Thursday, September 29, 2011

Full On Triple Tronians All the Way Across the Page!

SNOOP AROUND Check out the line art of the thought-to-be-unreleased GoBot SR-71 Blackbird Snoop! She has appeared in ads from U.S. stores before.
I found this wonderful Bradlee's roboplastic smorgasbord buried in the back pages of a newspaper from December 23, 1985. It was rather impressive because it was so tall I think it took up three quarters the height of the page! It had all my favorite tronian lines of 1985-the Hasbronian Cybertronians, GoBotronians and Voltronians (sorry ChargerTronians)-and they were all at near clearance level discounts. A 25% off sale on the big three robot toylines of the 80s just before Christmas '85 is pretty crazy if you think about it. '85 was the year Transformers and GoBots peaked in terms of sales-what were they doing at near clearance markdowns before the hottest Christmas ever? Why did Bradlee want all them sold so badlee? This was 1985! Stores were supposed to be having hard times keeping robots in stock, not trying to clearance them out. What exactly was going on here?


But before I ponder the pop cultural ramifications of the Christmas Eve toy robot pricing policies of extinct retail outlets I wanted to mention a few things about the ad itself. At first I thought the art was all new and original because the lines were so loose and the renderings lacking in detail in some places. There's lots of strange perspective shifts and scale inconsistencies, like Sunstreaker being smaller than Long Haul. It looked only slightly better than coloring books in some parts. After closer inspection I noticed the vast majority of these drawings were line art I'd seen before in other ads. Somehow Bradlee's managed to take existing line art and arrange it in a way that made it all look unfamiliar to me. That's when I realized line art in newspaper ads was traditionally used in a stand alone fashion where one drawing got one description and rarely did multiple drawings exist in the same ad overlapping each other. The majority of retailers avoided this sort of line art arrangement and that's what makes this ad so unique.


When I was a kid I became a little wary of sales like this after I saw Star Wars toys drown in a sea of red tag reduction stickers before they disappeared from toy shelves forever. Had I seen this ad when it came out in '85 I probably would have been a little freaked out because deep discounts usually meant either stores were going out of business or the toylines were running out of popularity. Now that I've found quite a few ads like this with stores liquidating more robots than a smelting pool I'm having to reevaluate just how big the toy robot craze really was back then. Case in point is the following BEST ad from December 18, 1985 where the discounts are super deep. Shockwave for $7, Robo Forcers for $1, GoBot Power Suits for 2 bucks. I get the impression that '85 didn't end on a high note for robots like I thought it had. It's just so hard for me to grasp the possibility that kids wanted to play with something other than cartoon robot Volkswagens and their transformable talking Tyrannosaurus cohorts. I know it seems like blasphemy to other toy robots historians but apparently there were more years in the 80s than just 1985 and I'm also starting to realize there may have been more aisles in a toy store than just the one with all the robots.

BEST 12/18/85


There are two articles available online that provide evidence of a huge slump in toy robot popularity during the 1985 Christmas season. The first is from the February 1986 edition of Discount Store News in an article titled "Toy retailers predict return to basic buys". One point that article makes is that toy fads were cyclical. It goes "The cycle is always the same. A year of innovative product entries followed by a year of oversaturation and eventual overkill." For toy robots, that initial year of innovation was 1984 and the oversaturation hit in '85. They quoted one buyer as saying Voltron started strong in the first half of the year and "was nothing at Christmas". An August 18, 1986 article from The Pittsburgh Press names names and takes no toy robot prisoners. It stated GoBots and Voltron were down sharply and Robotech was an outright flop. Only the Transformers were reported as still doing well after Christmas 1985. This all correlates completely with what I see play out in the newspaper ads but I still have a hard time accepting it. I guess my childhood memories are of a robot party that lasted forever, or at least a little bit longer than 1987.


In the end it is better to have gone on clearance than to never have sold at all. It's kind of hard for me to accept that what I remember as an eternal golden age of childhood and toy robots prosperity was actually just a 2-3 year long fad during the 80s. What's really interesting is that something like Voltron which was a flash in the pan during the 80s still remains cultishly popular and even has a cartoon nowadays. It gives me hope. That's either proof of Voltron's enduring underground appeal or a testament to the power of having your robot on shirts at Hot Topic. Somewhere out there there's a pre-teen boy who's a big fan of Voltron and thinks that we're in the golden age of robot space lions. I'm glad for his sake that the newspapers nowadays aren't written by a bunch of Voltron haters like the Pittsburgh Press used to be when I was little. With Mattel's upcoming Voltron line hitting stores soon hopefully the dozens of other Voltron fans out there will get the chance to see their favorite robots on clearance in a newspaper ad one day. All fans of tronians non-Hasbronian should be so lucky.

1 comment:

Tets said...

1985. The year Optimus first died. Mayhap children were too traumatised to go on forcing their parents to buy toys?

Or maybe it was Rodimus Prime's "Leadership" skills.

All I know is that I would LOVE to see a Sludge at those prices now!


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