The Awesomeness of Everything — Lego, That Is

A Case Study on the Cross-Generational, Gender-Inclusive Appeal of the Lego Brand

Let’s get this line out of the way right at the start: Everything is awesome. Yes, for the Lego brand, it really is.

Awesomeness can be measured in many ways. For Lego, it means exploding product sales, global brand awareness, exclusive licensing partnerships, newfound popularity with girls, a diversified digital product line … oh, and an Oscar-nominated song from a wildly popular motion picture.

But in 2015, everything is particularly awesome. According to a recent study by consultancy firm Brand Finance, Lego has zoomed past Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand. “Lego was the surprise riser, overtaking last year’s winner, Ferrari, as the strongest brand,” said Brand Finance’s Robert Haigh in a recent article in the Telegraph. “A lot of that has been due to the success of The Lego Movie, but Lego’s underlying strength is that it appeals to both sexes and all ages. Kids have an affection for playing with it, and parents see it with a sense of nostalgia.”

Transcending Generations

This parent-child dynamic seems essential to Lego’s success. Lego is cross-generational, but not in the sense that every generation played with Legos when they were young — which is certainly true. Rather, Lego continues to appeal to a generation long after that generation has grown up. The nostalgia, the connectedness a parent feels with a child when playing with Legos, is a uniquely powerful aspect of the brand. It moves Legos from being a toy to being an emotional experience. And as any worthy brand study will reveal, once you’ve reached consumers on an emotional level, you’re more likely to earn their loyalty.

Here at Britton Marketing & Design Group, we’ve done a bit of our own research into Lego’s cross-generational appeal. The video below, titled Lego Through the Generations and featuring Britton friend Joe Valley and his son Sacha, illustrates the special father-son bond created by the Lego brand.

Here you can clearly see a father and son sharing in the joy of the moment. Joe’s Legos are mixed right in with Sacha’s. They discuss the features of different pieces, new and old. They share ideas. They imagine what Legos of the future might look like. Creativity, imagination, togetherness — it’s all part of what makes Lego more than just a toy.

The analysis in the Brand Finance study adds support to this cross-generational concept. According to Haigh, “In a tech-saturated world, parents approve of the back-to-basics creativity [Lego] encourages and have a lingering nostalgia for the brand long after their own childhoods. … Lego is a uniquely creative and immersive toy.”

At Britton, we definitely share the love of Lego. Check out the cool creations in our recent “Lego Logos” post.    

Lego Friends and the Power of the Girl Market

Indeed, the Lego brand transcends generations. But its ability to do the same for gender barriers has been a key factor in the brand’s recent explosive growth.

Historically, Lego has struggled to reach young girls. It was a blemish on the Lego brand, something the company was committed to fixing. After four years of extensive research and product development, it finally broke through in 2012 with Lego Friends, a line that offers the same tactile fun of traditional Legos, but with fresh settings and themes designed to appeal to young girls.

Like most iconic brands, Lego is more than just a simple product.

Specifically, those themes focus on friendship and community, with settings that include beach houses, pet salons, juice bars and cruise ships. The Lego Friends figures are slightly smaller and more detailed than traditional Lego figures. The Lego website is packed with videos, games, activities, photo galleries and more, making the entire Lego Friends experience more interactive. It’s an approach that has really resonated with the female market.

Lego Friends

“We tried reaching into the girls’ audience a number of times over the last 15, 20 years, and this is the first time, with Friends, that we’ve had true success,” Lego chief operating officer Bali Padda said in a 2014 post on Bloomberg.com.

In just three short years, Lego Friends has proven its worth in terms of popularity and profits — and, most importantly, in terms of the overall inclusiveness of the brand. In 2012, Lego Friends doubled the company’s expected annual sales for the line. In fact, according to Padda, Lego Friends has seen growth of nearly 20 percent each year since its debut.

Olivia’s House, a 695-piece set that jump-started Lego Friends’ popularity, won the best toy award at the 2012 Nuremberg Toy Fair. The Lego Friends line was named Toy of the Year at the 2013 International Toy Fair in New York. And the line continues to grow, with nearly 40 sets of various sizes and themes available in 2015.

