It’s a truism that the best brands move with the times, evolving to suit changing tastes and technologies all over the world. It’s why some great names past falter while others thrive: consider Nokia, once dominant, versus Apple and others. The latter have not just made their technology relevant, but evolved a whole brand offering that shapes our desires proactively.
So when it comes to creative play, think of how far things have come since the analogue days of Meccano and board games. Wii, Xbox, and others have taken things up a gaming notch, incorporating the latest computing and interactive technologies. Those of us who remember the screechy cassettes it took to load a fairly basic and bug-ridden arcade game might even have preferred the tangibility of analogue. With some exceptions (including computer-shy families), it would be hard to imagine most kids reaching for more low-fi alternatives today.
This is why LEGO’s continued grip on the imagination of kids is as impressive as it is salutary. Of course, brick-and-model-based toys still carve a different niche in the market, as well as in a young person’s mind and imagination, from screen-based play. But to keep their offering relevant, LEGO has stretched its brand well beyond its core strength: a superb, unique, and addictive product.
In short, LEGO has moved with the times in quite dizzying fashion, especially for any adult who remembers the much more basic parallel world it embraced 20 years ago. You could go far with an imagination or instruction manuals alike, but these were still generic springboards for the imagination: a cityscape, space exploration… not into pre-defined, branded imaginary worlds.
That’s quite a far cry from where you can end up today – inside Hogwarts, flying on a broomstick or casting spells with a LEGO Harry Potter; battling a LEGO Darth Vader on an ingenious brick-based Death Star… or else in a mixture of on- and offline environments, playing LEGO races on screen and on your carpet, or inhabiting the much bolder LEGO Universe gamescape.
This is a brand that’s gone full-blown experiential, embracing the gamut of its tangible assets and turning them all shades of digital and analogue. It arguably began with its real-world theme parks, including those in Windsor (U.K.) and Denmark, via cobranded tie-ups (e.g. with Pixar, to create a Toy Story series), to hands-on store experiences with 3D product displays, and digital renderings you can generate by holding boxes up to special sensors.
It helps, of course, that LEGO’s specialty has always been in generating parallel, imaginative worlds. Doing so in a branded way that speaks to a generation weaned as much on virtual as real gaming, this is an old-school brand that seems to be in pretty good brand health.