Feature

Why Lego's in-house agency turned to BETC for its biggest global campaign to date

Lego has just unveiled its biggest campaign in 30 years, focused on how its humble brick can help kids ‘Rebuild the World’. However, instead of doing it all in-house, its internal creative shop cherry-picked BETC to partner on the push. Here the boss of The Lego Agency explains why (and how) it rebuilt its own models of working.

18 months ago, Rémi Marcelli orchestrated an unusual move for a marketer leading his own 480-strong creative shop: he asked his in-house agency to pitch against an external one for its biggest brief in three decades.

Neither was aware that what they were going into was a pitch. And in a final twist to the tale, The Lego Agency lost and BETC Paris won.

“It was a fake pitch to a certain extent,” explains Marcelli, “but what I liked seeing was our people trusting an external agency do that strategic work for us, and I found that we were more comfortable having someone helping us to test creative boundaries.”

Rebuilding the world

The result is ‘Rebuild the World’, Lego’s most significant global brand campaign since the 90s, which was created by BETC in collaboration with The Lego Agency.

Ultimately, the push seeks to position the toy as something that can strengthen creative resilience and problem-solving capabilities in kids – an idea originally floated by BETC in a world where children are more likely to pick up an iPad than open a toybox.

Underpinned by bold, playful creative that will run across TV, online, OOH and cinema, Marcelli describes the campaign as “a new, modern expression of the true, deep foundations” of the brand, and the “perfect interpretation” of its mission to inspire future generations.

At the heart of the drive is a film directed by Traktor Creative, a duo who have previously worked with The Prodigy and Madonna, which shows what the world would look like if it obeyed the rules of Lego play.

The video follows the chase between a clever rabbit and an unlucky hunter with meticulous attention to detail; every character, animal and vehicle shown in the live-action spot is based on an existing or past Lego toy.

Lego enthusiasts will also be able to spot a countless number of clever Easter eggs, including the first Lego wooden duck toys, a dragon wearing Jeremy Scott Adidas trainers and a life-size replica of the Lego House in Billund. The film soundtrack was composed by electro-musicians and composers Flavien Berger and Jacques.

Marcelli, a former BBDO and Ogilvy staffer, says Lego is a brand that is so well known he realised it at risk of “becoming wallpaper” if it didn’t invest in big budget creative. To avoid this, it bought into BETC’s idea of “reclaiming creativity” in a way that was meaningful for not only kids, but also the parents buying the bricks.

“Lego is such a big brand and it’s one that everyone can relate to but it’s more than just a toy. It is a toy, and it’s a fun and playful experience, but it’s also creative process,” he tells The Drum.

‘In-house agencies can’t do everything’

Lego brought the bulk of its creative in-house just under four years ago, and also has internalised some capabilities around media and data analytics – though it still works with IPG on media globally and the network "workshopped" with BETC on the campaign.

With close to 500 employees, Lego streamlined the in-house group in 2017 under The Lego Agency umbrella.

The internal creative shop unveiled a global campaign during Christmas 2018, having only worked on local projects until then.

Lego’s chief marketing officer Julia Goldlin, who Marcelli reports into, has previously talked up the advantages of having an internal creative function, extolling the agility and integration it has brought to the business. However, the scale of ‘Rebuild the World’ called for a partner that could help Lego scale up is craft and creative credentials, says Marcelli.

In tapping into BETC’s pool of 2200 staff, The Lego Agency (which he says was still “deeply involved” throughout the process) was able to take the campaign above and beyond. The brand also made sure BETC was immersed in its history, with agency execs visiting the famous Billund Lego house to learn more about the brand’s history.

“It’s like stretching your body – it’s easier when someone is pushing you because you find your own limit before others do,” notes The Lego Agency lead.

“We wanted a fresh perspective and be inspired by the outside world. We know the brand so well that sometimes it’s difficult to go out there and know where to stretch it, so we needed that outside push and outside-in perspective that’s sometimes difficult to find ourselves.”

In an industry where the in-housing trend is showing no signs of slowing down, with the likes of Unilever and Barclaycard managing more day-to-day creative tasks without the help of an agency, Marcelli is sceptical that external partners will be removed from the equation entirely.

“In-house agencies who believe that they can do everything themselves forever are fooling themselves because they would miss out on a lot of great opportunities to learn from others. So to me [this process has been] the best of both worlds.”

Rémi Babinet, BETC Founder and creative director says it was “a great honour” to partner strategically and creatively with Lego.

“The process was interesting because The Lego Agency knew many things we didn’t, we were fresh and were able to bring something new to it. It wasn’t easy every day but in the end we worked together in a totally new way.”

Measuring success

Lego's brand perception is at a high having recently been ranked as one of the most 30 most meaningful brands by Havas, and crowned the UK's favourite brand in the Superbrands index.

The accolades follow on from a year in which the toymaker managed to stave off slow sales and return to growth.

In 2018 its profits increased by 4% to £1.2bn, while sales were up 4%. The numbers marked a rebound from 2017, when the brand reported its first fall in sales and profits for 13 years, blaming the dip on growing competition from modern toys, and operational issues which had led it to produce too many bricks.

Marcelli acknowledges that 'Rebuild the World' is a "long-term" play, and that success will be if "in four years from now people see Lego as a creative experience."

Still though, in the short-term, there has been a pay off in letting an external agency into the Lego world.

“The biggest lesson is that we’ve learned from BETC was about the way it worked. We’ve also discovered new ways of expressing the brand… what was really refreshing especially for an ex-agency guy like me was the fact there was no threat of BETC taking our business, it was a fruitful collaboration and mutual value creation."

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