Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday Morning Mecha Pilot: The Godaikin, the badakin and the uglyaikin

One of the most important jobs of a toy robots archaeologist is doing what I call Monday morning mecha piloting. A Monday morning mecha pilot looks back with 25 years of hindsight and tries to analyze why a given line of toy robots died out before Michael Bay could make a movie of it. It's based on the assumption that all toy robots are so awesome that every 1980s toy robot franchise had the potential to last longer than they did or 500 years (whichever came first) even the robots that turned into ladybugs, slot machines and McDonald's Big Macs. While everyone else nowadays goes about their lives in a daze driving their Transformers edition 2010 Camaros and not questioning their homogenized Hasbro childhoods, the Monday morning mecha pilot is asking, hey, why aren't we riding Cy-Kill edition Harley Davidsons? Why were dorks my age dressing up like giant penises from Star Wars instead of Tranzor-Z for Halloween last year? When I'm driving my car why can't I ram it into the butt end of a dump truck and then we jump in the air, combine with a jet and make a giant robot? Why hasn't Ford (the car company, not the Han Solo) invented that yet? WHERE IS MY VOLTRON MOVIE? If there's one thing I've learned from spending hours at the library in front of microfilm machines looking for old toy robots newspaper ads it's that the non-passage of all of these events and technologies is a direct result of the degree of success Bandai had marketing their toy robots in the 1980s. Show me a man who doesn't know what a Daltanias is and I'll show you why Michael Bay has a career. Let's look at where mankind went so terribly wrong.


Whistle Stop 05 Dec 1983
As I roam the country's libraries riding in the jaws of the time traveling Tyrannosauruses known as the Canon 300 series microfilm scanners looking for old toy robots newspaper ads, one line's ads remain extremely elusive. Of all the toy robots franchises from the late 70s/early 80s that lasted more than two years, it is the ads from GoDaiKin-Bandai's line of giant Japanese die cast robots-that are the rarest. Why was it that other lines from that era that Bandai made toys for like Shogun Warriors (in conjunction with Mattel) and GoBots (in conjunction with Tonka) were the ones that got lots of retailer support while GoDaiKin hardly ever showed up in newspapers? I think it was because GoDaiKin was the first line Bandai tried to distribute without the help of an American toy company acting as the marketing middleman, as was the case with those other lines. It was their inexperience with the way advertising worked in America that crippled GoDaiKin from the start. Bandai learned nothing from their previous joint venture with Mattel and in disregarding lessons that could be gleaned from the successes of Micronauts and Shogun Warriors, they set back toy robots marketing to the stone age.


Karls Toys&Hobbies 12/08/83
The vast majority of toy advertising done during the late seventies/early eighties in the US was by major retail chains like Zayre, Target and K-Mart and the big box toy supermarkets like Toys R Us, Lionel Playworld and Children's Palace. Yet these were not the places carrying and advertising GoDaiKin from the line's introduction. Early GoDaiKin ads came from mall department stores and independent Mom&Pop toy importers-places that didn't run weekly toy circulars in Sunday papers during the holiday season. I once spoke with the co-owner of one such independent toy store in Rapid City, South Dakota who told me they carried GoDaiKin because they wanted to carry high quality, larger ticket toys that were an alternative to what was being offered in the mainstream. They felt Bandai's robots were in the same class as toy train sets they imported from Europe and finely crafted wooden building blocks from Germany. It was these smaller stores and department store chains like Foley's and May Company who were willing to carry toys like GoDaiKins, which sold at price ranges higher than what major retail and toy supermarkets were comfortable with. My fellow Monday morning mecha pilots across the internet believe that the higher cost of GoDaiKin robots in relation to other toys of the day was one of the line's biggest faults. If the market was Joe average Toys R Us customer looking to save a few bucks then that'd be true, but the GoDaiKin target market was the more discerning upper middle class toy buyer who was more likely to shop at toy importers and department stores like Foley's or May Company than toy discount chains.

May Company 11/23/84


Yet it's evident from the kind of ads I do find for GoDaiKins that Bandai was not supporting these stores with the kind of promotional materials they needed to advertise the line. Since the small Mom&Pop stores didn't run full color weekly circulars what they needed were simplified line art and bullet point style product descriptions for use in their newspaper toy ads, which were black and white copy that ran in the body of the newspaper.
Land of Oz 12/15/85
Bandai provided text descriptions that were overly wordy and they left the toy stores to come up with their own product art which oftentimes resulted in grainy black and white photos of one toy alongside generic descriptions of the whole line, if they even ran pictures of the robots at all. During the height of GoDaiKin advertising in 1984 it was most common to see them lumped in with robots from other competing toylines in one big generic robot sale. Getting lost in these smorgasbord robot buffet ads was somewhat appropriate since the GoDaiKin line itself was a hodgepodge of various robots from differing Japanese franchises with very little in common aesthetically to tie them together. They may have been superstar robots with TV shows in Japan at one point but with no strong marketing push to differentiate them from the crowd and absolutely no brand recognition in the US, the line was dying on the shelves in '85 at the height of the toy robots craze.


Perhaps the biggest nail in the GoDaiKin coffin was the lack of media-tie ins for the line. Comics or television shows that raised awareness and promoted the toys were the most basic of ingredients for a successful toy line back then. This I feel is embarrassing because it raises the question was the problem GoDaiKin or was the problem us? These were some great toys. The failure of this line was more an indictment of our lack of imaginations as children. Were we just not able to appreciate robot lions that combined with space Winnebagos to make giant robots? One great example of the marketing opportunity being missed here (and how brain dead my generation of 10 year olds was) arose when Matchbox in 1985 licensed and rebranded the 1983 GoDaiKin GoLion as a toy tie-in with the enormously popular Voltron TV show.
Robinsons 11/30/84
If kids had to be shown Voltron so they'd get how GoLion was cool then maybe kids were stupid. Maybe consumer advocate groups who felt toy cartoons were the equivalent of mind control were overestimating the imaginative genius of kids. Maybe we needed our lame imaginations kick started and force fed a specific play pattern down all our throats. Maybe Jabba the Hutt costume is karmic restitution for our not knowing a great robot lion if it bit us in the butt when we were kids.


In the end, who's to say what failure is anyways? Just because a toy robots line didn't last 25 years or long enough to have awful movies made about it doesn't mean it failed. Without an insider's perspective of why business decisions are made, any assumption of failure is just uninformed speculation on the part of Monday morning mecha pilots. So I am not going to claim I know why Bandai's GoDaiKin line of giant robometallicos had such a brief life in the early 1980s, but it seems to me they could have done a better job of getting the word out. This became apparent as I updated the GoDaiKin section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace with a measly six new* ads. Seeing how few ads I've accumulated for this line when I've found hundreds of Transformers ads in each of its first three years had me putting myself in the position of retro-Bandai marketing executive wondering what went wrong. I ended up with the conclusion that there are no solid definitive conclusions that can be made from my second hand observations and 25 years of retrospective. Even I with my thousands of 1980s toy robots ads and several years worth of Hobby Japan magazines can't begin to put the pieces together. All I know now is it is foolish for me to think I could understand consumer market economics and the mystifying motivations behind Bandai, Ford, Hasbro or any other companies that used to make shiny metal things with lots of chrome and rubber tires. I've learned it is best to leave the Monday morning mecha piloting to the professionals...but wait there's more! I'll be damned if while researching this thesis on failed Bandai robot toylines I haven't uncovered the real reason the Shogun Warriors was canceled! Stay tuned next time my fellow Macrocranians as I definitively blow the lid off the biggest scandal in toy robots history!


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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.