Bricks from the brink


News that Lego is now the world’s biggest toy company will not be a surprise to anyone who has ventured into a toy department recently.

Lego occupies more shelf space than ever, with 18 different product themes designed to appeal to just about everyone, from Duplo and Ninjago to Friends and Technic.

At home my two sons – aged 9 and 5 – seem to talk of little else. At Christmas they both asked for Lego sets, and when they are not building with Lego bricks they are flicking through Lego magazines or asking if they can play a Lego app or watch the trailer for the forthcoming Lego Batman film.

The place they would most like to visit again? Legoland.

It was all started by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter who had scraped a living making wooden toys in the tiny town of Billund during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

After naming his company Lego, from the Danish term “leg godt” – which means “play well” – Christiansen took a gamble after the Second World War and bought a plastic moulding machine. By 1949 he had started producing interlocking plastic bricks, and quickly realised he was on to something.

But it has not all been smooth sailing. Just 15 years ago things looked bleak for the company as it faced bankruptcy.

Problems had started in the 1990s when cheaper copycat toys with compatible bricks had started eating into Lego sales. As video consoles exploded in popularity it looked like Lego was about to be be packed away in a dusty attic alongside Meccano, Hornby and Dinky.

Lego fought back hard with a dizzying array of new launches, from clothing lines to theme parks, and licensing deals with blockbusters like Star Wars and Harry Potter, but the company was losing its identity and burning through cash in the process.

The turnaround came after the appointment of a new CEO in 2004, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, who sold off or closed the bits of the business that were a distraction, and inspired Lego employees to be creative again by focusing back on the brick, and building up from there.

Lego is still a family owned business. And with annual sales of over $5 billion that plastic moulding machine turns out to have been a pretty good investment.

Read the original article here.


Bricks from the brink

Meta-marketing and the Lego Movie

From Heather Havrilesky in the New York Times:

Branding may have finally reached its Mannerist phase. Where the old-fashioned brand earnestly embraced a core message that verged on religious doctrine (Apple’s “Think Different,” Nike’s “Just Do It”), the new brand is aggressively self-aware, exaggerated and self-referential to the point of collapsing in on itself; rather than imbuing the product with magical qualities, it embraces and undercuts those qualities in one swift gesture. The effect is to subvert consumer prejudices and preconceptions and make us forget that we’re caught in a commerce-focused undertow.

It’s a counterintuitive sleight of hand: By acknowledging that their central message is unbelievable or at least exaggerated, the branding masterminds gain our trust and bolster our faith in the brand. Will Ferrell, for example, promoted “Anchorman II” and Dodge at the same time by appearing on talk shows as Ron Burgundy and declaring that Dodge’s cars were “terrible.” Dodge sales spiked. (Ferrell also voices President Business.) In New Zealand, Burger King ran YouTube ads of two guys eating Burger King while complaining about YouTube ads. Nearly every Super Bowl ad this year referred to the fact that it was a Super Bowl ad. The brand — and the TV ad, the movie and the fictional spokesman — is hyperaware of its own fictionality and thus earns the right to simultaneously denigrate and elevate itself as divine.

These acrobatics can be found in Lego’s trajectory from maker of humble toys to a multibillion-dollar cross-platform marketing empire. First, a simple product — primary-colored interlocking blocks — is expanded to include a universe of specialized pieces and wildly popular faces from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Dora the Explorer. The Lego empire has since grown to include (among other things) six Legoland theme parks, more than 50 video games, Lego Modular Buildings (complex models aimed at adults), a programmable brick called Lego Mindstorms and something called Lego Serious Play, a “radical, innovative, experiential process designed to enhance business performance,” which seems to boil down to making adult co-workers play with Legos.

Read the whole piece here

Meta-marketing and the Lego Movie