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I Reckon that The Lego Movie is as awesome its main theme song would have you believe. It’s continuously visually inventive, the laughs come thick and fast (so fast I certainly missed a whole heap of jokes), there is a real heart to the film, and I would love to see it again.

However, when I first heard about the film, I was more than a bit sceptical, and from talking to friends and colleagues, I know that is a pretty common feeling. So, I hope this might reassure you. You really should go and see The Lego Movie; preferably with kids aged 7+, but if you don’t have any of those, go anyway.

The Lego Movie

Isn’t it just another not-very-good CGI animated film for kids?

Nope. Not at all. It is all done in CGI, but it’s been done with love, verve and panache. The animation looks like (an admittedly very good) stop-motion Youtube clip. Characters move jerkily, when there are explosions, it’s not super-smooth and realistic flames, but flickering Lego pieces that look like torches.

The film is directed by the same team who made the fantastic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and their creativity and originality has been brought into The Lego Movie. There are jokes hidden in every frame. They have (literally?!) created worlds within worlds here, with layers of jokes and visual references that will reward eagle eyes (with a pause button). It’s like the richness you get from an Aardman film, but even better…

OK, but what sort of weak story have they shoe-horned in…?

This is the really great bit. I’m keeping this review (for once) spoiler-free, as there is a significant development later in the film that caught me almost completely by surprise, and in a really, really good way.

The plot revolves around Emmet Brickowski, an everyman character in Lego World, who does everything he’s told by the detailed instructions he has for How to Live an Awesome Life. He’s in construction (obviously!) and thinks he’s living the dream. But then he meets a mysterious woman with amazing hair, and a Wizard-figure who tell him that he is The Special, and he has to save the Lego Universe using the Piece of Resistance to stop the evil Lord Business and his ultimate weapon, the Kragle. His quest then involves a misfit collection of characters including Batman, Uni-Kitty, Wonder Woman, Abraham Lincoln and a 1980s Space Guy.

I know, doesn’t that sound AWESOME?!?!

Really?! Please tell me what’s good about that…

  • It’s The Matrix made even better in Lego. The whole quest is a brilliant parody of that seminal sci-fi classic, with Emmet taking the part of Keanu Reeves’ Neo. Except Emmet has much, much more depth and range to him than Mr Reeves. And this film doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the Wachowskis do. If only Phil Lord & Chris Miller could have been involved in The Matrix sequels…
  • The visual slapstick comedy is amazing. The way Lego can be endlessly assembled and re-assembled is exploited to the full, to such an extent that it’s impossible to pick up on all the fabulous details in every scene.
  • It’s way cleverer than I expected. There are all sorts of riffs on consumer culture, including ridiculously expensive coffee.
  • The references and details go well beyond The Matrix… Batman is a clear parody of Christian Bale’s uber-serious Dark Knight, who claims “I only ever work in black, or sometimes very, very dark grey” and has written a song whose lyrics consist mainly of him shouting “DARKNESS … NO PARENTS”. Perhaps my favourite of them all is the 1980s Space-Guy, with scuffed and chipped helmet, and a child-like excitement for building spaceships that almost exactly mirrored my childhood 30+ years ago…

Fine, but isn’t just a great big product placement exercise…?

Well, of course it is. The clue is in the name. But I Reckon the real strength of The Lego Movie (even more than all the surface-features I’ve already mentioned) is that it does a great job of capturing the spirit of playing with Lego, which is all about imagination and creativity, breaking up the original (by-the-instructions) model, throwing in different sets together and building something unique… then breaking that up and starting again.

