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UPDATE: LEGO has 'Leggo' of Shell
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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On July 11, I reported on a unique partnership between beloved toy company LEGO and oil industry giant Shell that saw Shell-branded LEGO cars sold at gas stations in more than 26 countries. This week, LEGO announced the end of this agreement, with eco-warrior Greenpeace taking credit for the breakup.

Is this good for PR? Well, it depends which side you’re on.

Shell, for one, was able to associate itself with a pure, non-controversial, and wholesome company that encourages playfulness, ingenuity, and creativity in young boys and girls, as well as LEGO-lovers of all ages.

LEGO, for its part, was able to expand its merchandise to broader markets, expose its toy product as a serious component of great engineering feats (yes — exploring,  developing, and providing the world with the oil and gas it needs is a great accomplishment), and inspire a new generation of dreamers and thinkers by providing 16 million of its toys in the most unlikely of places (gas stations).

For Greenpeace, the thwarting of the partnership has allowed it to exercise its political muscle.

It was only in July that LEGO Group CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp released an online statement saying: "A co-promotion contract like the one with Shell is one of many ways we are able to bring LEGO bricks into the hands of more children.

"The Greenpeace campaign focuses on how Shell operates in a specific part of the world. We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace,” Knudstorp wrote.

In fact, he appeared to chastise Greenpeace for perhaps what he thought was a cheap shot at the legendary toy company:

“We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organisations.”

The story changed this week, however, when Knudstorp appeared to relent to the pressure that Greenpeace had exerted on LEGO shareholders.

After a concerted campaign that included a petition it attempted to deliver to LEGO’s Slough, England headquarters (with just 115,000 signatures, according to PR Week), a video that attempted to associate Shell with catastrophic environmental effects, and some good old-fashioned sidewalk picketing, LEGO told PR Week:

“We want to clarify that as things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends."

In a blunt addendum to the statement, Knudstorp added: "We do not want to be part of Greenpeace’s campaign and we will not comment any further on the campaign."
 
He did tell PR Week, though: "We do not agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created misunderstandings among our stakeholders about the way we operate; and we want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences."
 
Said Greenpeace’s Elena Polisano, Arctic campaigner, “Shell’s PR team will be reeling from LEGO’s move.”
 
Shell confirmed the existing contract with LEGO will end in 2016, telling PR Week: "Our latest co-promotion with LEGO has been a great success and will continue to be as we roll it out in more countries across the world. We don’t comment on contractual matters."
 
Chalked up firmly by Greenpeace as a win (but I think we should consider what some might think about its bullying tactics), and no doubt a throbbing headache by LEGO, it will be interesting to see whether Shell will be able to ink other such innovative partnerships in the future.


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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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