Claims of LEGO responsible corporate stewardship in response to climate change, range from expanding renewable energy-supported manufacturing to mandating Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) packaging material sourcing. In the case of its interlocking plastic building brick raw materials, an increased use of reground, recycled product plastic coupled with speeding-up the search for sustainable material substitutes that does not compromise the safety or play experience quality, lead corporate efforts to reduce its reliance on oil-based raw materials. While LEGO began making its famed interlocking building brick in 1949, it was redesigned and patented in 1958, when LEGO first began brand marketing of the toy as an outlet for creativity and educational play.
By the late 1960s Shell, like other multinational oil majors that realized its golden era of research and global oil exploration and development expansion, began co-brand marketing with LEGO at a time when the toy maker was selling about 19 million set worldwide, each year. By 2014 however, LEGO’s concept of sustainable environmental earth stewardship and non-controversial association with Big Oil, had reached a disconnect, especially in the US where saturated news coverage of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been revisited due to environmental concerns with Artic drilling. It’s a disconnect LEGO management would have been wise to have detected earlier than its exposure last year, by Greenpeace. At a minimum given the importance of Shell’s worldwide distribution channels on LEGO revenues, a corporate crisis management plan should have been in place due to LEGO’s co-promotional exposure from Shell’s Alaskan Artic operations could pose, in generating negative headlines.
LEGO reluctantly reacted to the risk in October 2014, after pressure from a viral Greenpeace LEGO-themed YouTube video campaign that garnered 4.5 million views in its first week. The 90 second video, set to The Lego Movie theme song “Everything is Awesome” shows the effect of a major oil spill disaster on LEGO-land Alaskan Indigenous people and wildlife. Because of its high-quality digital video production and brand notoriety, the video garnered emerging media rebroadcast by marketing and advertising communities in addition to business and general media outlets. For example, the video was last linked to LEGO’s official Twitter feed on October 28, 2015 and has dominated its Twitter activity for the past year. Greenpeace’s online petition has garnered 750,000 signatures while direct consumer-to-LEGO contact has been reported to have brought individual consumer-level feedback in support of the Artic protection that exceeded 1 million people worldwide.
In mid-October 2014, LEGO announced that it had terminated its 2011 contract renewal with Shell for co-promotion purposes, at the end of this agreement’s term, which remained undisclosed. LEGO Group CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp commented the agreement termination and the protest campaign, “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.” Whether the misunderstanding actually stems from Greenpeace or LEGO’s own association with non-toy maker corporate interests, emerging media’s ability to garner significant grass-root consumer discontent, should serve as a warning to brand managers that co-promotion marketing should be undertaken with caution and prudent crisis management planning.
What do you think, should brand managers more cautiously enter into co-promotion opportunities due to the influence of emerging media-centered consumer protest campaigns? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Or read more about LEGO and Shell’s Co-Promotion
Elena Polisano writes about “Greenpeace: how our campaign ended the LEGO-Shell partnership“
The Timekeeper writes about “Greenpeace, Lego and Shell: Childish Arguments”