Sunday, November 18th, 1984 4:54pm CST

Category: Site Articles
Posted by: Seibertron   Views: 944,170

Written by Sharon Young

The television ad tells of the continuing battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons, alien machines from the planet Cybertron. As the commercial nears its end, a robot like voice sings, "Transformers: more than meets the eye."

Merchants in South Hampton Roads agree that advertising aimed at children and a TV cartoon show have helped turn Transformers - toys that can be "transformed" from one shape to another - into the gift for Christmas.

Figures from the Toy Manufacturers Association of America, a New York-based trade group, attest to the nationwide popularity of the Transformers. In the six months between June - when Transformers were introduced by Hasbro Industries - and November, sales to retailers totaled $80 million.

By comparison, last year's top-seller, the Cabbage Patch Kids, set a 12-month sales record of $65 million during its first year on the market.

The science-fiction plot of the Saturday-morning TV cartoon apparently fuels the imaginations of young consumers. The honorable Autobots and the evil Decepticons, intelligent robots, become locked in a struggle for power more than 4 million years ago on a planet in a distant galaxy. During an intergalactic chase, groups from both factions crashed on the Earth and were trapped beneath its surface until a volcano erupted, releasing them to continue their conflict.

When the Transformers arrive at the store, there is no hint of this drama. They come in the shape of a tractor-trailer, a jet fighter, a Porsche, a police car, walkie-talkies, and a pistol.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

But with a few tricky flips and folds of metal parts, characters from outer space begin to take shape. The pistol becomes the robot Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, and the tractor-trailer becomes Optimus Prime, robot leader of the Autobots. There are many supporting characters on both sides.

The toys range in price from $3 to $30 and are aimed at children 3 to 13.

Running second in the area's "transformable" toy market are Tonka's GoBots. They are smaller than the Hasbro products and do not have the advantage of being characters on a weekly TV show.

"Neat," "cool" and "unique," are how children described Transformers.

David Wilson, 12, of Virginia Beach, said he liked the Transformers because the robots can be turned into other toys. "They're neat," he said.

Pre-Christmas supplies have lagged far behind demand in South Hampton Roads, merchants say. However, Teresa Wilson, David's mother, was able to find the Transformers because she began to shop for them in October. "I didn't really have to fight crowds then," she said.

But not everyone shopping for Transformers has had Wilson's foresight or luck. Recently, nearly 200 people showed up an hour before opening time at the Zayre department store on Airline Boulevard in Portsmouth, said an assistant manager who asked not to be identified.

"When we opened, they just came running in," the man said.

Vickie Storm, an assistant manager at K&K toys at Military Circle in Norfolk, said that a number of customers were in check-out lines there when a woman announced that a department store in the mall had just put some Transformers up for sale.

"Everyone dropped what they had and took off ..." Storm said with a laugh.

Alta Subotich, an assistant manager at the Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop in Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake, said customers have argued in the aisles over Transformers.

And at Tower Mall in Portsmouth, people line up in front of K&K Toys on Tuesdays and Fridays when shipments come in. Valerie Feske, an assistant manager there, said the lines have been so long that they snake around the mall.

"People are desperate for them," added Lorraine Stewart, manager of the K&K store at the Hilltop North Shopping Center in Virginia Beach.

"I've been to three different places ... today," complained Betty Luther of Portsmouth last week. "I can't find them anywhere. It's always the same thing."

Her 11-year-old son asked for Optimus Prime for Christmas after watching the Transformers TV cartoon. "He told me that if he didn't get one for Christmas that he'd die," Luther said.

Likewise, 14-year-old Keith Lieteau of Norfolk said he watches the Transformers cartoon every Saturday. It airs locally on Channel 33 at 7:30 a.m. "I have three Transformers at home already because I couldn't wait until Christmas," Lieteau said.

Alan Wood, regional manager of K&K Toys and Toy Castle stores, said he has tried to analyze the popularity of Transformers. "I think they represent the way the world is being pushed - computers and machines taking on human characteristics," he said.

He said that because of the limited supply, Transformers represent a marginal percentage of K&K's total sales. "But," he said, "if we could get enough ... sales from Transformers could be awesome."

Editor's Note: This newspaper article was obtained through Linden High School's micro-fiche film library during my senior year in 1995. Linden High School is located in Linden, Mi. See ... it pays to save all that stuff!!!

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