Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The patent on producing Lego bricks may have run out several years ago, but the company continues to be one of the most successful toy brands in the world.

That’s not to say that Lego, which was established in 1932, has not had its fair share of hardships: it has survived a world war, economic depression and near bankruptcy. Then, in 2014, the company’s marketing partnership with Shell came under fire when environmental group Greenpeace used Lego to focus consumer attention on the petrochemical company’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. Greenpeace posted a video on YouTube that showed a Lego-created Arctic slowly being submerged in oil. The video attracted close to 7m views.

The big take-out: Lego’s social media expertise has helped the company become the most successful toy brand in the world.

The company handled the reputational crisis proactively, quickly getting involved in the conversation on Twitter. It subsequently ended its relationship with Shell and instead formed strategic partnerships with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund.

From near bankruptcy in 2004 it successfully turned itself around and in 2014 overtook toy giant Mattel, the manufacturer of Barbie, to become the largest toy company in the world.

The first Lego movie, released that same year, was a key part of the brand’s turnaround strategy, which is centred on keeping the company relevant. But, while the movie grossed US$500m worldwide, it is the brand’s social media marketing strategy and ability to connect with online communities that is particularly remarkable.

Lego is a privately owned Danish company that was rated as the 67th most-valuable brand in the world by Forbes last year. In 2015 US advertising publication Adweek scored it the number one toy brand on social media and YouTube, and in 2016 MediaPost ranked it the most engaging brand on social media.

The brand has more than 12m followers on Facebook and more than 3m on YouTube.

According to Lars Silberbauer, Lego’s senior global director of social media and search, the secret to the brand’s success is its ability to connect with its consumers, in the process inspiring them to create content about their own Lego creations.

That’s not to say Lego doesn’t create its own content – each year it posts thousands of videos – but its consumers create 20 times more content than the brand does. Ultimately, says Silberbauer, Lego is capitalising on the pride its consumers have in their creations, and providing a forum for them to post their creations, including videos.

Lego’s success on social media is a relatively recent trend: when Silberbauer joined the brand it did not have a Facebook page or YouTube channel. Today he has a team of digital marketers in five countries working under him. The Holmes Report, which provides insight and analysis on the public relations industry, has called him one of the 25 most innovative and influential marketers in Europe.

Silberbauer will be addressing the BCX Disrupt Summit in Johannesburg on November 16.

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