LEGO and Shell: the Greenpeace Campaign
A “Save the Arctic” campaign video from Greenpeace has been making the rounds, calling on The LEGO Group to end its partnership with multinational oil and gas company Shell.
The video features a vast arctic landscape, where humans and wildlife are swallowed up by a gigantic amount of oil released by a brick-built Shell oil rig. The piece ends with a caption that reads “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations”, and the whole affair is underscored by a haunting cover of “Everything is Awesome”.
In some ways, this campaign is brilliant. Between The LEGO Movie, the “Beyond the Brick” documentary, and the usual promo releases from TLG, 2014 has squarely solidified LEGO video content into the zeitgeist. This production plays right into that — not only through the music, but with some well-designed builds, artfully composed shots, and sweeping camera work. (For the moment, let’s ignore the blatant inclusion of a
Mega Bloks Brickforge Halo figure, and GoT-looking figs that may or may not be the ones from Citizen Brick.)
As clean as the cinematography is, though, the actual message of the video feels a bit more muddled. I understand what the goal is: Greenpeace wants to convince LEGO to end its partnership with Shell. That’s the “what”. But the “why” of it all seems less clear; at least as far as this video and the associated website are concerned.
When I first heard about this online movement a week ago, my initial reaction was “does TLG even still make Shell-branded sets?” Apparently, the answer is yes. Here’s a bit of history on TLG’s partnership with Shell:
- Shell-branded LEGO sets appeared as early as 1966.
- According to Brickipedia (which could really use some better attribution), the majority of the Shell sets were not available in the US. It seems as though Shell-branded LEGO products only started appearing stateside in 1986.
- Prior to 1986, TLG also released a few Exxon-branded sets in the US.
- In 1992, Octan began to replace Shell as the main (albeit fictional) gasoline brand of LEGO Town (and later, City) sets.
- 1999 saw the last of the official wide-release sets with Shell branding from TLG.
- The Shell logo continued to be prevalent in LEGO kits until as recently as 2012, due to the partnership between Shell and Ferrari.
- Additionally, LEGO products continue to be offered as exclusives at Shell stations to this day, though they are not always available in all regions.
However, none of this information is included in the Greenpeace “Save the Arctic” website. Nor is there much information about what Shell is doing, or documented evidence as to how the environment is being affected. And for what little content there actually is on the site, there’s basically no attribution or sources. (Although some digging did turn up this PDF that goes into a bit more detail.)
What we get instead as the main hub of this campaign is a weird, heavy-handed, confusing-to-navigate site that approaches “LEGO CL!CK” levels of poor web design. Selecting the “more information” button on the site continues the mixed messages: should readers be concerned about advertising’s influence on the children, saving the Arctic, preventing global warming, or Shell’s use of licensing partners to distract from its other corporate ventures? It feels like Greenpeace wants folks to simultaneously think about all and none of these things, and instead get so riled up in a ball of knee-jerk emotion that they sign the petition without a second thought.
Personally, I’d rather do some research and make well-informed decisions. Is Shell involved in some unsavory business practices? Seems like it. Does a partnership with Shell fly in the face of TLG’s commitment to environmental responsibility? Maybe. Should a petitioning crusade eschew sourced information and individual judgment in favor of reactionary tactics to make its voice heard? Probably not.
As a footnote: My research here is by no means exhaustive. If you’ve got thoughts or facts to contribute, or articles to reference, feel free to post them in the comments below. This campaign has already seen coverage in the International Business Times, Forbes, CBC News, and elsewhere.
This isn’t the first time LEGO video content has been utilized in the service of activism, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
EDIT 7/11/14: Looks like the video was pulled from YouTube due to a copyright claim from Warner Bros.
EDIT 7/14/14: The video is back up on YouTube, and currently has 4.2 million views.