We all remember growing up with Lego bricks lying around, not to mention how painful it was to step on one of those little plastic bricks, but how has Lego been so successful?
As the way that children are playing rapidly changes, the toy industry is beginning to see increasing competition and is now seeing a global decline. However, Lego is seen to still be a clear leader, and they show no plans to slow down production.
So what has Lego done to make themselves stand out from the crowd, and how have these simple blocks of plastic become so successful?
This block got skills (problem solving ones).
There are many other construction kits on the market, so what really makes Lego stand out from their competitors? It’s simple. No, that’s the answer; it’s simple.
Other construction kits are deemed more physically demanding to fix objects together which gets in the way of creativity and problem-solving opportunities. When you watch children playing with Lego they are often problem-solving with the constructional aspects and involving themselves in a world of pretence at the same time. Even quite young children can quickly start to put together models with Lego; it’s easy to build, easy to change your ideas and undo and rebuild. I often find myself observing how young children interact with Lego, and have been surprised at how even at such young ages they are able to creatively build and add personality to objects and characters.
For me, Lego provides endless possibilities (providing that I have enough pieces of course) and doesn’t always require a lot of thinking. I find Lego is something you can either put some serious thought into and make some incredible pieces, or something you can just play around with as a bit of escapism after a tough week at work. Firstly, as the bag of Lego is being dumped out onto the ground – this creates chaos. Lego then teaches us to follow them, by guiding us through instructions as we assemble the models piece by piece – creating order. Finally, it taught us to discard the directions, add the new bag to the current pieces and make whatever you wanted. This drives our minds crazy with organisational delight – the possibilities of what we could do. Lego awakens our minds with imagination and curiosity; studies have shown that playing with Lego can help a child’s brain process and assimilate information from their environment.
The fundamental simplicity of Lego can be seen throughout their marketing material, directed at adults.
These quite often show the simplicity of Lego and the creativity of the imagination, often taking Lego and making it relate to things we see in our everyday lives.
This can help build a connection between the advert and person looking at the advert, whether it is an emotional connection from a nostalgic response or letting their imagination run wild from it being open to interpretation; reflecting Lego itself.
Connection and expansion.
In 2003, Lego was in dire straits, on the verge of bankruptcy and takeover. This followed a period of rapid ‘innovation’, with lego producing new products after new product. Things needed to drastically change, and they did.
Lego learnt that innovation doesn’t need to be done in massive leaps, and neither does it have to mean product innovation. This is when we saw the Bionicles series first introduced. This series revealed to Lego some fundamental insights, including how to use marketing innovation to work with external partners, how to interact with passionate customers, and how to manage an intellectual property. Since then Lego has seen from it’s partnerships (with brands such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and DC Super Heroes) how a rich story can captivate children and drive sales of toys.
However, making toys around someone else’s story is a different challenge than creating your own story and characters. Bionicle boys loved the toys, and loved the t-shirts, books, comics, backpacks, and everything else that had a Bionicle image on it. Lego had to learn how to not only develop a toy with a rich story, but also work with a group of outside partners and bring them along as the story progressed.
When Lego started teaming up with brands such as Star Wars I started becoming interested in Lego again, this time as an adult. However, this time it was different. This time I wasn’t really playing with it as such, but more collecting it. By teaming up with brands that already had cult following not only did the Lego appeal to young boys, they now widened their appeal to an adult audience who now collect the toys.
Combating The Dark Age.
As with many toy brands, they are all doomed by what is seen as “The Dark Age”, a time when children decide they are too cool for a particular toy. They set it aside, leaving it to languish at the back of the wardrobe, to be sold at a car boot sale or be given to a thrift shop. For me, Lego was one of the toys that ended up in the attic alongside a host of others. Of course, for most people, being toy-free simply represents growing up. When we reach adulthood, we set aside our toys, don’t we? No, apparently not all of us do. In my early 20s my interest in Lego reignited, mainly due to wanting things that I found nostalgic. Lego had convinced me that they were relevant to me, even after I had grown up.
A great example of how Lego is combatting the ‘Dark Age’ is how any event worth talking about seems to get a Lego version. In fact, even The Guardian has a regular feature in which it recreates major news events in Lego; one recent addition being the 2014 Super Bowl.
In addition to this, Lego has now released a huge blockbuster film. This was a huge step for Lego and a historical point in peoples’ love of brands, provoking nostalgia for adults and a new experience for children. The Lego Movie has been the best reviewed kids film since Toy Story, Toy Story being another great milestone in the history of films.
Recently Lego has also teamed up with google to make global app using WebGL technologies to allow you to build elaborate Lego structures in your browser. Build with Chrome is a spin-off of an earlier project where a Google team in Australia put it together as an experiment in 2012. It allows adults and children alike to create things like skyscrapers, robots or castles and post them into the ‘real world’ on an empty plot near you on a Lego styled Google map. This app allows you to build without worrying about a brick budget, although the colours and types of bricks available are limited.
So why is Lego so successful?
Firstly, it’s a great creative toy that allows the mind to expand and make what it wants. This is personal to each and every one of us, the way I look at the possibilities with Lego is different to yours.
Secondly, they have been able to make the product appealing to many diverse groups. They have not only now teamed up with various brands, some of which already have a cult following similar to Lego, they have promotional content which is more suitable for their growing adult audience. There is a lot of incredible fan-based content being continuously generated which creates constant viral material for Lego. Adults are now increasingly buying toys for themselves (especially ‘Baby Boomers’; loath to grow old and searching for new ways to escape the stresses of the workplace). There is now a versatility to what attracts people to this simple brick – from nostalgia to collectible items, to an outlet for creativity, whether that be building simple blocks or exploring architectural designs.
So what is the future for Lego? As our younger generations are growing up they are more digital based. Lego has managed to adapt to this by offering their brand on as many platforms as possible, from the physical object of Lego to console games and TV shows. I have a feeling that if Lego continue to develop as they are, with many small innovations, then they will be looking at a very bright future as a brand. The possibilities are endless. And at least if you’re building on a google map, it comes with the added bonus of not having to worry about stepping barefoot on any of the bricks later!