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Greenpeace used Legos to attack Shell. And won.

Dan Weissmann Oct 9, 2014
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The environmental group Greenpeace put out a video over the summer featuring an awesome Arctic landscape built entirely out of Legos. In it, a Shell-branded Lego oil rig spills, flooding artfully constructed Lego ice floes, and drowning adorable Lego polar bears and distressed-looking Lego eskimos. The message: Get Lego to “stop polluting our kids’ imaginations” by putting the Shell logo on toys.

Lego has now announced that when its “co-promotion” contract with Shell expires, the deal won’t be renewed.  

The video campaign, an inspired piece of brandjacking, borrows everything that’s awesome about Lego — the cuteness, the see-what-you-can-build-spirit — even the theme song from the hit Lego movie  … deconstructed a bit.

Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols says the video helped re-position people’s image of Greenpeace — its brand.

“When we’re talking about the Arctic, they might think, ‘OK, I’m going to see a sad polar bear, or I’m going to see an oil rig.’  And with this campaign, you got to see these toys that you care about.”

Which are polar bears and oil rigs, but made out of Lego.

In other words, Greenpeace is doing with Lego what Lego has done with other franchises. The idea of borrowing power from another brand helped make Lego what it is today: the world’s number-one toy company. Fifteen years ago, Lego was a brand in decline. Then, it paid big bucks to put out a line of “Star Wars” Legos, and had a monster hit.

I asked Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek if there wasn’t some irony to getting attacked now for associating with another brand.

“That’s not the same,” he said. “Partnerships or licensed products. That’s something entirely different. That’s not a co-promotion. This is a co-promotion.”

Greenpeace isn’t a paying partner. What’s a brand like Lego to do when its brand power gets appropriated?

First, don’t fight back by trying to get the video deleted, says Marc Fetscherin, a marketing professor at Rollins College and co-editor of the book “Consumer Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice.”  

“It could backfire in the social media, and you get an unwanted, huge media presence,” he says.  That’s called “the Streisand Effect” after singer Barbra Streisand, who sued to have a photo of her house taken off the Internet in 2003. The lawsuit brought more attention to the photo, and didn’t reflect well on the singer.

However, Fetscherin says Lego doesn’t have to just play defense here. “I can imagine a lot of new opportunities for Lego,” he says, to pursue a greener image. “Why not team up with Tesla, or any other green company?”

Neither Lego nor Shell will comment on the details of their agreement.

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