The visceral 'click'; it's the nostalgia inducing sound that signifies the start of something bold and something beautiful that you are about to create from the very depths of your own imagination and that 'click' is not only symbolic of your own creative genius but it also feels good on its own.
Lego is now the world's biggest toy manufacturer by revenue and has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a bunch of wooden toys being produced in a shed in 1932. But in recent years, there have been several pretenders to its square throne and they've been using the same building blocks to success as Lego and yet, the Danish manufacturer remains on top and most probably always will. Here's why we think this is the case.
The famous interlocking brick of Lego design came about in 1947 and it is on the back of this that the company shot to global domination and has now produced around 400 billion Lego bricks meaning that there are approximately 62 Lego blocks in the world for every human being. The company has had to move on from just these plastic bricks in order to remain as one of the best known and much-loved toy brands in the world but the very premise of the simple construction tools has always remained at the core of its products.
Recently, imposters to the throne have been cropping up in various mediums to try and challenge Lego and have not been without success. Yet still, Lego remains king so how does it do this? Well, let's take a look on a case by case basis.
In terms of other building blocks, the Lego company has been very proactive in trying to patent their own designs and prevent other products using their formula as a launch pad to success. 1989 was the expiration of the last standing Lego patent and since then, various interlocking brick toys have swept the market and where Lego has managed to maintain a place ahead of these competitors is by using its already existing status as the market leader. Fiercely protective of its own designs, it regularly battles others in court to stop them producing products that work alongside theirs, these are not always successful but where they do regularly put clear water between themselves and others is their marketing.
Others cannot use confusing or misleading marketing to sell their products along the same Lego guidelines and so there has to be an obvious and clear distinction between the two products. This serves to Lego's advantage as, being the market leader, they have managed to nail down several tie-in toys with other products to further boost their brand and push them forward and this has only been increased by their introduction of the Minifigure in 1978.
By introducing these human-like characters to the world, brand tie-ins could now be produced with films and other media to produce specific Lego sets with themes and characters. Lego has managed to do so by teaming up with people like Marvel, Disney, DC and many, many more whilst also producing their own themed sets that include outer space and pirate themes.
Using popular film franchises to their advantage, the company has also managed to branch out into films and television using its own brand and the rights to the pre-existing characters they have licensed for their sets, ergo the Lego Batman film and appearances from all sorts of characters in The Lego Movie. Where the company has succeeded in this medium is by remaining true to their roots and always using the building blocks as a self-referential notion. They do not move away from that core premise and so do not isolate themselves from their original market.
Where Lego has perhaps fallen by the wayside is in other digital forms, take for example video games. Lego has long had a presence in the video gaming world and has also used the same formula as they have with their films, remaining self-referential to the original blocks but, despite their relative long standing in the medium, they were still blown out of the water with the advent of Minecraft.
The simplistic building game is essentially Lego in a digital medium, where you have to use the environment around you to craft building blocks out of various different materials according to your means and needs. The premise was basic but it took the world by storm and has produced sequels, spin-offs, and add-ons that no one really expected from a once independently developed game. It was this sort of idea that Lego had long been searching for in their own games but hadn't quite hit on, rather continuing to focus on film and franchise tie-ins which weren't without their own success.
Lego has since aped the idea in their own video games but used their knowledge of marketing to again make the best of the situation. In a case where they were beaten to the punch, they took on the mantra of "if you can't beat them, join them" by going on to make tie-in Lego building block sets with a Minecraft theme thus bringing the whole thing full circle with the game inspired by the building blocks now getting its own Lego set.
Now, this is all well and good in terms of analysis of the company's success but one often ignored point is the power of nostalgia and it is that which Lego has managed to play on so magnificently. Many architecture and design firms found that the nostalgia and ease of use of the building bricks could help them with their real world designs as employees were only too happy to dive in and use the bricks to create physical models of their ideas. Lego themselves noticed this and began launching sets targeted at adults who still love the toy but are reluctant to be seen playing with children's sets and so the Lego architecture sets were launched to great fanfare and have further opened up their audience.
In essence, it is this which has allowed them to expand and adapt as those who have grown up with the bricks have long held a special place in their hearts for that visceral "click" and there is just no beating that.