Meet Ashima, and Her Impact on Child Product Sales to India

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AshimaOp/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The news that the beloved children’s series “Thomas the Tank Engine” is to include new characters is an interesting aside to how MNCs and marketing are reaching out to attract new customers. The series, originally a set of books written by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry for his young son Christopher in 1945, has subsequently developed over the years to include a successful BBC TV series voiced by Ringo Starr, and more recently by the Japanese voice actor Kumiko Higa. It is also a successful global franchise in the form of the “Thomas & Friends” TV franchise, which has been sold to over 121 countries in a business worth over US$1 billion.

It’s not surprising then that HIT Entertainment the American-British owned subsidiary of Mattel want to further expand Thomas’s potential – the franchise is a serious business. In doing so, HIT have plumped for introducing several new characters as trains into Thomas’s Railway World. In addition to the Indian train Ashima, there is also Raul, a Brazilian train, Carlos, a Mexican train, and Yong Bao, a Chinese one. HIT have just added a sizable chunk of China’s, India’s, Mexico’s, and Brazil’s combined children’s populations to Thomas’s own readership. 

india national population 0-14

That’s a total market of approximately 650 million children – roughly double that of the entire population of the United States. Thomas isn’t stopping there either, another ten new friendly trains are set to be introduced, all from different countries. That’s quite a coup, and something that other manufacturers and owners of brands will be paying attention to. In India, such exposure can be highly valuable marketing for other products, such as publishing, which is open to foreign investors in India in a manner in which it is not in China. We wrote about the opening up of children’s entertainment publishing in India in the article “Popular American Children’s Magazines Launched in the India Market”. In addition, spin off items such as apparel, toys, and games also all come into play, opening up additional major income streams.  

With India having one of the largest and youngest populations in the world, a new generation of parents and children will be clamoring for the latest. Ashima is almost guaranteed to become a well known figure in India, and will presumably develop, in time, to have her own adventures and friends. Based on an Indian Nilgiri Mountain Railway X class Railway Engine, and with a target market of some 350 million children in India, she represents a character destined to become a billion dollar business in her own right. Selling toys, apparel, and games to children in franchises sold off by HIT would be a savvy investment – with eyes and ears open for the next beloved and proven children’s stories to develop Indian and other national themes as part of their global rebranding.


Chris Devonshire-Ellis
 is the Founding Partner of Dezan Shira & Associates – a specialist foreign direct investment practice providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam, in addition to alliances in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, as well as liaison offices in Italy, Germany and the United States. For further information, please email china@dezshira.com or visit www.dezshira.com.

Chris can be followed on Twitter at @CDE_Asia.

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