Catalogs are one of many ways that Hasbro and TakaraTomy have traditionally promoted the Transformers brand. Starting with the original 28 Transformer toys available in 1984, catalogs typically show some or all of the currently available merchandise. Like pack-in flyers, their purpose is to entice children to buy even more toys than the ones they've already got.
Through the life of the Generation One toyline, catalogs were standard in all boxed toys. G1 catalogs were printed on a single sheet of paper that folded down to small size. They showed the entire year's lineup of toys, Autobots on one side, Decepticons on the other. A checklist encouraged young consumers to collect the whole set. Each year used a unique stylized approach:
- 1984 featured the toy groups on variously-colored neutral backgrounds.
- 1985 set many of the toys in a diorama of rugged Earthen terrain, while others were against a black background. This catalog featured a diorama of various toys battling around a lit sparkler. The catalog came in two sizes, a 2-fold and a 3-fold version identical in content and layout.
- 1986 featured webs of lines connecting each subgroup's sections.
- 1987 (pictured above) featured complex framing boxes around each subgroup and a pixelated background behind the faction logos. (Pixels? They must have done that on a COM-PU-TOR!)
...and so on.
New catalogs typically did not appear in the earliest waves of a new year's offerings, presumably because the toys themselves were still being finalized. Many toy groups shown in the G1 catalogs are prototypes—the Monsterbots, the 1987 Headmasters, and the 1990 Micromasters are particularly obvious examples. Early editions of the 1988 catalog had to substitute a "COMING SOON!" box art silhouette in place of some of the Pretenders.
Beast Wars catalogs reflected the changing nature of retail. Rather than a catalog devoted exclusively to Transformers, Kenner used a cross-sell approach, compiling one booklet with many toylines. Beast Wars typically received 2 to 4 pages, showing a sampling of the current line rather than a whole year's offerings.
Beast Wars II
The Beast Wars II toy catalog featured multiple pages of original art in which Optimus Primal and Megatron introduce Lio Convoy and Galvatron, respectively. While the Maximal half features Optimus Primal shaking hands with and respectfully introducing us to his successor (who swears not to let his predecessor down), the Predacon half gives us a history lesson illustrating a brief rivalry between Megatron and Galvatron (though Megatron reluctantly admits that Galvatron has all the regal bearing of an Emperor of Destruction).
Catalogs disappeared entirely during Beast Machines and Robots in Disguise, replaced by cross-sell photos on the outside of the packaging. Though obviously cheaper to produce than a separate catalog, these were limited to showing only a few toys at a time.
Armada revived the catalog tradition, combining a Transformers catalog with a pack-in mini-comic in booklet form. The booklet had two fronts, with the comic half printed upside-down relative to the catalog half (and vice-versa, of course). The catalog contained all of the current waves of product and was periodically updated with a new mini-comic and toys as the line ran its course.
Other Transformers product lines were often advertised in these booklets as well, including Alternators, the then-current Dreamwave comics, Built to Rule, Universe, the Commemorative Series, and the various VHS and DVD releases of the current cartoon.
Energon continued the same comic-and-catalog pattern started by Armada.
Transformers Universe received a single pack-in catalog flyer advertising the first wave of toys on one side, with a comic-style battle scene on the other.
The Titaniums line likewise received one single-fold catalog flyer advertising the first four toys in the line. The front cover featured the War Within-style Optimus Prime toy.
The Cybertron franchise reinvented the catalog concept with four collectible planet maps.
Each map featured one of the storyline's fictional worlds on one side, with an image of the planet, a profile of one of its major residents, short mini-story images, and a write-up about the planet itself. The flip side contained all the product from the current waves, including most of the toys that were intended to be thematically related to the particular planet.
Across the Pacific, catalogs have remained more consistent in format, adhering to the single-sheet, fold-up flyer format throughout the "Beast era" and the Unicron Trilogy.
Japanese catalogs tend to be more oriented toward displaying each toy's action features than the American versions, with lots of swooshes and speed blurs to indicate action!! They very often also feature additional artwork, such as a battle diorama of the toys or artwork of major characters.
At least one Micron Legend catalog featured a cross-sell spot for the Kid's Transformers Rescue Heroes Go-Bots. This cross-sell is of particular note in the annals of Transformer catalog scholarship, owing in large part to the fact that it is awesome.