A while back I published a blog post about consumer and retailer reactions to Kenner's 1977 Early Bird Certificate Package. It was pretty well received. I even dropped by a couple of podcasts to talk about it -- Star Wars: Prototypes and Production and The Vintage Rebellion.
On one of those podcasts (I apologize for not being able to remember which at the moment), I was asked how principal Star Wars toy licensee Kenner prepped the public for the product.
After all, it's clear from newspaper articles like the one pictured above, from the Beckley Raleigh Register of November 16, 1977, that Kenner planned to counter any controversy the Certificate might cause with a marketing script intended to quell retailer and consumer discontent.
Here's the Kenner spokesperson quoted in this particular news item:
We were able to quickly produce the authentic 'Star Wars' puzzles, a 'Star Wars Escape' from Death Star board game and 'Star Wars' Dip Dots paint set and a 'Star Wars' Planets Poster set [sic]. But it takes almost a full year to make the authentic toy characters and spaceship [sic], and we'd rather do it right and do it late.
We did a lot of thinking before we made the decision to send out a certificate package. But we felt that because of the success of the movie, the child would want the authentic figures. We also decided that if a child receives the certificate package as one of his toys, he will be satisfied, and getting the actual gift later on could extend the feeling of the holiday season.
Based on this and similar articles, the hypothesized marketing script entailed the following talking points:
- Due to the nature of toy production, Kenner was unable to get action figures to market for the holiday season of 1977.
- The Star Wars figures offered by Kenner, when available, will be the only authentic Star Wars figures on the market, and everyone knows that children are sticklers for authenticity.
- By giving your child a certificatory promise on Christmas morning, you won't disappoint him; you'll actually extend the feeling of the holidays, because he can expect to receive an additional gift in the spring.
- By purchasing the Early Bird Certificate Package, your child will get Star Wars figures first, before the dirty poor children in the neighborhood, who will have to buy them at the store, like peasants.
If you read articles from the period related to the Early Bird Certificate Package, you'll see these four points repeated over and over again by various Kenner spokespeople. Clearly, there was some media management going on at Kenner.
But it was a few weeks before I remembered that I'd seen an actual document concerning the management of sentiment related to the Early Bird Certificate Package. It was in the collection of a friend of mine; upon discovering it I'd snapped some photos of it for personal reference.
Thankfully, he is okay with my sharing it. So I'm going to present it here for what I think is the first time. It's the actual three-page document sent to retailers to prep them for the Early Bird Certificate Package.
Going forward I'll refer to it as the "introductory letter."
By examining the introductory letter we'll get a sense of how the above talking points were communicated to Kenner's immediate customers, toy retailers.
And -- who knows -- maybe we'll make a few fun discoveries in the process.
* * *
Of course, at the time the introductory letter was created no one knew what the Early Bird Certificate Package was. It wasn't yet the legendary toy industry coup it was later characterized as. It was just a novel and likely to be controversial thing that Kenner hoped would tide over the public until they could get proper toys on store shelves.
|The booklet packaged with the large-size Leia figure referred to the hairdo as "star puffs."|
|Prototype (left) and production versions of the Club Card.|
Okay, onto the second page of the introductory letter.
It begins with a roll call of the characters depicted on the Early Bird Certificate Package. If you were a retailer who didn't know a Jawa from a Jabroni, the names of these characters constituted valuable information.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting a kick out of imagining a salesperson informing a curious holiday shopper that the third character from left is the, uh, [adjusts glasses and looks closely at introductory letter] Death Squad Commander.
Really stokes the flames of the yuletide spirit, doesn't it?
The second part of the page is more interesting: it lists a number of items to be sent to retailers in advance of the Early Bird Certificate Package.
It's said that Charles Darwin, following the logic of his theory of evolution by natural selection, theorized the existence of a moth with an incredibly long proboscis. He based this claim on the existence of orchids with incredibly long nectar reservoirs. For the nectar to be reached, and the plant pollinated, a moth with a proboscis commensurate with the flower's nectar reservoir must exist.
He was right: Morgan's sphinx moth was discovered a few years later.
Well, I'm obviously not Chuck Darwin, or even Chuck Woolery, but I don't think it's crazy to assume the existence of a promotional packet related to the Early Bird Certificate Package, i.e., a preparatory packet that was sent to retailers who ordered the product.
This document strongly suggests such a packet. It even uses the word "packet," thereby rendering our prediction somewhat perfunctory. The fact that to date no example has surfaced doesn't mean it isn't out there. Or at least wasn't out there at one time.
What was contained in this hypothetical packet?
Thankfully, the introductory letter tells us. It contained:
- A letter of introduction.
- A copy of the ad scheduled to run in newspapers on December 11, 1977.
- A photograph showing the contents of the Early Bird Certificate Package.
- An advertising "slick" depicting the Certificate Package, for use in individualized advertising.
- A Star Wars button.
- A rationalization of the Certificate and selling points.
- It explains why the product exists and why Kenner could not get plastic toys to market for the holidays.
- It leans hard on the concept of authenticity, "authentic" appearing in no fewer than four places, three of them with underlines.
- It mentions the goofy rationale of a delayed holiday offering, the Certificate Package being described twice as a two-in-one gift.
- It shamelessly leverages peer pressure: "Your child can be one of the first in his neighborhood to own authentic Star Wars figures."