I’ve written before about some of Lego’s more recent developments coming pre-packaged with social and gender norms. Many of the licensed sets from superheroes to Harry Potter are designed to create one very specific model, and the parts are increasingly intricate. Even though we buy those sets to recreate the Harry Potter world rather than to build our own, The Lego Movie seems to be explicitly encouraging people permission to ‘mess around’ with those sets, almost (IMHO) as if the The Lego People have rediscovered the original joy and self-expression that their ‘brick-based systems’ enable…

And if I haven’t convinced you thus far, there’s no hope for you. Let me finish with the lyrics from the awesome Everything is Awesome!!! song that plays over the end-credits…

Blue skies, bouncy springs,
We just named you awesome things
A nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome, EVERYTHING!!!

Dogs and fleas, allergies, a book of Greek antiquities
Brand new pants, a very old vest
Awesome items are the best…

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…or, in actual fact, it’s not.

What is it about businesses that they seem determined reduce everything to groups of three? Three core strategies, the top three business priorities, three-letter-acronyms (TLAs)… even the buzzwords they use to talk about keeping things simple are in threes; “fewer, bigger, better”.

I don’t believe this is a fundamental human behavioural trait: indeed, more often than not humans have a tendency to reduce issues to a simple binary: man or woman, gay or straight, freedom-fighter or terrorist, when in fact there’s almost certainly a continuum or sliding scale. It is, as Ben Goldacre asserts, a bit more complicated than that.

BUT WAIT! LOOK WHAT I DID – I GAVE YOU THREE EXAMPLES OF BINARY DISTINCTIONS! WOW!

complicated

This isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s been present through pretty much every company I’ve worked for or with in the past 20 years. But I will say that it feels like something that is on the increase. Companies spend an awful lot of time talking about how they present the results of their marketing and other activity to their Executive Boards. Let me reiterate – they spend time (and money) discussing how they present their results internally; not actually doing things differently or better to improve their business performance, not even discussing what they could do to improve their business performance.

They can be obsessed with reducing the entire sum of their activities, often encompassing millions of pounds of expenditure and the behaviour of thousands or even millions of consumers, to three key numbers. Apparently it is essential to keep things as simple as possible, so the Executive Board have a really clear picture of what’s important. So we reduce the collective brain-power, imagination & creativity of whole departments of highly-paid staff to three numbers on a Powerpoint slide. Because apparently the Executive Board aren’t capable of handling anything more complicated than that.

Really?

Are the Executive Board of Directors, supposedly among the most able in their respective functions, the best leaders of their people, the most commercially or strategically aware, really unable to cope with anything more complex than three key numbers?

I Reckon that’s either wilfully negligent or woefully incompetent. In reducing the entire sum of their business to a trite set of so-called KPIs, they will almost certainly misunderstand or miss entirely the nuanced reality of increasingly fragmented and complicated relationships between brands and consumers, and the roles of different communication channels. The Executive Board are in charge of serious and complex businesses, responsible for the livelihoods of up to thousands of employees, agencies and suppliers, not to mention shareholders. And yet within their teams, people often spend as long re-inventing the wheel, re-presenting what they re-presented last year, simply to find a new way of saying the same thing, when in fact they should be working on what would make things better, what could really make a difference.

stone wheel

I recently attended a presentation by Kevin Beatty, CEO of the Daily Mail Media Group. Those of you familiar with my views on his parent company’s politics and approach to its so-called journalism (sic) might be forgiven for wondering how and why I didn’t spontaneously explode. However, I was (begrudgingly) struck by the clarity of his business thought and how his company has adapted to the changing media and digital landscape.

He asserted that (I’m paraphrasing)…

…it can be a big mistake to constantly attempt to simplify everything in business. The world is complex and we have to acknowledge that we cannot know everything. We have to learn to live with constantly shifting sands, with ambiguity, and with uncertainty.

The world is complicated: understanding it takes time and effort. Trying to force-fit it into a Powerpoint template or fixed 5-slide presentation does everyone a disservice.

