Toy Story: An Iconic Brand Gets Nostalgic and Goes Digital

Company: LEGO Systems

Agency: Flashpoint PR

Timeframe: 2008

Tonka trucks, Barbie and Ken, Etch-A-Sketch, Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies—these iconic toy brands were each best-sellers in their own right, having become symbols for entire generations of children over the years. LEGO Systems, the company behind the toy building brick sets, is among these long-standing toy leaders, having emerged as a favorite among children of all ages.

But, by 2007, the entire toy industry had sustained a black eye from widespread manufacturing safety issues and product recalls. Because LEGO was untouched by these issues, executives saw an opportunity to leverage the brand’s industry-leading safety practices and award-winning products to overcome a very different challenge: keeping a classic toy relevant in a field that’s increasingly cluttered with high-tech gadgets and kid-size electronics.


To bolster its image and build brand preference for the decidedly low-tech toy, LEGO executives, along with agency partner Flashpoint PR, sought to develop relationships with the builders of tomorrow—children ages 6-12—and their parents, as well as with “nostalgics,” the group of men ages 18-25 who grew up as LEGO kids. To achieve this, the team focused on two upcoming milestones for the brand: the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick and the 30th anniversary of the iconic LEGO Miniman.

“Our strategy was to initiate consumer marketing programs that brought the brand mission to life in both rational and emotional ways,” says Kristin Greene, a principal at Flashpoint PR. “Miniman has lived an incredibly exciting life—he’s inspired children to follow their dreams. Our strategic goal was to recapture those dreams from adults, making them remember the inspiration of Miniman and relive it.”

To create a campaign that urged older consumers to tap into this nostalgia, while at the same time reaching children and young adults, the team first conducted qualitative and quantitative research of the target audiences and the LEGO brand present in online communities. This gave the execs the underlying data needed to support the campaign strategy and messaging; plus, it validated the team’s decision to include and highlight digital experiences throughout the campaign.

“[We] recognized the evolving nature of communications channels and tools, and determined that we needed to stretch our definition and execution of PR,” Greene says. “We challenged ourselves to closely study our target audience and to expand our brainstorming of how we could actively encourage consumer participation. We also brought on and collaborated with advertising agency Pereira & O’Dell to co-develop a campaign that could provide a more interactive experience.”


This interactive experience the team so aggressively sought to create began to unfold in January 2008 when the team launched a one-of-a-kind Google doodle on the search engine’s home page to honor the LEGO brick’s 50th birthday. This tactic sought to spur momentum around digital brand expressions that would unify consumer enthusiasm around the LEGO movement. From there, it was all about engaging consumers with a compelling and dynamic brand experience.

“We changed the way we communicate,” says Michael McNally, brand relations director of LEGO Systems. “Traditional PR tends to focus on information and education—‘please take your seats and listen to what we want you to know about us.’ It’s no longer simply about one-way information; consumers crave engagement and conversation, a way to find, celebrate and share a piece of themselves in a larger community context. You have to be willing to change hats, combine elements and give up a little of the control.”

To bring this community to life, then, the team executed a series of campaign components between January and October 2008, including:

LEGO Creativity Awards: The team launched the second annual LEGO Creativity Awards to honor five children with $5,000 each for creative pursuits at the International Toy Fair. At the same time, they created, a hub of creativity content for parents.

Birthday celebration: The Aug. 25 celebration included online and offline press activity, an employee party and retail stores and LEGOLAND park celebrations.

Go Miniman Go video in 3D and high definition: The video appeared on YouTube to highlight 30 years of Miniman adventures. The team supplemented it with a seeding kit that included 3D glasses, T-shirts and press materials, which was sent to 200 key bloggers and media. This was the one-stop destination for mini-figure trivia, merchandise, fan participation and vintage LEGO materials.

Gizmodo partnership: The team partnered with the online gadget guide to host exclusive birthday-themed content, as well as a user-generated video contest.

In addition to these integrated campaign elements, the team rounded out the digital presence with a Miniman iGoogle theme, Facebook profile and fan page and a first-person Twitter feed “hosted” by Miniman himself.

“The PR team shed the traditional skin and combined advertising, social media, community relations and communications to facilitate the conversation,” McNally says. “Regarding how we chose social media platforms, we combined an understanding of the audience and media with a little bit of gut and then stuck our thumbs to the wind, truth be told.”


This gut instinct proved to be accurate; throughout the execution phase, the team was very cognizant of the need to “play nice” with the many LEGO fans who already maintained their own dedicated social media pages and platforms.

“We were careful not to crash the party,” McNally says. “There are a couple hundred thousand LEGO videos on YouTube, and millions of photos of LEGO creations on Flickr. Our challenge was not how to get these people creating content by issuing some contrived marketing scheme; it was about issuing a rally cry to channel ideas and stories into a common theme. Understanding our role and acknowledging that we didn’t have to start the fire gave the program credibility and authenticity. Ultimately, we saw more and more people who were willing to fan the flames.”

Fan the flames they did—and then some. Evaluation of the campaign’s success and ROI proved the team far surpassed the goals set at the beginning of the initiative. Among the campaign highlights:

• More than 540,000 views of the Go Miniman Go video;

• More than 68,000 Google search results for “LEGO + miniman”;

• Consumers created more than 8,000 Miniman movies; more specifically, 45% of visitors to created a custom video, underscoring the degree of audience engagement with the brand and the campaign;

• More than 37,000 unique blog visits with 85,145 page views logged in the first month alone; and,

• A 38% increase in consumer sales in 2008.

In terms of why the campaign was so successful, McNally insists it stemmed from the team’s attention to the consumer audiences throughout the entire effort. “We had relentless focus on what our consumers needed—not what we wanted,” he says. “We were open to doing this differently. The learning here: understand and embrace who your consumers need you to be and support them in their celebration of your brand; don’t try to show them a better way of doing it.” PRN


Kristin Greene,; Michael McNally,