I’m spending this weekend playing with my old Lego sets. Why?
This past week, Lego announced it won’t be renewing its contract to advertise with gasoline giant corporation Shell.
Lego and Shell have been advertising partners since the early 1960s. (That’s more than 50 years!) Their most recent several-year contract in 2011 was for roughly $110 million of co-marketing materials, including Shell-branded Lego sets.
Here’s why this matters: Shell just recently announced they’re planning to resume oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. Environmentalists have raised outcry over this decision, as oil drilling is risky for humans and native animals (including several endangered species of polar bears). The co-branding strategy here aimed to make the Shell name more relatable—but consumers weren’t buying it.
Greenpeace was at the forefront of the campaign to ask Lego to quit Shell. Since July of this year, they’ve focused their resources on this project, as part of their larger focus on protecting the Arctic.
And Greenpeace showed up in a big way to promote the cause. They gathered signatures from Lego customers worldwide, showed up in person at the Lego offices to deliver the petitions, and hosted Lego-themed events and rallies. Their most viral success was their YouTube video, featuring Lego characters:
It’s clear the video makes a powerful statement, as it’s been seen more than 6 million times.
But this is more than just an achievement for Greenpeace. As hard as Greenpeace works to protect the Arctic, nothing could have been done without the support of the public.
Instead of focusing on a campaign to speak, Greenpeace called upon everyday consumers to act out and show their support of the environment. More than a million people signed petitions and wrote personal letters to the company, asking Lego to reconsider the partnership.
An established company doesn’t often do good things for the sake of the world. Most often, the way to speak to a corporation is through its profits. That’s something Greenpeace knew, and they successfully pulled together the one group of people who hold the reins on Lego’s profits: consumers.
Consumers spoke, and Lego shareholders took note.
Toys like Legos are brilliant tools for creativity: kids of all ages can use Legos to create any world they want. Toys shouldn’t be products of manipulation to help kids and parents feel empathetic towards companies that are hurting the world they love. In its refusal to renew their contract with Shell, Lego has shown that consumer power works to stop corporate injustices.
Moments like these give me hope. We as consumers have agency in the decisions that companies make—all we need is to use it for good. And just look at what we can accomplish when we get organized!
(Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my Legos.)
Kelsey Ryan is the editor of Groundswell’s magazine. She’s a linguist, fledgling Tolkien scholar, knitter, Oxford comma proponent, and firm believer in the use of stories for social good. Explore her website, or connect on Twitter: @kryanlion.