When Hasbro released The Transformers
toy line in 1984 even they couldn't have predicted its success. TFs annihilated
the competition in the US and then in the UK when they were launched here and
again in mainland Europe, TFs ruled the shelves. Like an invading army, Hasbro
decided to target the Transformers marketing machine on South America, launching
the toys in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Venezuela but in these
countries, they had a lot less success.
South of the border TFs
In South America, where importing laws were strict (Brazil's government banned
the importing of toys), instead of producing Transformers directly, Hasbro leased the
rights to various companies thereby giving small companies the hottest property
in toys. Antex produced TFs for Argentina, Estrela for Brazil and IGA produced
the Transformers toys for Mexico (the company who produced the toys for Venezuela
is unknown at this writing.) and they all have one thing in
common: they had no idea what to do with the golden opportunity given to them.
Brazil and Argentina only ever had the Minicars and the Jumpstarters in their
toy lines and needless
to say, Transformers failed very quickly in those 2 countries. However, in
Chile, the US toys were imported into the country by Importadora Abramowickz
although some stores imported Transformers from Mexico and Brazil. Chile is the
only country in which Transformers survived for the duration (G1, G2 and Machine
Wars were all imported).
Back to Mexico
In December 1984 while the UK was running out and buying the newly released
Insecticons by the truckload, Mexico were sitting down to watch the premiere of
the Transformers cartoon. Unlike other South American countries, an effort had
been made with this production but it confused many as it wasn't consistent with
the other Transformer products released in Mexico.
While Antex and Estrela were churning out
multi-coloured Minobots in packaging that sort of resembled the US versions, IGA
were producing TFs in the same vein as Hasbro: the packaging was the same
(except for the Spanish language) and the toys were....almost the same.
IGA's initial release of TFs featured differences from the US releases: the
Decepticon jets has solid plastic nosecones and the wheels were made of plastic
instead of metal, Bluestreak was grey instead of silver and most obviously,
Prowl was mainly black instead of white with black parts. IGA obviously produced
Transformers with their own materials as the red plastics were more of an orange
colour and their white paint was a cream colour. Mexican TFs didn't have rubsigns
and the paint jobs were universally bad as were the factory applied stickers
(the sticker sheet that came with them was a US one). The stickers
featured the same image as their US counterparts but was of poorer quality and
was generally in a different font and layout.
Rubsigns were introduced in 1985 on US and European TFs with an advertising
campaign along the lines of "if your Transformer doesn't have a heat sensitive
sticker, then it's not a real Transformer!". This campaign was due to the volume
of Transformers that were being bootlegged (Shockwave and the Jumpstarters have
multiple bootleg versions) and it was also due, in part, to the unsold South
American Transformers being exported to the US, Europe and mainly the UK. As
Transformers weren't being imported into South America, South American
Transformers did not have rubsigns.
Back to IGA
A lot of what IGA did in the production process seemed to be trial and
error and they also seemed to have a varying amount of production details from Hasbro. Some
Mexican TFs are almost identical to their US counterparts (Red Alert,
Trailbreaker, Ironhide, Blitzwing and Ratchet are all good examples) but even
those exhibit the different stickers, paint and plastic quality that all Mexican
TFs do. In the case of Inferno and Prowl, IGA seemed to correct errors as they
went along (standard practice for small toy companies, McFarlane Toys create a
lot of variants as they use this practice) resulting in the arms reversed/arms
not reversed variant Inferno and the 3 different Prowl paint jobs. However, it
seems, some product was never fully corrected due to the lack
of direct Hasbro input (Prowl for example).
In the case of the jets, it doesn't seem that IGA had the capability to produce
the metal wheels so they went with plastic ones instead. It doesn't seem to be a
cost cutting measure as the jets were still die-cast. With Hoist and Bluestreak,
this is where I believe that IGA had limited help from Hasbro: I think that IGA
either weren't given the head mold for Hoist, something happened to it or Hasbro
simply never mentioned that Hoist had a different head to Trailbreaker. I think
that it's possible that IGA simply never knew there was a head difference, which
explains the other discrepancies between the Mexican toys and US ones, like the
differing paint jobs (Bluestreak, Prowl).
By 1985 Mexico was drowning in
unsold Transformers while the rest of the world was crying out for them. The
confusing marketing in Mexico had killed off interest before it had really built
and now Transformers were warming shelves in stores all across Mexico. In 1985,
the UK was suddenly bombarded by a wave of Mexican Transformers to try and meet
the demand, but these imports were not through Hasbro, they were coming into the
countries through the same means that bootlegs do. Children's programme 'Newsround'
featured the Mexican Transformers and detailed how they had more lead in their
paint than was legally allowed in the UK and that prolonged exposure to these
toys was not healthy. Obviously, the solid nosed jets did not conform with UK
safety standards, nor did the spring loaded launchers that Mexican Transformers
came packaged with (US and UK Transformers were released with launchers that had
the springs removed to conform to safety standards imposed after an American
child choked to death on the missile fired from his Battlestar Galactica Viper
While residents of the US, UK and Europe were
crammed into movie theatres and cinemas watching Transformers: The Movie, the
few Mexican children who were still interested were also watching the Movie, but
they were now buying Transformers that were imported into Mexico from the US.
IGA had abandoned producing TFs after the 1985 line due to their contract with
Hasbro expiring. The last Transformers produced by IGA were the third series
Minibots: Hubcap, Outback, Pipes, Swerve and Tailgate, which were merely
repaints of the first series molds as IGA didn't have the new retooled moulds.
This last wave of IGA Transformers were released in limited numbers as a store
The End of the Road
By 1992 Hasbro's market for Transformers had died pretty much worldwide for different
reasons. In the UK, Europe and the US, the line had lost steam after constant
attempts by Hasbro to extend the longevity of the line with new concepts.
Headmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters and Pretenders had not captured
children's imaginations the way Hasbro had hoped. The final nail in the coffin
were the Action Masters (Transformers that.....didn't Transform!) and what is
now known as Generation 1 came to a close.
Not content to sit idly by
and watch the biggest boy's toy line in years vanish, Hasbro made an
attempt to capitalise on previously untapped markets. Hasbro expanded into the one country
they hadn't been able to supply to until that point: Russia. The Russians were
suddenly bombarded by Hasbro's marketing machine (cartoon, comic, toys) and all
of Hasbro's un-sellable stock was sent there including, presumably, the vast
quantities of lead-poisoning-in-a-box that we know as Mexican Transformers.
A very big thank you to Ivan Mihovilovic M for the
information about Transformers in Chile.
Thanks also to David Pacheco for the
information about Transformers in Brazil.