Transmedia Storytelling: the Lego strategy to conquer the market

In 1932, a carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen started making wooden toys in Billund, Denmark. Christiansen, 41, called his small business “Lego,” an acronym derived from the words leg godt (“play well” in Danish). Over the decades, the popularity of Lego grew enormously, to the point that the company built entire theme parks made of the famous bricks. However, Lego’s fortune changed in the 1990s. The popularization of the Internet and video games changed the perception of the brand rendering it outdated. Desperate, its executives launched products that deviated greatly from the brand’s DNA and resembled more those of the competition, Mattel. That’s how product lines grew desperately without a clear strategy until Christmas 2002, when 40% of Lego products were not sold by distributors. Something had to change. Next, we’ll explore one of the key pieces of the change process that started in 2003—considered by many to be the greatest turnaround in corporate history—and culminated in 2015, when Lego surpassed Mattel to become the number 1 company in the industry: they used what is now called transmedia storytelling.

Lego grows and shows no sign of stopping, but just 17 years ago the company was on the verge of bankruptcy

Transmedia storytelling

Lego’s brand strategy is based on two magic words: “transmedia storytelling”. You probably never heard this term in the past, but many companies are using this content production strategy as the cornerstone of their corporate identity. So… what is transmedia storytelling?

The term was coined in 2003 (exactly the year Lego started its turnaround) and refers to a type of narrative structure that:

  • Aims to expand a certain content across different languages (verbal, audiovisual, iconic, etc.) and media (web, TV, video games, cinema, etc.).
  • Has several narrative lines that are self-contained (consumption must be autonomous and independent of the other lines) but interrelated.
  • Unlike “crossmedia” structures, it is not an adaptation of the same content or the same story to different media and languages.

In short, a transmedia storytelling strategy consists of producing independent but complementary content for each communication channel, in order to take advantage of the advantages of each channel and adapt to the consumption preferences of each individual, thus maximizing contact points.

The result is a huge synergy between products. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts since the contents of each communication channel enhance each other. As a result, the audience is motivated to explore everything the brand has to offer.

Like Lego bricks, content pieces of a transmedia strategy complement each other perfectly

Elevating our Brand with transmedia storytelling

So, what did Lego do and what lessons can we draw for our corporate identity strategy?

A flexible but consistent brand

No transmedia storytelling strategy works without a brand behind that sets a solid foundation for content production. Lego is an exemplary case in this regard because it managed to create a brand that can adapt to any channel and any type of content, but always preserve its characteristic identity features: its visual style consisting of “brickified” objects and primary colors, and the optimistic and humorous verbal tone are a constant, regardless of whether the content is a Facebook post, or a “brickified” version of a dark character like Batman or a funny one like Homer Simpson.

Through the “brickification” process, Lego retains its visual and verbal style, regardless of the context

A brand strategy in which contents complement and feed each other

In 2014, Lego released The Lego Movie in theaters, the first in a series of films. In addition to being a great piece of entertainment, the genius of this movie is that it’s basically the longest commercial in history, and the public paid to see it!

Furthermore, in line with the transmedia strategy, both this film and those that followed kicked off the generation of new product lines through which consumers can, among other things, interact with their favorite characters (via toys), explore unseen narrative lines (via video games), and even reshape and resignify the films’ content (via memes on social networks).

The Lego Movie 2 is complemented by video games and physical toys, among others

Increase brand contact points instead of product lines

The internet and the digitization of play provided children with more entertainment alternatives than ever. In response to the trend, Lego changed its focus: from the toy business to the imagination business. This allowed the company to position its brand in many more channels than just toy stores. Lego bricks went from being a physical element to a language synonymous with fun and present in movie theaters, TV series, songs, video games, social media, and more.

Initially, to escape its crisis, Lego had resorted to increasing its product lines. The mistake is that it did so without first generating a growth in the demand. By implementing a transmedia storytelling strategy first, Lego managed to strengthen its brand, thus causing an increase in demand that would justify the increase in its product lines.

The result? There are over 400 billion Lego bricks in the world, and enough are sold each year to line them and circle the planet 5 times!

About the author: Xavier Puche | Head of Strategy Iberia
• Ex Client Director of Summa, Coleman, CBA & Landor
• Ex Strategy Director of Columna
• Ex Marketing Manager Maxxium
June 9th, 2020 | Strategy
Little Buddha Brand Design Agency

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