Product / ServiceTOYS
CategoryB01. Consumer Products

The Campaign

In 2012, Thomas & Friends found itself at a critical crossroads. While the brand to boys all around the world represented adventure and fun, in China, parents preferred traditional learning activities for their children. The company needed to demonstrate that this toy was not only fun but also educational. The agency decided that setting a new Guinness World Record (GWR) for building the longest toy train track would provide a solid platform on which to build its integrated marketing campaign. Guinness is extremely popular in China and collaborates with CCTV, the largest nation-wide TV network, to produce a popular TV program called “Guinness World Record in China.” The campaign goals were to generate brand awareness, promote Thomas & Friends’ educational value, reinforce the company’s relevance in and commitment to China, and create good will among corporate and public affairs stakeholders. The agency invited the engineering department of a leading university as the project’s strategic technical advisor and middle school children to assist in developing a plan and building the track. The younger students received after-school tutorials on mechanical engineering to ensure their designs were sound. After months of work, the student-led team successfully broke the record for longest toy train track. It remained on display for three weeks as over 40,000 visitors arrived to witness the evidence of this groundbreaking event. Extensive media highlighted the students’ work, which embodied the essence of the Thomas & Friends brand: adventure, friendship, teamwork, practical science, engineering, mathematics and the courage to try.

The Brief

Thomas & Friends had four objectives associated with this campaign: generate increased brand awareness and excitement for Thomas & Friends via setting a new GWR in China; showcase the Thomas & Friends brand as educational and beneficial to boys and all children in China; reinforce Thomas & Friends’ relevance and commitment to China by involving local community participation; and leverage the GWR event to create good will among Mattel’s broader corporate and public affairs audience and support their initiatives and goals. The campaign primarily targeted young children and their parents. A secondary audience was Mattel's corporate and public affairs stakeholders.


Identifying and leveraging a popular trend, choosing a venue, and integrating educational institutions, students, and corporate philanthropy was new to China. Using students rather than Mattel corporate experts for the GWR attempt captured and held the public’s attention throughout the campaign. Key accomplishments included: 1. New Guinness World Record of 2,888 m (the team’s target) for the World’s Longest Plastic Toy Train Track; 2. Total media coverage equaling the equivalent of US$500K in advertising value, with coverage on more 17 TV programs and in 50 original clippings with close to 180 reprints; 3. More than 42,000 visitors (roughly 3,000/day) to Train Track exhibit at Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology 4. Extensive international media focus including coverage in 19 countries outside China; 5. Recognition by Guinness World Record as a memorable global campaign, featured in its official website, and 6. Silver prize at2012 Mattel Best Marketing Campaigns annual awards.


June – September 2012: • Jiaotong University PhD student submitted train track design to Mattel, which sent materials for construction. He began work with Minghang Middle School students, and over the summer, the team completed three rounds of testing and design. • Company launched nationwide in-store and online promotion whereby boys who purchased designated products would enter a lucky draw. Winner would place the train engine on the track to start the GWR attempt. October 2012 • Team moved to Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology to finalize construction and continue testing. November 24, 2012: • Team broke the GWR for the longest toy train track. Track remained on display for three weeks for public viewing. Following the event, segments of the train track were awarded to Jiaotong University and Minghang Middle School for permanent exhibition to commemorate their participation in the project. Remaining segments were donated to local kindergartens.

The Situation

The competitive landscape of the toy segment for boys in China is fierce. Lego has emerged as a strong brand utilizing its education-based platform, while Japanese Bandai enjoys a loyal fan base due to its Gundam and other action figures. A number of local manufacturers produce highly popular die-cut cars selling at less than 2 RMB per car. Parents in China prefer that their children, especially boys, spend their leisure time on educational activities. They did not associate Thomas & Friends with learning. The company sought to demonstrate that its toys were not only fun and creative but also educational.

The Strategy

Because of the popular GWR program, the agency knew breaking a world record would easily draw public and media attention. The greater challenge was how to use the event to convince parents that Thomas & Friends was educational. We decided not to engage company experts to build the track but rather engineering students from prestigious Jiaotong University and sixty school children. We also invited a group of underprivileged boys to the event to show good-will to the local community. The government-operated Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology was venue of choice because of its focus on math and engineering and the additional credibility it lent to the campaign. In short, the GWR project sought to unite diverse groups around one goal: a new Thomas & Friends world record in China. At the same time, it demonstrated in a meaningful way that Thomas & Friends could be both fun and educational.


Name Company Position
Elvis Hu Fleishmanhillard Sr. Account Executive
Cindy Zhou Fleishmanhillard Sr. Account Manager
Yisi Liu Fleishmanhillard Vice President
Joanne Wong Fleishmanhillard Evp/Sr. Partner