforum-hopping fanboys and girls have any idea that a street date exists for Revenge of the Fallen toys, much less is aware of the crucial date itself. May 10th, 15th, 30th? I’ve heard all three. A Toys R Us list I acquired indicates a street date of the 30th. Others claim to have a Wal-Mart edict banning all sale till the 31st.

What is the marketing point of an event no one knows the date of? Want to know who else doesn’t know? The staff of the stores that are supposed to capitalize on this brilliant marketing scheme. The employees to whom I have spoken (mostly management) claim to have heard nothing about Revenge of the Fallen. And why would they? Only in the minds of the ad execs at Hasbro is this the Star Wars-level event that would justify this kind of marketing maneuver. Pretending that Transformers movies are as big as Star Wars won’t make it so.

What’s happening now is that the meaningless street date is being violated all over the country. Underpaid, under-trained and under-informed stock people are understandably placing product on the shelves every day.

This combined with the lack of event creation and advertising makes the whole endeavor beyond pointless. The release date will be little more than “Scalperfest 2009.”

Just yesterday, unthinking retail employees enforcing this nebulous policy at Wal-Mart pulled a mound of toys from my hands and the hands of my TFan children, thereby disenfranchising all potential customers: fan, parent, child and collector alike.

The worst thing Hasbro and its retail partners can do is to put the product in our hands and then, upon our attempt to exchange legal tender for it, jealously snatch it back in the name of a poorly regulated and inconsistently applied street date policy. However, that is exactly what is happening. I left a Wal-Mart in Vernon Hills, Illinois with two screaming, hurt, and wronged children. Excited to find new Transformers toys, we had selected an armload and proceeded to the register, only to have our toys taken from us, as the chronically dirty and disorganized Wal-Mart’s management leapt into action to do the only thing it seemed to be capable of – covering up their errors. In this case by pulling and refusing to sell merchandise stocked on the shelves. The crying children seemed beneath their notice.

As a consumer, excitement abruptly turned to frustrated disgust – with Wal-Mart for breaking its childish agreement with Hasbro and taking it out on my disappointed children and myself, and with Hasbro for instituting a meaningless and arbitrary policy. I was later informed by a Wal-Mart assistant manager at a different store that her understanding of policy is that I should have been sold the toys and the rest removed from the shelf. Regulation of street date is never intended to be enforced at the point of sale. Yet over and over again I read in forums of customers turned down in the checkout lane.

Wal-Mart, stand by your actions and sell what is on your shelves. Should you break a hollow, pointless agreement with a vendor, accept responsibility for your problems and don’t make them mine or those of my fellow fans, parents, and collectors.

Hasbro, grow up and sell toys. I’m not sure how retailers slapping our hands when we try to hand you money is a viable marketing strategy.

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