SINGAPORE - Danish toymaker Lego holds the crown as the biggest toy company in the world, raking in US$5.4 billion in revenue last year.
But while its lines of toys based on existing intellectual property, such as Disney’s Frozen and Star Wars have been hits, it is the work the brand is doing with it’s latest original range that illustrates its answer to a marketplace increasingly dominated by mobile devices and digital competition.
Lego launched Nexo Knights, its third franchise (following Ninjago and Chima), in the United States in late 2015. The company credited Ninjago as a driving factor in boosting profits by 27 percent and revenue by 23 percent in the first six months of 2015, and is highly positive about the prospects for Nexo Knights.
What makes this third franchise unique is its much higher level of integration across the physical toys, digital gaming options and content.
In addition to the building sets, there's a 20-episode TV series—titled Lego Nexo Knights—along with storybooks. But the most significant part of the Nexo Knights puzzle is the Merlok 2.0 app for mobile devices and tablets.
Using the app/game, kids will be able to search and discover over 150 Nexo 'powers' they can download and use in the game to fight Jestro, the storyline’s villain.
These powers can be found in numerous real-world locations, where kids can scan them to collect. Locations include physical sets; Lego websites and printed products and also, the TV show where codes will be displayed.
The company shared that the app alone was downloaded 500,000 times in the first week of its launch.
“It bridges seamlessly the digital and physical worlds of play, and that is something kids seem to like,” said Julia Goldin, Lego’s chief marketing officer told Financial Times.
Nexo Knights charge through Asia
Lego has been enjoying rapid growth across the Asia-Pacific region, recently opening its Singapore hub in December 2015. It also has an on-ground presence in key markets in the region including Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Nexo Knights made its Asian debut on 1 March, and the APAC team had a mandate to not only ensure a successful launch, but also to grow and mature the franchise into a consistent favourite among kids.
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Ivan Zeng, senior manager of digital marketing, Lego APAC, said a joint integrated campaign was developed to launch Nexo Knights based on three pillars: Nexo Knights Academy, a gamified mission-based campaign site on LEGO.com, 'retailtainment' and events.
“These are bolstered with very proven content-marketing assets, such as our long-format TV cartoon series, TVCs, short-format webisodes and a detailed social-media plan to engage with parents as well,” he said.
When asked about the brand’s approach to content marketing, Zeng said the company “invests significantly” into creating content.
“Because we know kids love our content, and our content has an important storytelling role to build understanding of our hero characters and franchises among our kids,” he added.
Retailtainment and VR
For the ‘Retailtainment’ component of the launch plan, the brand worked with MediaMonks to develop two touchpoint elements.
Nexo Knights Standee
This touchpoint is a cardboard VR experience used in store, where kids will be introduced to the Nexo Knight IP and characters. The kids are able to explore the training ground and look at the different characters to find out more about their specialities.
Nexo Knights Portal
At this touchpoint, future fans get to experience what power looks like. It lets kids experiment with the five mighty Nexo Knights’ powers to discover their effectiveness in a number of playful training simulations. The installation uses a motion-tracking camera and specially designed shield and wand controllers to follow and respond to the player’s movements. The portal will be placed in stores around APAC.
Zeng said the projects were in line with the brand’s mission of “inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow through play".
“We see opportunities in driving both physical and digital play in our retail and event spaces,” he added. “Nexo Knights offers a unique proposition of both brick-based and digital play and we think retailtainment could ignite excitement among kids and be a key recruitment and engagement driver for the launch.”
Bas Muller, executive producer at MediaMonks Singapore told Campaign Asia-Pacific that realising both concepts from start to finish took about four months, together with the Lego team.
He noted that kids live “strong fantasy lives” and want to be the hero who saves the day. The team saw the Nexo Knights Portal as a great way to plug into that behaviour and make their dreams reality.
Meanwhile the VR Standee was a chance for the kids to get into the world of Nexo, as opposed to just experiencing it as something external.
“Each local trade marketing team at Lego knows their market and target groups. They have a unique understanding, and so it’s important to involve them at an early stage,” said Muller. “With these insights we were able to optimise the experiences to fit all markets.”
The launch campaign, running until the end of the year, was executed in Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.
The digital production company partnered with I_Possible in Singapore to build the physical installations. Safety was a major concern, and the team worked closely with Lego Child Safety to make sure it’s suitable for kids.
“One of the challenges we had to overcome was that we could not strap a VR headset on a kid’s head. So cardboard was the solution. However you cannot leave kids unsupervised with cardboard with mobile devices because you’ll never them see them again,” said Muller. “Secondly, VR gives you the possibility to freely look around. You get the full 360 degrees. Therefore we had to look into ways in which the cardboard was fixed but still delivered the intended experience."
Muller described the project as “insightful”, with many lessons learnt from the different markets in the region it has been rolled out in, praising Lego’s willingness to innovate and try out new things to trigger the imagination of kids.
“It’s important for a brand to be in touch with their consumers,” he said. “If you have an opportunity to interact with your consumer on the retail floor, it’s a win-win situation.”
Asked about the viability of VR technology in marketing efforts, Muller said things have reached a tipping point, with the technology becoming more mainstream and brands like Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony launching their VR headsets.
“With their reasonable pricing, it is now within the majority of people’s reach,” he added. “However it’s important for advertisers to make relevant content for VR and not to just tick the VR box by creating a 360 video, for example.”
For brands looking to execute their own VR experiences in-store, Muller said that with VR still relatively new, it’s important to know all local safety rules and how to secure the VR equipment so there’s no need for supervision.
“When it came to the Nexo Knights Portal, we noticed that kids in different markets interacted differently with it,” he shared. “In some countries kids are getting more enthusiastic and are really getting into the gameplay. So much so that we had to add additional protective layers to prevent damage.”
For the MediaMonks team, it’s now important to gather as much information as possible to build a case for future development.
“We have added some measurement tools in both experiences and the data will be extracted monthly to provide us with valuable insights,” Muller said.