When Is an “Exclusive” Not an Exclusive?

April 26, 2017 – The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “exclusive” as:

Adjective. (1) not shared: available to only one person or group

(2) available to only a few people because of high cost”

The concept of an “exclusive product” for sale to the public is not difficult to understand: Vendors advertise an item as being exclusively available at one event (such as Star Wars Celebration), or to a limited and eligible class (“This offer available only to qualified veterans“), or from only one vendor.

Exclusivity is a marketing device with the goal of heightening consumer interest and demand. By creating a perception that a product is being offered at only one venue, one event, to an eligible class, or for a limited time, the vendor is essentially communicating “limited supply”. And as we all know from your basic Economics class, when demand exceeds supply, the market price will go up.

Hasbro’s Star Wars 40th Anniversary Six-Inch Luke Skywalker (X-Wing Pilot) at Celebration Orlando: A Case Study

An exclusive? (Photo Credit: Hasbro)

Leading up to and during Star Wars Celebration Orlando (April 13-16, 2017), Hasbro helped to foster buzz and excitement about its Black Series 6-inch scale Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot action figure. Priced at $27.00, tax included, the Luke Skywalker figure reportedly sold out at Celebration Orlando.

Numerous collector websites and social media outlets discussed the exclusive nature of Hasbro’s Luke figure.

Anticipating high demand, the Star Wars Celebration website spelled out some strict rules in order to obtain the “exclusive” action figure.

In short, allegedly you could not even step foot into the Hasbro store the first two days (April 13th and 14th) without a “Hasbro Exclusive ticket”.

StarWarsCelebration.com page discussing rules for obtaining the Luke X-Wing Pilot figure.

The Celebration website further states: “You cannot get into the Hasbro line to purchase anything at their booth without a ticket on Thursday or Friday, regardless if what you’re purchasing is the Hasbro Exclusive or not. On Thursday and Friday the only fans that can shop in the Hasbro booth are those with tickets.”

Presumably, event organizer ReedPOP, which also controls the website, received this eligibility information from Hasbro.

This ticket, handed out Thursday, April 13, 2017, allowed admission to the HasbroToyShop.com booth.

Predictably, the Luke (X-Wing Pilot) figure sold out at Star Wars Celebration Orlando. And presumably, because this was an exclusive item, there were no more Lukes to be had.

But this begs the question: Was the Luke figure exclusively to be sold only at Star Wars Celebration Orlando? Or is the Luke figure merely “a Hasbro exclusive” – in which case, that phrase is practically meaningless. In the worst light, it might even be misleading. Of course the figure is “exclusive to Hasbro” because no other company has the license to produce and distribute it.

Judging by all the headlines and chatter among numerous collector websites and news organizations, a reasonable interpretation is that Luke was supposed to be a Celebration Orlando exclusive.

Reports of Six-Inch Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot Figure Being Sold After Celebration Orlando

Star Wars Celebration Orlando ran from April 13 through April 16, 2017. Nine days later, or on April 25th, the same Luke figure became available for sale on the HasbroToyShop.com site. Retailing for $24.99, plus applicable tax, the popular figure quickly sold out on the same day.

HasbroToyShop.com advertising its Black Series 40th Anniversary Luke Skywalker X-wing Pilot

Predictably, the “exclusive” versus “non-exclusive” nature of the Luke figure lit up a firestorm of discussion on social media. For one such example, read the comments HERE at JediTempleArchives.com.

Collectors become somewhat passionate about the supposedly “exclusive” nature of an item because of the time and effort involved in obtaining the item: If the Luke figure truly were exclusive to Celebration Orlando, then that fact meant you had to have spent considerable time in multiple lines to get the Hasbro booth admission ticket, then to enter the Celebration show floor, then to line up yet again at the Hasbro booth. All of this entails time and money.

The dopamine-like reward is pride of ownership and pride of accomplishment. There is a certain cachet to possessing a supposedly exclusive Luke figure.

The flip-side of the argument – especially from those not able to attend Celebration Orlando – is that the greater the availability of the Luke figure, the greater the social good. If more consumers can get their hands on Luke, then so much the better. As a bonus, increased availability undermines the efforts of the despised scalpers.

So what’s the problem?

Potential Violations of Consumer Protection Laws?

At a visceral level, nobody likes to be fooled, manipulated or taken advantage of. At an economic level, nobody wants to pay an artificially inflated price, based on either false advertising or a false assumption.

And so every U.S. state has a consumer protection law that prohibits deceptive practices, including untrue or misleading advertising. Many states prohibit unfair or unconscionable practices as well. Collectively, the statutes are known as Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices or UDAP statutes.

Consumer protection laws cover many areas, including product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and more.

To be clear, we are not asserting that Hasbro, HasbroToyShop.com, or any other vendor is in violation of any such laws. However, with so many news organizations and collector websites discussing the Luke figure as a “Celebration Orlando exclusive”, we have to ask: Where did they all get this information from?

Moreover, the official Star Wars Celebration Orlando website, promoted and advertised the Luke figure as “a Hasbro Exclusive”. It says so in the headliner HERE.

Do you see the legal problem?

If Hasbro has been advertising or promoting its Luke Skywalker figure as a “Celebration exclusive”, when it now clearly is not, then that may open the company to a consumer-protection investigation. Alternatively, if Hasbro is acquiescing to the official Star Wars Celebration website promotion of the “Hasbro Exclusive” – without making any attempt to correct what may be a misleading impression – then the toy company is complicit in the advertising campaign.

The same issue has arisen in the recent past with Hasbro’s six-inch Kylo Ren and Obi-Wan Kenobi action figures, which were ostensibly exclusive to either Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 (in regard to Kylo Ren) or to the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con (in regard to Obi-Wan). When the figures were made available for sale again after their respective convention roll-outs, they were arguably no longer “exclusive” to the convention.

Why Should We Care?

If there is a finding of illegality by a vendor – such as false or deceptive advertising – then we should all care. As a matter of public policy, the states have already determined that private vendors may not deceive the public with false or misleading advertising.

Even if a vendor, such as Hasbro, falls in a gray area because of cleverly-worded advertising which does not technically violate a consumer-protection law (“It’s a Hasbro Exclusive“), there is still something off-putting about the entire “exclusivity” campaign. Taken in full context, a reasonable consumer would interpret the Luke figure to be a “convention exclusive”, available nowhere else.

Either an item is exclusive or it’s not. Hyping demand and manipulating consumers to open their wallets a bit wider can ultimately hurt a company’s image and branding.

If it were up to us, we would end the gimmickry of “exclusivity” labels or restricted offers.

Instead, open wide the floodgates of production. Let everyone who wants a Luke, a Kylo or an Obi-Wan, have a fair chance to purchase one. And let the free market determine a fair price.

That would be a win-win for everyone.


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