The issue is a tricky one for LEGO. The partnership with Shell has been a longstanding one, and therefore presumably successful. But so are the newspaper promotions LEGO regularly runs, and a resurgent feminism campaigning against casual misogyny managed to end the partnership between LEGO and The Sun (a UK tabloid newspaper featuring nude women on a daily basis). Why is LEGO suddenly getting involved with all of these dubious companies?
In the past decade LEGO has gone from being a write-off to the world’s largest toy manufacturer, in an incredible story of success. At each point that it seems LEGO cannot be any more popular, they invent a successful girls’ line or release a hit movie. As their success increases, so does the level of scrutiny that comes with it. LEGO has previously had a relationship with McDonalds, releasing special sets and even participating in Happy Meals. If LEGO were to do that today, healthy eating campaigners would be straight online setting up petitions and sending out e-mails. But at the time, there was no wide spread condemnation. This is the price of unprecedented success.
It isn’t just the success that made the Shell issue such a potent one though. LEGO have been making great effort to push their green credentials, and have genuinely made much more headway than their competitors. Reducing the size of their boxes, pushing the company property in Demark to become carbon neutral and boasting about these achievements has led to LEGO being perceived as a company that cares about the environment. To have these standards and then have a promotional partner in Shell, generally not perceived as environmentally conscious, made the company look hypocritical.
Companies like Mattel and Hasbro are not held to this level of scrutiny, and are not expected to hold the lofty ideals that LEGO do. This goes back to the long held belief that LEGO is different to these companies, that it has a different ethos. LEGO can’t complain about this reputation, as it is part of the reason for their success – no matter how much cynical parents might feel that Minecraft and Ninja Turtles are shameless cash grabs, they still have that pull of nostalgia for the imaginative play that pure LEGO unlocks. The flip side of this positive reputation is that LEGO are held to a much higher standard than their competitors, and may have to forego partnerships that create short term profits for the long term view that the reputation of the LEGO brand is the most important asset they have. This seems to have been the wise decision taken with regards to Shell. Hopefully in future LEGO can spot the potential elephant traps and avoid such potent negative publicity .
- - - - - - -
LEGO Press Release
Children are our major concern and the central focus of our company. We are determined to leave a positive impact on society and the planet that children will inherit. Our unique contribution is through inspiring and developing children by delivering creative play experiences all over the world.
A co-promotion like the one with Shell is one of many ways we are able to bring LEGO bricks into the hands of more children and deliver on our promise of creative play.
The Greenpeace campaign uses the LEGO brand to target Shell. As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell.The LEGO brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of Greenpeace’s dispute with Shell.
Our stakeholders have high expectations to the way we operate. So do we. We do not agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created misunderstandings among our stakeholders about the way we operate; and we want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences.
The long-term co-promotion contract we entered with Shell in 2011 delivers on the objective of bringing LEGO bricks into the hands of many children, and we will honour it – as we would with any contract we enter.
We continuously consider many different ways of how to deliver on our promise of bringing creative play to more children. We want to clarify that as things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends.
We do not want to be part of Greenpeace’s campaign and we will not comment any further on the campaign. We will continue to deliver creative and inspiring LEGO play experiences to children all over the world.
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, President and Chief Executive Officer of the LEGO Group.