Lego To Break Off Branding Agreement With Shell Oil

Shell Oil might be known for selling fuel, but their logo isn’t limited to gas stations. They’ve also appeared on Lego toy sets for the last 50 years under a unique marketing agreement. But that’s breaking down under pressure from environmentalists.

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If you’ve been around kids in the past year, chances are you’ve heard about “The Lego Movie.” And you’ve probably heard its catchy theme song. But there’s also a more downbeat version.

(Courtesy of Greenpeace)
(Courtesy of Greenpeace)

It serves as the soundtrack to an anti-drilling video Greenpeace put out this summer. An Arctic landscape made out of Lego blocks gets drenched in a thick, black liquid. Polar bears and figures of indigenous hunters are covered up before a tagline appears: “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations.”

The video was viewed more than 6 million times. Lego’s CEO resisted for months. But finally, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp announced his company is going to stop renewing its contract with Shell.

In a statement this month, he said, ”We want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences.”

Hurting Lego was not the point of the campaign, according to Travis Nichols. He’s a spokesman for Greenpeace.

“Well, first of all, we love Lego,” Nichols says. “They’ve been such a great company, a really progressive company. They have sustainability reports. Very transparent. So it was very disappointing for us to learn that they have this partnership with Shell.”

But the partnership dates back to the 1960s. So why didn’t Greenpeace didn’t try to break it up until now?

It has to do with timing. Just this summer, Shell resubmitted exploration plans to get back to the Arctic in 2015. Nichols says it wasn’t clear that was in the cards, given how badly Shell’s last drilling expedition went.

“And at the same time, in the U.S., Lego started an Arctic, polar [toy] set,” Nichols says. “In particular, there was a big disconnect for us.”

This also wasn’t the first time that Greenpeace has attacked Arctic drilling by going after Shell’s brand.

The environmentalists lifted logos and layouts from Shell two years ago. They made a parody website, held fake Shell press conferences and bought billboard space near Shell headquarters in Houston.

As Shell weighs a return to its leases in the Chukchi Sea, Nichols says Greenpeace is gearing up for another fight.

“We’re hoping that this fall, we’re able to help our supporters tell the Obama administration that this isn’t something people want,” Nichols says.

Whether it’s with a petition or another marketing campaign, the goal is the same: break down support for oil exploration in the far north, brick by brick.