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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
How 'Star Wars' and 'Harry Potter' helped to transform Lego
ALego brick is a Lego brick is a Lego brick. Except when it's a Lego Star Wars pajama set, a Lego Indiana Jones video game, a range of superheroes from Batman to Iron Man, or indeed any number of the other lucrative tie-ins from Disney to Harry Potter that now form the backbone of the famous toy maker's business.

"We believe we have brought new energy, creativity and imagination to the worlds of 'Star Wars' and 'Harry Potter' by combining them with Lego," said Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp.

Lego controls the construction-toy rights to intellectual properties such as "Star Wars," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Toy Story." As its rivals operate in the less educational sphere of dolls, action figures and vehicles, this has allowed Lego to create instructive toys featuring some of the most popular characters in books and film.

"We take the virtues of Lego and the virtues of 'Star Wars' and create something better. A great example is the Lego Star Wars video games, which have been very popular. Many parents believe that video games are not really creative and not very good for their children. When it is a Lego video game, however, parents say 'OK, now I feel comfortable, since it's Lego plus 'Star Wars'.' It has the benefits of both worlds. Two plus two suddenly becomes five."

The recipe is clearly working. Lego's net profit rose 12 percent to US$750 million (approximately NT$22.2 billion) in 2011 while sales of its popular building blocks rose 17 percent last year. It also increased its global share of the toy market for the eighth year running.

But the future wasn't always so bright. There was a period around the millennium when, after more than 50 years of unbroken sales growth, this iconic, mild-mannered Danish toy firm had lost its way.

It may have succeeded in putting, on average, five plastic bricks into the homes of each and every one of us on the planet, but it was also trying to be all things to all people by moving away from products that exemplified the creative, imaginative play on which it made its name.

In 1998, the firm lost money for the first time. Movie tie-ins with Hollywood boosted the business for a few years, but when another loss in 2004 signaled a more sustained slump, it was time to start rearranging the bricks.

(To be continued in tomorrow's Guide Post)

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