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Thomas the Tank Engine - all aboard
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  Thomas the Tank Engine - all aboard
Thomas the Tank Engine
all aboard
by Vivian Manning-Schaffel
December 19, 2005

If you have a person under the age of five in your life, chances are you’ve heard of Thomas the Tank Engine. Based on a series of books written by the Reverend W. Awdry for his son Christopher, Thomas is an animated character that might best be described as the British version of the Little Engine That Could.
Or maybe the cute little mogul that could. Between his television show, primary and secondary merchandise and live appearances, Thomas and his choo-choo posse have grown into quite a powerful global brand. According to the HIT Entertainment corporate site, Thomas and his friends generated £27 million of revenue in 2004 (US$ 47M), logging in a double-digit awareness increase in the US (11 percent), the UK (27 percent) and Southeast Asia (44 percent). We decided to climb aboard the Thomas the Tank Engine website as it chugs along.

Thomas the Tank Engine - all aboard Like Tiffany, the Thomas brand successfully lays claim to a certain shade of blue that is instantly recognizable among its target audience; this shade is appropriately integral in the site design. Beyond that, design details, down to the use of fonts and icons, meticulously reflect the look and feel of the brand.

An initial click onto the homepage demonstrates the brand’s global reach, with a train emblazoned with clickable national flags, representing the countries/languages the site is available in. Once a preferred nationality/language is selected, an elaborate Flash introduction welcoming users into the “Island of Sodor” launches onto the screen, mimicking the television show introduction. Appropriately, the Thomas theme pipes in when users enter the main page, which prominently displays the Thomas logo and tagline “Making Tracks to Great Destinations,” with images of the main characters also used as navigation tools, front and center on the page. The site engages this template throughout, placing an interactive component on the center of each page to engage young devotees.

The Games section provides kids with a great interactive way to connect with the brand, and seems to be effectively targeting their range of abilities. Build an Engine is an online game geared toward younger viewers, allowing users to practice the art of clicking and dragging, while more challenging games like Railway Journey present more complex hand-eye coordination activities to challenge slightly older viewers.

Another fun section, Activities, promotes the brand by giving free printable schwag to its target user in easy to use, age-appropriate ways. Visitors can print mini-posters, download wallpapers and screen savers, or send e-cards. They can also click on the Engine Depot, an interactive trading card repository, and learn about all the Thomas brand characters. This section promises episode information for each character, but content hasn’t yet been implemented.

For adults interested in understanding more about the phenomenon that’s taken hold of their young child, the Show Description section talks about the television program’s concept and how the brand is portrayed in the series. The News & Info section is particularly useful, with the scoop on everything from TV schedules to active promotions to comprehensive product information. It also lists DVDs on the market and Thomas the Tank Engine live events, which in the US are strategically held at steam engine facilities.

The Product Info page announces new co-branded merchandise (such as with Lego) and uses links to drive users to the brand’s directly affiliated e-tailers (HIT Entertainment for trains and figures, Random House for books). With all the money this brand generates, it seems there could be more substance added to this section.

All in all, the unstoppable Thomas the Tank Engine brand covers all the bases on its official website. With such a young target audience, one of the key elements of the brand’s success lies in maintaining a perfectly cohesive look and feel, and in messaging that effectively communicates with users at a glance. This site offers visitors an age-appropriate brand experience that truly looks, feels and practically smells all Thomas, forging yet another memorable connection with the wee’uns.


Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a freelance writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY

*Due to the constantly changing environment of websites, some reviews may no longer reflect the current website for this brand.
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