When the Transformers line was released 30 years ago, the concept behind the line was a rather simple one - Robots that turned into vehicles (and later, dinosaurs and insects) within the blink of an eye.
However, over those 30 years, the simple concept behind this popular toy brand became more and more complex, so much so that, to Hasbro chief executive Brain Goldner, the line had lost its magic.
“We’ve made incredibly sophisticated robots,” he said, “but it can be like a 1,000-piece puzzle,” he said.
After watching the three Michael Bay Transformers films, and witnessing the special effects that were able to show the robots transforming within a matter of seconds, Goldner came to the decision that the brand needed to return to its roots. So, he challenged his design team to re-conceive the Transformers. Now, on the eve of the brands 30th Anniversary, Hasbro has revealed a new look for the toys, including simple maneuvers that will complete a transformation with the flick of the wrist, or the push of a button.
The remake of the line is meant to coincide with the release of the fourth Transformers film, Age of Extinction, which hits theaters this coming summer. The line will include new packaging and branding that will be seen this week during the UK Toy Fair in London, England.
“Our retail partners, they are getting very excited,” said Joshua Lamb, the senior design director for the toy line. “This rethinking of the brand is setting the stage long-term.”
These new toys are expected to hit store shelves in May, a few weeks before Age of Extinction sees a theatrical release. Hasbro says it will build on the promotion for the movie with a marketing campaign of its own that will include ads on television and in theaters as well as on digital platforms, like mobile and social media.
A long-time fan of the Transformers, Mr. Goldner was convinced their story could be turned into a big-budget Hollywood movie and started campaigning the idea back in 2003, drawing the attention of Steven Spielberg. The first movie, released in 2007, made more than $700 million worldwide and was credited for moving Hasbro from a traditional toy-maker to a multimedia company.
In 2006, the year before the first movie was released, the Transformers brand generated $100 million in revenue, nearly all of it from toys. By 2012, sales from the property had nearly doubled, but merchandise accounted for only 79 percent of revenue; the rest came from new areas like digital media, movies and television and licensing.
"The new look should help bolster retail sales," said Jaime M. Katz, an analyst at Morningstar, adding that redesigns are expected these days. “Toys were much simpler 30 years ago,” she said. “Everything has to keep evolving.”
The toys’ streamlined transformations also address the need for instant gratification sought by children today, she said. “A toy like this gets them where they are going faster.”
Mr. Lamb did agree that the brand had gotten slightly off track over the years, but he assures collectors that Hasbro will continue to make complex Transformers for adult fans who have grown up with the line over the past 30 years. The new design being launched by the company is to help re-engage parents and children who found the transformations too complex and challenging.
The move to reduce the complexity of the toys extends to the branding, too. The property often has multiple toy lines on sale, reflecting various TV, movie and classic versions of the characters, leading to confusion in the toy aisle. Now, all Transformers toys will come under a single, bold logo.
The design of the packaging has been reduced to emphasize the toy and its action feature, leaving “as much space as possible to celebrate the characters,” said Jonathan Newkirk, the creative brand manager for Transformers.
“These are not necessarily the cheap tricks of marketing,” Mr. Newkirk said. “This is something that goes deeper than just the branding. We are trying to give the identity a voice in a very uncluttered way.”
Well, there you have it, Infinite Earths fans! A new era in Transformers toys appears ready to bow this year, on the brands 30th anniversary. While we will admit this sounded somewhat worrisome when we first heard the news, it is nice to see Hasbro is not forgetting the older fans of the brand and will continue to release more complex Transformers for those of us who have spent the last 3 decades growing up with these toys.
30 years later and it's still interesting to be a Transformers fan!
Source: The New York Times