Lego Movie Is a Success Before Film Even Hits Theaters, But Is There a TM Issue?

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“The first step to recover from your brickdiction is to admit you are powerless over bricks.” That’s the opening sentence from the book Brickdiction: A Seven Step Recovery Guide for People Addicted to LEGO®

Of course the irony about the book Brickdiction is that it’s just a gag gift for that Lego lover you know, another brick in the expanding Legonomy that is about to go to a brand new level with Friday’s release of The Lego Movie. With a staggering 98 percent “fresh” rating so far on film rating site Rotten Tomatoes, The Lego Movie is winning praise from critics across the board. (The one stick-in-the-mud is the NY Post.) The movie is so successful, in fact, that a sequel is already being built before the film’s official release date.

With brands falling over each other to get a piece of the Legonomy, the question is not if The Lego Movie will be a success for the Lego franchise but how much of a success.[more]

“With the possible exception of Apple, arguably no brand sparks as much cult like devotion as Lego,” writes David Robertson in the opening of his 2013 book Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry.

In his book-length case study, Robertson points to Lego’s now decade-old toy series “Bionicle” as the thing that saved Lego from disaster and taught it an important lesson that all audiences of The Lego Movie will be witness to. In 2003, Lego was in dour straights, on the verge of bankruptcy and takeover. Then, the Bionicle series was not only accounting for a quarter of all Lego revenue but also for 100 percent of its profits.

The lesson, Robertson writes, is that Bionicle taught Lego “how to work with external partners, how to interact with passionate customers, and how to manage an intellectual property. LEGO had seen from its partnership with Star Wars how a rich story can captivate kids and drive sales of toys. But making toys around someone else’s story is a different challenge than creating your own story and characters, and building toys around it. Bionicle boys loved the toys, and loved the T-shirts, books, comics, backpacks, sneakers, and everything else that had a Bionicle image on it. LEGO had to learn how to not only develop a toy with a rich story, but also work with a group of outside partners and bring them along as the story progressed.”

Today, Lego branded series—all with their own story lines—include Ninjago, Lord of the Rings, City, Friends (targeted at girls), Mixels, Galaxy Squad, Heroica, Monster Fighters, Mindstorms, Minecraft, Pharaoh’s Quest, Sponge Bob Sqaure Pants, Super Heroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dino, The Lone Ranger, Disney Princesses, and Castle. Of course, there is also now a series developed around The Lego Movie.

One of the genius elements of The Lego Movie is that it combines different characters from its sets, such as putting Batman with a Simpsons character with Shaquille O’Neal from its NBA series.

As it has done with Star Wars, The Lego Movie is another way in which Lego has worked to reach a whole new consumer segment, what the book The Cult of Lego calls AFOLs or “Adult Fans of Lego.” The book further describes what it calls the Lego “Dark Age”:

“The Dark Age is a time when kids decide they are too cool for Lego. and set it aside, dooming the bricks to languish in a basement or to be sold for a pittance at Mom’s garage sale. Of course, for most people, being Lego-free simply represents growing up. When we reach adulthood, we set aside our toys, don’t we?”

No, apparently we don’t. A great example of this is how any event worth anything seems to get a Lego version. In fact, highly-regarded British newspaper The Guardian—which published the Edward Snowden NSA leaks—has a regular feature in which it recreates major news events in Lego. Its most recent addition? The 2014 Super Bowl.

The Lego Movie will move a lot of Legos—including 17 new sets and 16 new figurines based on characters and scenes from the film—but partner brands are hoping to build off the films’s popularity. McDonald’s will offer Lego Movie Happy Meals. In the UK, Odeon Cinemas is giving away trips to the Legoland Park at Lego’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark.

Meanwhile, Lego has partnered with Google to create the very cool Build with Chrome program that uses 3-D graphics technology WebGL to allow users to create virtual Lego creations in plots around the globe, then geo-tag those builds and share the creations with friends.

Build with Chrome essentially Lego-ifies the world, something that The Lego Movie is aiming to do as well. The film—which will likely get an opening later this year in China, the second largest film market in the world—recently released a special Year of the Horse greeting for “Chinese New Year” (known as Spring Festival in China). China is one of Lego’s fastest growth areas with the toy company recently announcing plans for a 2,000-employee factory there that will start production this year.

There is one element though that could take away some of the sheen of the new film. On a completely different (trademark) tangent, The Lego Movie includes a character named “Taco Tuesday” (right). Lego even officially identifies him as “Taco Tuesday Guy.” Is this a tie-in with the fast food chain Taco John’s?

We only ask because in Madison, Wisc., the restaurant The Old Fashioned was recently forced to change its long running “Taco Tuesday” promotion after it received a cease and desist letter from QSR chain Taco John’s stating that the chain has held the “Taco Tuesday” trademark since 1989. Taco John’s also enforced the trademark in both Minneapolis and Oklahoma in 2010.

Is Lego’s new “Taco Tuesday” guy a trademark violation? A call to Taco John’s press relations was not returned by press time. 

Chart from: Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry.

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