Mattel is likely to find a Hit buying Thomas & Friends

Ruth Mortimer is Marketing Week’s associate editor and a prolific blogger. She won a PPA Award for her forthright and insightful columns on marketing.

Mattel has steamed ahead of its competitors to buy kids’ brand Thomas & Friends. The company has acquired Thomas and his train pals along with Bob The Builder as part of a deal to buy Hit Entertainment thought to be worth $680m (£426m).

The bucks might be big, but Thomas himself is even bigger among the pre-school audience. Originally a minor player in the Rev W Awdry’s Railyway Series of books, Thomas has become a branding icon. Thomas & Friends allegedly make up around 80% of Hit profits.

The company is also a perfect fit for Mattel. The company already owns pre-school brand Fisher-Price and Hot Wheels, so has plenty of distribution channels open to take Thomas into even more areas. Although it is hard to know how Mattel will grow a character so popular he appears in books, DVDs, online, as toys, pencil cases, clothing, bags, model railways, clothes, bedsets……I could go on forever. It certainly feels that Thomas has been licensed in every area known to man.

Anyway, with Fisher-Price reportedly accounting for just $1.83bn of Mattel’s $5.86bn revenues last year, the company could do with a new franchise to reinvigorate its appeal to a young audience. While Mattel already had a deal with Hit to market some Thomas & Friends products until 2014, owning the brand will give it many more options.

With Mattel already strong in its more female-focused Barbie toys, Thomas gives it a more unisex property to promote. (It also has Angelina Ballerina, the aforementioned Bob the Builder and Barney the Dinosaur as part of the Hit deal.) My son’s beloved ‘talking Thomas’ is full of helpful educational phrases suitable for both genders such as: “Why don’t you work hard like me?” and “Number one always comes first”.

Personally, I’d like to see Mattel bringing back more trains from the Railway Series to public view – Skarloey was always my favourite. Those of you wondering about Skarloey can visit the excellent Thomas the Tank Engine Wikia here.

I’ll look forward to seeing what the marketing might of Mattel has in store for one of the UK’s favourite kids’ characters.

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