Thursday, September 18, 2008

25 years ago in Transfomrers PART 3: WE'RE SCARED OF GUNS AND MONEY!

Off the top of my head if you were to ask me how the Transformers came about I'd say Hasbro thought it up in '83, got Marvel to do the comics and cartoon and then everybody lived happily ever after. That would be good enough for most people but I'm finding lately that my version omits a major player in the story and also doesn't take into account that prior to 1984 Hasbro management weren't the brilliant marketing titans I gave them credit for. In actuality Hasbro was unsure that toy based cartoons would work in the first place! HERE IS THE STORY OF SOME GUYS WHO WERE AFRAID OF MONIES.


Griffin-Bacal was Hasbro's advertising agency during the development of the Transformers. Sunbow Productions was a subsidiary of Griffin-Bacal that produced and distributed live action and animated shows. Sunbow would co-produce the 1984 Transformers cartoon with Marvel but Hasbro and Griffin-Bacal/Sunbow were working together on children's programming well before then. I was doing a little research on a Sunbow show from 1981 called The Great Space Coaster when I came across an interview from the Just My Show Podcast with some of the GSC cast that included puppeteer Kevin Clash. Kevin was the man behind a Space Coaster character named Goriddle Gorilla (incidentally, he's also Elmo). What Kevin had to say about the relationship between Griffin-Bacal/Sunbow and Hasbro was pretty interesting-

"They (Griffin-Bacal/Sunbow) really wanted to get them (Hasbro) enthusiastic about doing half an hour commercials, like My Little Pony and Transformers and stuff like that. Since they couldn't get them to do that at that point, they sold them into doing this children's program, and it got their foot in the door to go in and do these half an hour (commercials like) G.I. Joe and all those things. Once they got Hasbro convinced of that, we stopped doing Great Space Coaster."

So here we have Kevin Clash explaining that Hasbro at one point wasn't sure that animated tie-ins used to promote their product lines was a good idea! Transfomer nerds everywhere owe a great debt to Griffin-Bacal. In the book Toy Wars, author G. Wayne Miller describes Griffin-Bacal as an ad agency "which did Stephen Hassenfeld's bidding". Hassenfeld was chairman and CEO of Hasbro at the time but to imply that Griffin-Bacal were mere puppets of Stephen Hassenfeld is to vastly underestimate the amount of influence and input they had on the company. Were it not for Griffin-Bacal there may not even be a Transformers cartoon!


"We don't believe in guns for kids. That one scares me." -Alan Hassenfeld

I love this quote because Alan was Executive Vice President of Hasbro in 1983. This doesn't sound like the kind of company that would give the world Megatron. Alan's emphasis that Hasbro didn't sell, make or distribute toy guns in a December 1983 Multinational Monitor article echoes a similar sentiment that his brother Stephen had when it came to play guns and children. Stephen would absolutely not allow toys that shot projectiles during his reign as CEO. The little cannons and missile launchers on G.I Joe and Transformer toys never fired while he was in charge-they just held their projectiles in place. Stephen's policy on shooting projectiles is most likely the reason that US released Megatrons did not fire bullets while their Japanese counterparts did. It wouldn't be until after Stephen died and his brother Alan "toy guns scare me" Hassenfeld took over that missile firing projectiles would be introduced in Hasbro action figures. It must have taken a lot of convincing to get the Hassenfelds to go along with a Walther P-38 being in the line at all with Alan the executive VP of the company so scared of toy guns. Or maybe it wasn't that hard to convince them, seeing how the alternative would be to have the leader of the evil Decepticons be a microcassette recorder.


Was Hasbro management afraid of making money? Of course it's easy to second guess them now with 25 years of hindsight, but did everyone at Hasbro not see the popularity of the Transformers coming? Bob Prupis was Hasbro's associate vice president of marketing in 1984 and at Botcon 2004 he stated " the first year I had forecast a potential sales volume of 30 million dollars. Management fought me on this and they decided that as a new line it was too aggressive and they cut the forecast down to 15 million dollars." By February of 1984 Hasbro would have 100 million dollars in wholesale orders.1 Prupis estimated the backlog of unfilled orders to be in the range of an additional 70 to 100 million. Once they hit the shelves in May, Hasbro asked Takara to increase production but it was too late. I would not get a Soundwave that Christmas. Is it too critical of me to blame the Transformers shortages of 1984 on Hasbro management's lack of confidence in the line in 1983? Could anyone have seen the popularity of toy robots coming? I don't know but I can't think of anything more heartbreaking during Christmas 1984 than a little boy with four fake toy robot cassettes and no fake toy robot cassette player to fake play them on. THAT'S WHY I'M ALL WEIRD NOW!

1Kathy Hacker (1984, November 23). ROBOTS GRIP THE IMAGINATION. Philadelphia Inquirer,C.1.

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