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Lego Ends Partnership with Shell after Greenpeace Video Goes Viral

The green group targeted the world’s largest toy maker due to concerns about Shell’s oil exploration in the Arctic and successfully brought to an end a fifty year-old arraignment between the two companies.
Image via Flickr

Following a public pressure campaign by Greenpeace International, Lego has decided it will not renew a contract with Shell Oil Company that allows its toys to be distributed in the company's gas stations in 26 countries.

Greenpeace launched the campaign in July, betting that the iconic toy maker was vulnerable to attacks on its partnership with the oil major. The organization wagered that, by linking Lego to a fossil fuel company that plans to drill in the Arctic, the respected children's brand would choose to protect its reputation rather than its arrangement with Shell.


"As things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends," Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, president and chief executive officer of the Lego Group, said in a statement. "We do not want to be part of Greenpeace's campaign and we will not comment any further on the campaign."

The company showed little interest in yielding to public pressure in July, noting that its contract with Shell "is one of many ways we are able to bring Lego bricks into the hands of more children."

That month, shortly after launching its campaign, Greenpeace posted a video on YouTube. In it, an Arctic landscape constructed of Lego bricks slowly floods with oil following a drilling rig accident. A somber piano ballad plays over the images — the lyrics "everything is awesome," referring to a song from The Lego Movie, are the dominant refrain.

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"This is a major victory," Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols told VICE News. "Shell's relationship with Lego goes back half a century, and it desperately needs partners like Lego right now to help give it respectability and divert attention from its dangerous Arctic drilling plans."

The video has attracted nearly six million views and, says Nichols, likely attracted "almost activists," who may not have been aware of concerns about Arctic drilling but had some relationship to the Lego brand. He noted that over a million people signed a petition demanding that Lego severe its ties to Shell.


"There's more art than science to viral online work, so I'd love to say we knew all along that it would be popular," Nichols told VICE News, "but there's always a risk that the social media world will be immune to your work. In this case, I think people were genuinely shocked to see a company they love partnering with a company they actively dislike, and there is something terribly affecting about seeing something so familiar in peril."

Shell's exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska has been marred by mishap and delay. Two of the company's drilling ships suffered serious accidents in 2012, which led to a suspension of exploratory work the following year.

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The company scrapped plans in January for a summertime Arctic exploration. However, it applied in August for permits that, if approved by the federal government, would allow it to continue exploring for oil in the summer of 2015.

"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," a Shell spokesperson told VICE News. "We don't comment on contractual matters."

Lego's partnership with Shell dates back to the 1960s. The latest contract, signed in 2011, is worth $110 million. Shell did not disclose when the current contract is set to expire.

Following the Lego announcement, Greenpeace plans to focus directly on Shell's Summer 2015 drilling activities. The organization is focusing on regulatory hurdles that can be used to block the oil company's operations.

"Shell has an ungodly amount of money and despite what scientists and civil society around the world is saying, they have an insane urge to exploit the Arctic," Nichols told VICE News. "So it's going to be a heavy lift. But how we respond to the Arctic crisis will show us how we respond to other generational conflicts. It's going to be epic."

Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman

Image via Flickr