November saw the opening of Leicester Square’s newest attraction. As you walk through the shop’s front door, to your left is a London Tube carriage, and Big Ben is to your right. Only this tower is six-metres high and made up of 200,000 Lego bricks. This is Lego’s biggest ever store, which may seem a strange move from a company based in an industry repeatedly reported to be in decline. But it hasn’t always been like this. Lego had to change its brand strategy in the mid-to-late 90s to survive, refocusing on 3-9 year-olds and redesigning sets and mini-figures so they could be interconnected across sets. At the same time Lego adapted to changing consumer habits, focusing in particular on popular culture and creating “prosumers”, an engaged community of consumers.
Lego in popular culture
Walk into any Lego store and you’ll be greeted with two distinct types of product: those of Lego’s own creation and brand extensions. Around the millennium, Lego mastered this market. Whether looking for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing fighter, Lego seemed to have products for every film fan. This continues today, with products ranging from Elsa’s Frozen castle to a humble police station. Lego isn’t beyond publicity stunts as well, recently teaming up with Chevrolet to create a life-size Batmobile.
But Lego’s focus on popular culture went beyond this. Recognising the potential of the video game market, it launched Lego Creators in 1998, and developed its brand extension portfolio with Lego Star Wars in 2005. Even now, Lego manages to bring together over 30 different franchises within its award winning Lego Dimensions game (probably the only place where you can see Batman, Marty McFly and Scooby-Doo all in the same place!). Films have also become an important part of the Lego model, as the success of The Lego Movie launched Lego onto the big screen, with a Lego Batman Movie spinoff hitting screens this in February. Beyond video games and films, the launches of Legoland Windsor and Legoland California in 1996 and 1999 respectively, saw the potential for experiential inspiration in children to create their own worlds in their homes, and established the community spirit essential to Lego today.
One of Lego’s strengths is that it help its customers become engaged and by launching the Rebrick Forum on the official Lego website, it allows customers to become producers, or “prosumers”, and create their own products to build. What was Lego’s secret to the success of this forum? Doing nothing! Lego decided to have very little input on its own forum, which allows consumers to be as creative as possible. Its sub-brand, Lego Architecture, was born from this forum and continues to be successful through selling in museums and galleries.
So perhaps there’s a lesson for other brands here. The community Lego has produced, whether binding customers or products, has no doubt contributed to why it’s still here today, almost 85 years later. Lego’s ability to combine products across a range of categories keeps customers feeling involved and its collaborations with popular culture and its amusement parks inspire the next generation of master builders.