Holiday Horrors: Transformers Ad, 1985

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

Last year at this time, I included the ad in today’s Holiday Horror as part of a larger Holiday Triumphs post on seasonal commercials. But the Triumph designation was meant merely as an umbrella term for the treasure trove of nostalgia contained in those spots. On further reflection, this ad is firmly in the Horror camp.

This ad is extremely unique for many reasons. It is a commercial for a children’s toy aimed squarely at adults. Most toy commercials appeal to kids, hoping they’ll run to their parents and scream GIMME GIMME GIMME! Occasionally, you’ll see one where a parent-type says, “This toy will make a wonderful gift for your child!” But this ad cuts out the middleman and gets right down to brass tacks. Ingenious, and yet oddly creepy.

I mean, we all know that Christmas is all about the presents, but it’s still weird and crass to be told so in point-blank fashion. I should also mention that this ad aired during a holiday special, when a large amount of kids were (presumably) watching. Isn’t this tantamount to saying Santa Claus isn’t real?

I’m sure there are other examples of this kind of appeal, though I can’t think of any offhand. I definitely can’t think of one where one adult told other adults, point blank, that they needed to get this toy NOW because supplies were limited.

“Get ’em now while stores have a good selection,” he says. In the days before e-tail, this was virtually a threat. This ad aired only a year after the infamous Cabbage Patch Kids Wars, when parents literally fought each other to make sure they could bring home the season’s hottest toy

I mentioned this ad aired during a holiday special. I neglected to mention that the holiday in question was Halloween. This commercial ran a good eight weeks before Christmas. Even by modern standards, that’s a tad insane. It specifically advises parents–warns them, one might say–to stock up on Transformers before Thanksgiving weekend. I can’t imagine anyone trying to get away with that now.

If the narrator looks familiar, it’s because he’s former NFL great-turned-actor Alex Karras, best known as Webster’s dad (or if you prefer, Mungo in Blazing Saddles). I suppose he was chosen for his grandfatherly quality, though that’s offset somewhat when he starts talking like Starscream. But I genuinely love that he intones the ROBOTS IN DISGUISE tagline, then keeps on talking as if nothing happened. “Yeah, sometimes I just talk like a robot, no big deal.”

The one thing that puzzles me: The music used in the ad sounds decidedly different than that used in the cartoon. (Trust me, that tune is deeply ingrained in my memory.) I thought maybe this was because the cartoon hadn’t debuted yet, but it looks like it made its US debut in 1984. Maybe they had rights issues, the cartoon being a separate entity from the toy? Any suggestions for an explanation are welcomed, because I am baffled.

Though I am designating this in the Horror side of the ledger, I will say that the moment Alex Karras casually lip syncs ROBOTS IN DISGUISE might be one of the best things ever filmed.