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Until a few years ago, the watchdog groups such as the Ralph Naders of the world tended to be sideline fanatics who often appealed to the fringe.  But gone are the days of company mis-steps or ugly baggage getting buried in the customer call center.

Today’s brands are tested on a very public stage.  This week it’s LEGO’s turn to stand trial as Greenpeace dragged the beloved brand into its battle with Shell to stop Arctic drilling.

The campaign is jarring in that it clashes sweet childhood innocence with dark corporate ugliness.  The widespread attention the campaign is getting, good or bad, is a slam-dunk for Greenpeace either way as it has sparked a global dialogue.  But the bigger question is, what is LEGO to do?

LEGO certainly isn’t a small or obscure Shell partner.  The brands have a lucrative partnership, worth an estimated $116 million.  At least 16 million Shell-branded LEGO sets have been sold in 26 countries and  LEGO has also recently released a series of LEGO Arctic building sets.   There’s no hiding there.

So far, they’ve decided to absolve themselves from the debate.  In a recent statement, LEGO Group CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp responds:  “We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace.  We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organisations.”

LEGO might very likely escape relatively unscathed on this one given that the public is taking a protective stance of the brand, but a greater opportunity exists for LEGO while up on this stage, as a brand committed to the environment.

Up until now, LEGO has proven itself to be a great free-range brand, reinventing itself, exploring new terrain and flying on a higher emotional plane than a collection of functional offerings.  But when free-range brands run into trouble, they don’t hide for cover.  They take unexpected and unprecedented action.  They reframe the conversation.  They adapt.   Will LEGO take this opportunity while in the spotlight or continue to hide behind its protective brand parents?












© 2014 Free-Range Brands LLC All Rights Reserved


  1. Provocative thoughts. Now it’s up to Lego to decide if they want to let this die silently or lean in and reinvent.

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