This week, the Lego Group launched Lego Life, a social network for kids between the ages of five of 13—a concept many parents would find "alarming," according to Michael McNally, Lego’s senior director of brand relations.
To stop parents from panicking, McNally and Lego PR agency Flashpoint Public Relations made safety messaging about Lego Life a priority. The agency, Lego’s AOR in the US and Canada, was mandated to create a global PR strategy that was shared with the company’s other firms around the world. Lego works with Norton & Co. in the UK, Agence Hopscotch in France, and Klenk & Hoursch in Germany.
Billed as "a safe social network for kids," Lego Life includes a digital experience that allows young Lego builders to connect with a community to express their creativity, share their Lego creations, interact with Lego characters, and inspire one another, according to the company. It launched on Tuesday in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland.
Lego is often asked how it can be relevant in an era when many children want to stare at a phone and consumer digital content for hours, McNally said.
"Yes, that is a reality about how kids engage with their friends and the world around them, but it is not the only thing they want," he explained. "When you offer kids an opportunity that can satisfy their digital needs but reinforce their offline activity, there is a meaningful space for that."
Lego Life’s goal is to offer kids the best of both worlds: allowing them to connect with fellow builders virtually and sending them back to their Lego collections so they can build physically—and then have more content to share.
Lego surveyed parents prelaunch and found they are embracing digital experiences such as social networks, believing they are a part of modern childhood and kids need to know how to use them. The findings contrasted sharply from parents’ view just five years ago that children should not be exposed to social networks; rather, they should have "more analog experiences."
"Our research found parents see Lego as a brand being a trusted partner and helping their kids get familiar with the ins and outs of social networking," said McNally. "We wanted to reinforce that we are the right partner for them."
To do that, Lego included a Digital Safety section for parents within the Lego Life app that "helps with different things parents can think about, and what they should talk to their kids about in terms of online safety," he added.
Among the safety points emphasized by the company: Lego Life prevents kids from sharing personal information, images, or anything that could allow users to identify and locate one another. All content and comments on the app are monitored by Lego employees who specialize in moderation to ensure that it is appropriate and child-friendly.
The Brand Finance Global 500 report, published this week, reported that Lego is the most powerful brand in the world. The toy company scored 92.7 out of 100. Lego was also named the world’s most powerful brand in 2015.
An earned-media-based launch
PR was the centerpiece of the launch strategy for Lego Life, with no paid marketing bolstering it.
"We have been relying on the owned and earned channels for getting off-the-ground," said McNally.
Instead of targeting YouTube influencers, which McNally said is the go-to marketing strategy for toy brands, Lego implemented a media relations strategy aimed at tech publications such as The Verge and Engadget to get the word out. He explained that Lego wanted to identify media influencers who would "create a ripple in the water."
"We knew it was important to get the endorsement of tech media, so we gave them a demo of what we were doing and discussed all the things that were put in place to ensure safety," said Christopher Downing, principal and owner of Flashpoint PR. "We also talked to them about the research and insights that informed the name generator or avatar creator."
The Lego community team is now engaging Lego influencers to promote the app.
"We will be looking at social activations now that everything is launched," said McNally. "And will now be engaging people in participating in the app and helping to create content."
—This story first appeared in PR Week.