CAMPAIGNS: Kids PR - Norton spins Tracy Island into success

Client: Vivid Imaginations

Client: Vivid Imaginations

PR Team: Norton & Company

Campaign: Launch of Tracy Island and Thunderbirds Toy range

Timescale: January to December 2000

Budget: Undisclosed

The hit TV show Thunderbirds returned to British screens last autumn. Created by the legendary Gerry Anderson, Thunderbirds gained a massive following when it was first shown in the 1960s, spawning a range of popular children's toys.

In 1993 Norton & Co was asked to launch a new range of toys when Thunderbirds hit the screens again. Its campaign was given a massive boost when the BBC's Blue Peter programme made a Tracy Island model held together by 'sticky-back plastic' and requests flooded in from fans seeking instructions so they could make their own, leading to a number of newspapers printing the instructions.

Norton's challenge in 2000 was to repeat the success of the 1993 campaign and make Tracy Island the must-have toy for Christmas 2000.


To raise awareness and make Tracy Island and Thunderbirds toys the hottest products for Christmas 2000; to raise the profile of toy company Vivid Imaginations.

Strategy and Plan

Tracy Island and the other Thunderbirds toys were launched to the trade at the London Toy Fair in January, a time when retailers traditionally place their orders for the following Christmas. Gerry Anderson attended the launch and there was a photocall.

Norton's work really began in earnest in July with the preparation of a campaign to spark interest in Thunderbirds among a media that was obsessed with Pokemon and other 'newer' crazes.

Norton's campaign focused on convincing an initially sceptical audience that Thunderbirds would be the hot Christmas toy thanks to the huge following for Gerry Anderson and the screening of the digitally remastered TV series in the autumn.

In September a press launch was held at Hamley's toy emporium in London with Anderson again in attendance.

In early October Norton was delighted when Blue Peter once again put together a Tracy Island model. This time instructions on how to make the model were posted on the Blue Peter website, but some newspapers still reprinted them.

In late October Vivid Imaginations had a major presence at Total Fun, a toy industry consumer show, where the British Association of Toy Retailers named Tracy Island/Thunderbirds as one of their Top 10 toys.

During October Vivid began to receive a large number of e-mails asking where Tracy Islands could be bought. As demand rose, Norton was faced with a new problem - it was becoming increasingly clear there would be a shortage of Tracy Islands.

The media, including the BBC's investigative show Watchdog, latched onto the problem. The emphasis of Norton's work switched to explaining that the shortage of Thunderbirds toys was due to the worldwide shortage of microchips, and that Vivid was doing everything within its powers to get the toys into the shops.

The estimated demand for Tracy Island was 500,000-600,000, but Vivid was only able to supply 60,000 (and a third of these had to have their microchips inserted in the UK).

Measurement and Evaluation

In addition to Blue Peter covering the making of Tracy Island in three programmes in one week, there were also Thunderbirds features on ITV's SMTV and Children's BBC. Norton arranged a major tie-in with Radio Times, resulting in four different Radio Times covers being produced for one issue, each with different characters from the show.

Stories about the shortage of the toys appeared in most of the nationals, including The Sun, Daily Express, The Guardian and Daily Star, and many regional papers. The demand for Tracy Island was on news bulletins on the BBC, where Vivid's chief executive was interviewed, as well as GMTV and Big Breakfast.

The Mirror, Sunday Express and The Sun also ran stories on how to construct a Tracy Island, as did Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live.


Thunderbirds became the most sought-after toy in 2000. Although there was a massive shortfall in supply, this had the positive effect of creating a strong latent demand. As a result, retailers who had not stocked the range were keen to stock the product, just as Vivid introduced new Thunderbirds products for 2001.

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