Mike McNally is Brand Relations Director at LEGO Systems. LEGO Systems Inc. is the Americas (North America and Latin America) division of The LEGO Group, a privately-held firm based in Billund, Denmark.
CartoonNetwork.com recently announced a branded, ad-supported section that will host video content and games that feature seven (7) LEGO brands. According to Turner, the LEGO partnership marks one of the largest digital partnerships for the Turner-owned and operated site to date, creating the first-ever branded content portal on CartoonNetwork.com featuring an outside brand.
AdExchanger.com: Overall, when thinking about strategic planning for marketing at LEGO, where does digital fit in?
MM: In some ways, that’s probably the question that everyone is trying to figure out right now.
A year or two ago, we all acknowledged, "Digital is an emerging outlet for reaching, in particular, kids, with different LEGO messages." But now, it's the must‑have as in: "OK. We have our digital plan, what's our special stuff that we have going on?" -That's the next question.
It's all being driven by the data and the research that we do with kids today. And they're not just LEGO kids, but all kids and the expectation that content is available to them wherever they are, and in an accessible and portable way on all of their platforms.
The idea of having one website that you invite people, entertain and engage them, doesn't seem to be enough anymore. We even see that kids are saying, "I'm not sure how I found this, but it's pretty cool, and I watched it."
They don't quite know how they're getting to the content, but they know what they like, and what they don't like, and they expect it everywhere. That's one of the things that is exciting about the Cartoon Network program- we know that so many kids are deliberately going to CartoonNetwork.com because they're fans of the programming that they see on the network.
Cartoon is great about promoting their website as well as providing engaging activities on the website - so to be one of the first brands that they choose to bring into their web portal without associated television programming is a huge honor for us as a brand.
But I think that, over time, we've seen that the crossover between the Cartoon Network audience and the LEGO audience is significantly strong. That's both with the kids and with the adults who are watching the programming and also engaging with LEGO play.
It's a cross‑section of cross‑generational appeal that intensifies when you put the two together. Any time we do air LEGO content on Cartoon Network, the correlated ratings that they see are strong. So, I think we're all excited to be able to explore what a digital activation can look like for both brands.
Can you see the advent of the LEGO "channel," if you will - this new level of engagement with the consumer that has to do with the brand getting in and becoming the content?
Yes, definitely. It's probably easy for me to say, sitting here at this brand with the opportunity that we have in front of us. But I think that the LEGO brand lends itself well to becoming content, and not content that feels commercial, but content that feels authentic and engaging. I think, that comes from the fact that there have been generations of people who've used LEGO material to create content on their own. Stop‑motion films, and hobbyists are doing all of this stuff and sharing it with other fans.
There's almost this pop‑cultural saturation of LEGO content that we're now looking at and saying, "How can we do that too?" For example, it's one of these fan‑generated stories of taking the brand and developing the content that now is becoming a strong means for us to engage audiences, and to do it in a meaningful way that is entertaining and not just about selling a product or a service.
Along the lines of targeting an audience, are there particular channels within digital that are working for you, or that intrigue you?
It comes down to how we prioritize audience. Pretty much any audience out there is relevant for the LEGO brand. Or, to turn that around - the LEGO brand can be relevant for pretty much any audience that you can reach digital.
You have your tech heads and your geeks and your nerds, who grew up playing with LEGO and love when they see it pop up in their space. And then you have the kids who are growing up natives in this digital world.
We prioritize our marketing efforts around the kid target, so automatically that pre‑selects the types of digital that we can activate. Social media, Facebook and Twitter... Not really appropriate for kids under 13, so it's not something that we prioritize in the marketing mix, but when you look at something like YouTube, you can pretty much call anything online these days' social media.
We have our own great LEGO.com hub that works well and brings in incredible traffic, but being able to share that content over onto a portal like CartoonNetwork.com is a huge opportunity, and furthers our ability to engage the kids that we're trying to entertain.
How does this CartoonNetwork.com deal fit in with your plans with TV? Or, put another way, what does this say about your feelings or commitment to television versus digital?
We're committed to both. We're committed to any media that works, and there's no denying that TV is a powerful medium, so it will always be a cornerstone of any of our marketing activation. TV generates awareness for products.
What we love about an opportunity like what we have with Cartoon Network is that it's an opportunity to get beyond just a product sell, and start developing character and story and worlds and universes for kids that take that product experience and then immerse them in everything that it can represent.
In other words, yes, you built the model, but LEGO play is as much about the role‑play and imagination that takes place after you build the model as it is the building itself.
Your product is so tactile. How are you bridging that gap, through creative and into digital?
That's a question that we think a lot about. Let me start with our approach to bridging the two worlds, because to your point, we are an incredibly physical toy experience.
You could argue that anytime you have a digital expression of LEGO, it's the furthest thing away from what LEGO represents. What you've actually found is that there is a duality between the physical and virtual LEGO experiences that makes one stronger because of the other. I'll tell you why we believe that.
When we started to get serious about video games, it was probably in 2005 when partnered with our videogame provider. The first video game that we did was called Lego Star Wars. It was obviously taking a great franchise and making a virtual gaming experience with it. We have since created a whole stable of LEGO video games for different consoles and handheld gaming devices.
What we found is that there's something about a digital gaming experience with LEGO that makes it both acceptable for Mom and Dad ‑ so they don't mind when their kids play a LEGO video game. Sometimes you'll find that the whole family is sitting down and playing the game together ‑ which, I think, speaks to the power of the brand.
But what we're also seeing, and we've done specific research on it, is that when someone plays a LEGO video game, it makes them want to build something afterward. And vice versa. Once they build something, then they want to go back and play the video game again.
It's not a one to one. If they’re playing a LEGO video game or a Lego Star Wars video game, it's not as if they need to go build a LEGO Star Wars model after that. It just sort of heightens the desire for touching and manipulating LEGO bricks, in general. There is a reciprocal effect.
What we found is that what people love about the LEGO brand in the virtual space is the mini‑figure humor. The things that we're able to do and get away with in sort of a digital expression of the brand, like mini‑figures moving in ways that they can't in the physical world.
When you think about a mini‑figure, they can only bend a couple of different ways. In a virtual experience, you can see them actually with a ball joint on their shoulder or on their leg. They're moving in ways that kids only imagine they can move.
Then there's just the humor of them running around doing different things. In a LEGO digital game, if something explodes, it explodes into its LEGO pieces and then it builds back together again. There's no death or carnage or ultimate destruction. It's all in this light of, everything breaks down to its bits and then comes back together again.
I think what we're seeing creatively as opportunities in digital is taking the brand in directions that physically we can't, but that don't take away from the demand for the physical.
By John Ebbert