LEGO & Greenpeace: effective public relations

Note I said LEGO & Greenpeace.

Not LEGO v. Greenpeace.

Not one company wins and one loses.


Most of you reading this blog will know that LEGO has had an agreement in place with Shell in which LEGO sets carrying the Shell logo are available to purchase, as special offers at Shell petrol stations around the world, and on various third-party trading web sites (which LEGO neither endorses nor over which it exercise any control); and that Greenpeace has been running a campaign highlighting Shell’s exploration activities in the Arctic, questioning the relationship between the two companies, and asking LEGO to break the partnership.

LEGO and Shell have had a relationship for decades – this set dates from the early-1970s

On 8th October, the CEO of LEGO Group, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, issued a statement confirming that the company would not renew its partnership with Shell once the current contract had run its course.

I’ve been impressed at the public relations strategies of both organizations. Greenpeace has run a grass-roots campaign that has highlighted the issues as it saw them, adopting a tone that was firm but approachable, asking rather than demanding that LEGO reconsider, and backing up that request with considerable popular support.

I experienced this first-hand. Some weeks ago I purchased a LEGO set from a major department store in Sydney. On the back of the box was a sticker in the style of the famous LEGO minifig, depicting a polar bear. It directed you to a web site – Save the Arctic – which in fact is a Greenpeace site. What was inspired was that I assumed it was an official sticker. After all, it was on a product box in a department store – it must be. It didn’t cite Greenpeace. And it wasn’t contentious in its language. But clearly the boxes had been ‘tagged’ by activists, not LEGO or store personnel.

LEGO for its part has at all times maintained a dignified and firm stance. It has maintained the same position throughout: it does not believe Greenpeace should have hijacked its brand for its own purposes. As Jørgen Vig Knudstorp says in his statement, “we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell. The LEGO brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of Greenpeace’s dispute with Shell.”

LEGO’s decision, according to its statement, is based on making it crystal clear that its own corporate strategy of providing the best-possible creative play experience for children will not be distracted by Greenpeace. And it has not terminated its agreement with Shell early.

Both sides of this debate have run strategic public relations programmes that communicated with their respective audiences in relevant terms, implicitly acknowledging the other party, reacting to events in the real world and being active and authentic to their brands and their communities.

Greenpeace, interestingly, has also maintained a polite stance throughout. Its web site now thanks LEGO. It clearly respects the LEGO brand, yet (in its eyes) did not let LEGO off the hook.

LEGO was firm in its position that Greenpeace should never have attacked the LEGO brand, but never provoked the environmental group.

And both organizations realized (as has the public) that the world today is different from the world in which the set pictured above first appeared. Brands are interconnected. The Internet and social media deliver instant and global coverage, bolstered and buffeted by opinions and comment, support and dissent. The environment is a political and a social backdrop for us all. Both LEGO and Shell recognized this, for different reasons.

Perhaps public relations, with the emphasis on ‘public’, is the winner.


About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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