You can now buy a Cameo from an AI Thomas the Tank Engine

Cameo says parents buy a lot of messages for their kids, so they’re doubling down via a partnership with Mattel.
article cover


· 4 min read

All aboard—Cameo just partnered with Mattel to sign Thomas the Tank Engine as a creator on the platform. Or an animated, AI version of him, at least.

  • ICYMI, Cameo is a platform where you can pay celebrities to record a customized message; businesses can also hire celebs for custom videos, at higher prices usually.
  • Cameos from a star like Chris Harrison can be pricey—the former Bachelor and Bachelorette host currently does personalized videos for $350 a pop. Thomas is a cheaper option, at only $20 a video.

Why the price difference? Because anthropomorphic trains “aren’t real” (as far as we know), Cameo and Mattel use AI technology to make Thomas’s videos. That means Thomas can make a bunch of them faster than Chris Harrison can, because real people have to do them one by one.

How does the AI work? Thomas the Tank Engine’s TV show voice actors worked with Mattel to create an extensive “language bank” to pull from, Arthur Leopold, Cameo’s chief business officer, explained to Marketing Brew. For instance, if someone orders a Thomas Cameo with the instructions “Please make a Cameo for my son John’s birthday,” the AI then takes the text request and converts it into a script using sounds from the language bank.

Why it matters: Content that makes someone stop the neverending social media scroll is even more valuable these days, according to Leopold. “Especially given everything that’s been happening with increased customer acquisition costs and privacy issues with Apple—and how that’s impacted so many advertisers—people want content that is going to quickly stop the scroll,” he said.

Leopold noted the brand’s advertising partners tell him Cameos are doing just that. “People see it in their feed and—because of the personalized nature of them, because of the UGC content—they’re stopping and watching,” he said, adding that Cameos tend to convert at a “much higher percentage than traditional ad content,” though he did not provide exact figures.  Leopold also called these more scalable AI–based Cameos a “major revenue opportunity” for studios and IP holders.

Chugging along

Thomas is the second-ever animated character on Cameo, with Boss Baby (somehow) arriving first. But Leopold told us Cameo is excited about bringing more iconic characters onto the platform.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.

“We see a future where every major brand and studio has their IP on Cameo. So if it’s Mattel, they are the owners of Barbie, Skeletor, and American Girl dolls. Whether it’s Disney [or] Nickelodeon, they’ll have an incredible amount of animated IP that connects with kids every single day,” he said.

As for Thomas, Cameo was looking for a character that resonated well with both older and younger generations, as well as a major fan base that’s both nostalgic and current. His Cameos will live under the Family section of Cameo’s site.

Leopold explained that Mattel came to Cameo with the idea—they got connected via one of Cameo’s VC firms, Lightspeed, about six months ago, before Cameo had any animated characters.

But Cameo’s interest in Thomas actually stems from a deep love of public transportation demonstrated user interest in content for kids. According to Leopold, Cameo data shows a lot of parents are ordering birthday messages for their children from celebrities like Fiona the Hippo and Steve from Blues Clues. Leopold described Cameo’s content for kids as doing “exceptionally well” on the platform, though he did not share any specific figures.

A percentage of that $20 per Thomas Cameo goes to Mattel and to Cameo itself. Although Leopold declined to provide exact figures, he did say these AI–driven animated Cameos are an entirely new revenue stream for the business.

“This is just a hyper-scalable way of doing it because there’s no human interference. This being AI, you could do an unlimited amount of Cameos if you wanted to...whereas a human has to sit down and spend time thinking about the fan and do the Cameo.”

Both Mattel and Cameo are promoting the partnership, with Cameo specifically marketing it on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as on Cameo’s email distribution list. Influencer fans of Thomas the Tank Engine will receive Cameos from the train himself to run on social media.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.