Brick by brick

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 20 February 2015

To put it mildly, Lego is in an enviable marketing position. Lauded for pulling off the best branded content ever with the Lego Movie, it just overtook Ferrari to be named the most powerful brand in the world by Brand Finance. It gives Lego a brand strength score of 93.4/100, a triple AAA+ rating and a brand value of US$3.9 billion ($5 billion).
Closer to home Lego is looking at its own assault on the Australian market through brand advertising. The brand has been around for more than 50 years so awareness isn’t an issue – but it’s never really done brand marketing here.

Globally, too, Lego is placing more emphasis on marketing. In January, it split the former CMO role in two, dividing responsibility for operations and marketing as part of its global strategic priorities. Here, Taylor took on the top marketing spot in August, at the peak of Lego Movie’s fame. It smashed the box office and was the second-highest grossing film in Australia, taking $27.7 million Australian cinemas last year, according to Box Office Mojo.

With a Lego Ninjago film due in 2016 and a Lego Batman spin-off expected in 2017 it hardly resembles the company that more than a decade ago was posting sales declines of 26% and profit losses, following the onslaught of digital and the sidelining of all things tactile. But, now, it wants to show that being analogue – not digital – is awesome.
Taylor’s branding efforts go back to the basics of getting kids to pick up the bricks. He believes the one thing missing from Lego’s Australian presence is showcasing the values that make its system of play unique.

It might be the poster child of branded content but the brand is not without controversy. As Batman would say – with great power comes great responsibility – and in the shadow of the success of the Lego Movie, the brand became the target of

Greenpeace campaign lobbying against its partnership with Shell. A battle eventually won by Greenpeace, and the brand partnership ended. No more petrol station Lego kits.

Historically, Lego’s advertising has been hinged around specific products, many in partnership with brands and franchises – Lego Star Wars, Lego City, Lego Ninjago – with no branding campaigns at all.

“We have been very franchise-driven over the years and it’s been great because it’s helped build the brand, it's helped get kids into the brand,” Taylor says.

“But our brand awareness is so high now, we’re in a different phase where it’s about articulating the values of Lego and what Lego can bring to a child, especially in a heavy digital world where parents are trying to get their kids away from devices.”

It’s a bold move to redirect the ship right now. He pulled the rug from under the carpet at its heaviest sale period – Christmas – producing Australia's first Lego TV commercial and installing a 10-metre Christmas tree in Sydney's Pitt Street Mall.

“We were fortunate enough to have enough momentum in our brand, thanks to the Lego Movie so we thought it might be an appropriate time for a branded campaign to highlight the important values of Lego, going into the main season – and it worked,” Taylor says.

Global offices have sat up and taken note of the Australian example. Taylor is so confident in his strategy he has planned, for the first time, to have a more even split between franchise marketing and brand marketing in Australia going forward.

It’s a surprising strategy from a marketer with a heavy sales background, and who has spent the bulk of his 13-year career within Lego’s colourful walls. But Taylor believes getting “bricks in hand” is one antidote for the toy industry’s primary issue: thanks to digital, children are ageing out of physical toys earlier. “The unique element that we have with Lego is it is a system of play around the creativity part of it, no matter what age or stage the child is at.

“The Lego set you received in the 1950s and 1960s will still work with the Lego sets that are bought today and that’s pretty rare with toys. The reality is our brand awareness is already extremely high, but it’s about trying to keep children in the system of play longer,” Taylor says.

“It’s making sure that there is enough innovation there and enough rich storylines with the products that are being developed to keep kids engaged with physical toys and playing with toys longer.”
Taylor is tight-lipped on specifics, but says large-scale activations where kids can be involved in building models would be key. He also says multiple localised campaigns within each state will be a part of that in order to get as many children involved across the country as possible.

“Our product is a very analogue product – you really need to touch and feel it to get the true benefit of it,” Taylor says. “So getting it in the hands of more children across the country is important, so they can get the enjoyment out of it and see how creative they can be when they play with it.”

In light of this focus, Taylor plans to boost Lego’s internal events team over the year to complement the agency partners it works with; media agency UM, PR agency One Green Bean and creative agency Ensemble.

But while physical play is core, Lego can’t ignore the digital and it’s exploring ways it can build digital interactions into its product. The high Australian and NZ level of engagement with smartphones is something it will be tapping into; including a greater spend on digital and social marketing than ever used in the past, to build a bridge between physical and digital.
Lego is way past building momentum – it’s building world domination, one brick at a time.

This story first appeared in the AdNews print edition 20 February 2015.
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