Lucas and Legos: 4 Business Lessons from a Marketing Empire
It all began with a small package at the door. It seemed light - too light - as if the good folks at Amazon.com had forgotten to include its contents before shipping. I opened the small manila envelope, not sure what to expect. A moment later, out dropped a tiny object wrapped in clear plastic along with the shipping slip. Curious, I opened it. Out fell a small... Lego man, no more than 1”x1.” Upon closer examination, I soon realized this was no ordinary Lego man, but rather the Lego personage of Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda. Wondering what such a treasure might fetch, I quickly examined the slip. 15 bucks, for a few pieces of tiny, colored plastic. Amazing.
What makes this story all the more remarkable is that it was purchased by my wife, ever the frugal one. This is a woman who cuts coupons, fills out rebate slips, and brings her own popcorn to the movies. What eldritch power could compel my wife to spend $15 on a little plastic Yoda? The Marketing Empire of Lucas and Legos, that’s who.
MARKET TO YOU, I WILL
If I take anything away from this holiday season, other than five unwanted pounds, it’s an appreciation of the pervasiveness of two brands, Lego and Star Wars, in my children’s lives. To put it bluntly, my kids are addicted to all things Lego and Star Wars generally, and all things Lego Star Wars specifically. You don’t believe me? Here is a brief (but by no means exhaustive) list of some gifts received this Christmas:
- 230 piece Lego Star Wars Starship (that was a joy)
- 120-ish piece Lego Star Wars Escape Pod
- Jedi Master Yoda outfit
- Lego Star Wars for DSI
- Anakin Skywalker outfit
- Lego Star Wars Breakfast Cups
- Star Wars Trading Cards
- Lego Star Wars Pajamas (2)
- Star Wars Socks - Darth Vadar and Yoda (a gift from my boys to me-see below)
MAY THE MARKET BE WITH YOU
Before you presume we are just another middle class family spoiling our children with a bunch of materialistic potpourri, it should be noted that I am the youngest of five kids; this means my boys have a veritable army of aunts, uncles and working-age cousins all too eager to shower gifts upon them. The bigger point is that my family’s Lego Star Wars experience is not unique, as almost everyone with a boy between the ages of 3 and 13 knows.
From a marketing perspective, I admire both Lego and Lucas for their proven ability to adapt and evolve. Lego was founded in 1932; the movie Star Wars was released in 1977; the first Lego Star Wars game came out in 2005. Yet here we are in 2012, and both brands are stronger than ever.
In my view, there are four broad business/marketing lessons to learn from the Lucas and Lego alliance.
CREATE LONG-TERM BRAND LOYALTY
My children’s addiction to Lego Star Wars attains a degree of poignancy when you take the long view. Recalling with fondness the idle hours of their youth wiled away in front of a video screen, they're likely to introduce the Lego Star Wars brand to their kids (who by then will be playing the virtual reality version).
When I reflect on it, both the Lego and Star Wars brands have been working me over for years. I had my Lego sets. I remember going to the theater to see the original Star Wars movie in 1977. Thirty five years, and a couple of million marketing/branding inculcations later, I am essentially a walking, talking promotion for both brands, whether I realize it or not. If you don’t believe this ask my wife, who has to suffer through the pedantic arguments between me and my six year-old regarding the finer points of the Star Wars movies. The bottom line: Lucas and Lego have successfully tapped into the conscious and sub-conscious to create multi-generational uber-brand loyalty.
EVOLVE WITH THE TIMES
In spite of its long pedigree, Lego may have gone the way of the Light Bright had it not deftly shifted to digital via the Lego video game series. In my house alone we have Lego Batman, Lego Harry Potter, and Lego Indiana Jones for both Nintendo DS and Play Station II.
FORM MUTUALLY-BENIFICIAL STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
From day one, Lucas (creator of the Indiana Jones franchise too) has been on the leading edge of digital marketing (remember Raiders of the Lost Ark on Atari 2600?). The business alliance between Lucas and Lego was a natural fit. Lego gave Lucas yet another medium to promote his films and his brand; video games like Lego Star Wars gave Lego a new (digital) platform to reinvigorate its brand.
GET OUT AT THE RIGHT TIME
Though I’m not privy to the contract, the fat royalties Lucas earns from the sale of Lego Star Wars games and merchandize must have factored in to the tidy sum of four billion dollars he received from Disney, who recently purchased all Lucasfilm companies. Lucas worked hard to build up a brand, and when the right suitor came along, he knew when to move on. As my grandfather used to say, “buy low, sell high.”
Immediately after the buyout, news spread of a pending Star Wars VII film. Shortly after opening his Star Wars trading cards, my son asked me who Ben Skywalker was. He showed me a card with a young man’s face over a description that read, “Son of Jedi Grand Master Luke Skywalker…” Immediately, my son asked for the Ben Skywalker outfit.
After nervously replying no, I thought of those famous opening words to the saga: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” And now Lucas has sold to Disney - this could go on forever, I realized with a slight shudder.
Kids or no kids, I draw the line at a lightsaber wielding Mickey.