Want to learn more about building and construction toys for girls? Read our “Building the Future with GoldieBlox” blog, by Bridget O’Reilly.

Brand Evolution

For all its success, Lego Friends can be considered just a piece of the puzzle in the evolution of the Lego brand. Today, through exclusive partnerships with many of Hollywood’s top brands and a commitment to creating a diversified digital product line, Lego is experiencing a brand renaissance — as well as record profits.

But the evolution of the brand hasn’t always been smooth. There was the ongoing struggle to reach girls (1994’s Belville, Lego Friends’ predecessor, was the most recent unsuccessful attempt). Then there were the costly undertakings of the late ’90s, which included in-house video game production and the creation of Lego theme parks. And though this volatile period also had a few successful efforts (1998’s computer-integrated Mindstorms set, for example), it was not enough to establish secure financial footing. These ventures were draining company resources, and the result was a brush with bankruptcy in 2003.

The nostalgia, the connectedness a parent feels with a child when playing with Legos, is a uniquely powerful aspect of the brand.

Soon after that, however, things began to improve for the Lego brand. It was due to a reimagining and refocusing of the company’s digital strategy. And exclusive partnerships were a big part of that strategy.

The first venture was 2001’s Lego Harry Potter, the company’s first licensed and externally produced video game. And though this game paved the way for Lego’s current digital success, it was originally viewed with some apprehension.

In a recent blog on Fast Company, David Lumb explained the company’s mindset at that time. “Delving into video games was a daunting decision for a toy company that had yet to take its brand anywhere digital. Naturally, Lego leadership was terrified that kids would transition into games and leave the plastic toys far behind.”

They did not. In fact, the exclusive-licensed line is exploding today, with products created in conjunction with Disney, Nickelodeon, the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings film series, and the Marvel Comics Super Heroes line, to name just a few. Wrote Lumb, “[Lego Harry Potter] opened the floodgates for a bunch of licensed adventure games reinterpreting prominent properties. … They were hits. The four Lego Star Wars games alone sold over 15 million copies.”

Fanta logo in lego

And kids love both the digital content and the accompanying physical sets. They are extensions of the Lego brand, seamlessly integrating the physical Lego building experience with the nearly limitless realm of digital technology. Lego’s Disney line, for example, offers games, figures and sets based on popular Disney princesses, including Elsa and Anna from Frozen, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and Jasmine from Aladdin. These beloved characters add that Disney “magic” to the traditional Lego figures and sets, further enriching the Lego experience and broadening the appeal of the brand.

In just three short years, Lego Friends has proven its worth in terms of popularity and profits.

The icing on the cake came in 2014, with the release of The Lego Movie, an action-packed film with Lego-like animation and plenty of new characters. Revenue from both the movie and the subsequent new Lego sets helped the company earn record-setting profits in 2014.

According to a recent post on Bloomberg, “Full-year revenue advanced 13 percent, outpacing the [Danish] building-block maker’s competitors, helped by new toys based on The Lego Movie. … Sales rose to a record 28.6 billion kroner ($4.4 billion) in 2014, with double-digit growth in all regions.”

Brand Awesomeness

From today’s marketing lens, Lego’s success is certainly impressive. With a broad and dynamic appeal as well as a growing digital presence to go along with a popular, time-tested product, Lego is undeniably a top global brand — a status that’s even more impressive when you consider that it’s a toy company.

Dunkin Dounts logo in Lego

That’s because, like most iconic brands, Lego is more than just a simple product. It’s an experience. It’s a shareable, immersive kind of fun that spurs imagination and creativity for users young and old — boys and girls, parents and grandparents. And the interactivity of Lego’s digital offerings expands and enriches the experience.

The best part for Lego is that both product and brand continue to evolve, earning loyalty that lasts, well, generations. And that means everything is definitely not awesome for the competition — that is, if there is any competition.

Photos/Videos: BMDG and Flickr 

Awesome bonus video! Britton friend Sacha, who is 6 years old, made this product review for us.