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The problems of measuring the effectiveness of business activity have long since been apparent. Since the 19th century and greater mass distribution and the beginnings of mass communications and advertising, it’s become more difficult, something that was not lost on either/both John Wanamaker in the US, or William Lever in the UK, both of whom have been attributed with the maxim

I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but the trouble is I don’t know which half…

In the 1960s William Bruce Cameron, an American Sociologist, first coined another seminal phrase

It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do.
However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

But today it seems we live in a world where the media like to reduce complex issues to their most simplistic, where League Tables are all-important, and politicians live (and die) on policy-by-sound-bite. A pithy, punchy statistic is worth more than nuanced arguments that acknowledge the inter-dependence between issues or subtleties within an analysis.

My daughters’ primary school recently experienced an inspection by OFSTED. The previous inspection a couple of years ago had been classed as satisfactory. That report highlighted lots of positive aspects about the school, including comments from parents and children, about how they liked going to school, that the atmosphere was friendly and supportive, and that the school was well on the way to improving its rating to good.

Since then, there has been a change within the Department of Education. Just weeks before taking up his appointment as the new Chief Inspector of Schools in January 2012, Sir Michael Wilshaw said

If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you will know you are doing something right.

Really… that’s not a style of effective management I’ve ever had recommended to me.

The most recent OFSTED report on our primary school has felt the full force of the changing framework and moving goalposts for school inspections. Before I get started on this, let me say that I am in many ways delighted with some of the tough lessons the school management has had to learn in recent weeks: there are clear areas for improvement and I’m already confident that they are addressing them.

But the report has changed in tone, style and format. The grading ‘satisfactory’ has been renamed as ‘requires improvement’. Its opening lines are not accentuating the positive; quite the reverse. Lest anyone be in the slightest doubt, its opening gambit is

This is not a good school…

…by which it means the official OFSTED rating of ‘good’. But don’t try telling me they don’t know exactly what they’re doing…

The report focuses in the starkest terms on what OFSTED regards as the failings and shortcomings in the school. Positive comments and recent improvements are noted, but almost in passing. Many positive aspects of the school that seemed valuable 2-3 years ago don’t even feature.

There seems to be an enormous focus on management systems, data and measurement, as though they’re only interested in the things that can be measured and quantified, such as “what’s the absentee rate among children with SEN? how has that changed since last year?”  I’m not saying this isn’t important, in fact it’s probably a hygiene factor, and the school’s weakness in this respect is to me an annoyance, an unnecessary distraction. It needs fixing, but it should never have been a problem.

Because now the OFSTED report about my daughters’ school is online and official, and it doesn’t read well. I know that it doesn’t reflect our full experience of the school and omits all sorts of positive elements. But new or prospective parents don’t know that: the OFSTED report is a major influence on what they think. All the positive word of mouth and community goodwill can only go so far.

In the same way as children are tutored to pass the grammar school entrance tests, schools are now focusing, at least in the short-term, on data-capturing and reporting. I hope it does improve the outcomes, I genuinely do. But I’m not especially confident.

During the last General Election campaign, David Cameron pledged to drive the education system to do more teaching and less testing. But I Reckon he’s achieved the opposite. SAT tests appear ever more important, league tables are still published in most major newspapers as the be-all-and-end-all for parents to judge their schools. My younger daughter was tested on her phonics aged just 6, despite all sorts of evidence against that approach.

Phonics testing cartoon

There is more testing and measurement now, and on pre-defined criteria that are not always based on the weight of evidence, but on a political agenda. Moreover, this testing starts sooner, such that we could soon be testing and grading our children from a very early age, when they develop differently with different types of intelligence and skills. We could marginalise those who do not match the profile of what Michael Gove regards as a Model Pupil; rigidly academic, with a prescriptive curriculum, based on facts and memory.

I Reckon a one-size-fits-all set of criteria for measuring children is flawed, and the current obsession with quantifying and counting everything is at best imperfect and at worst could suppress children’s personalities and creativity. I’m no expert, but Sir Ken Robinson is, so if you I haven’t convinced you, maybe he can.

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Important Notice

Just in case you were confused, while this blog post refers extensively to the journey of the Olympic Torch around the UK, to the 2012 Olympic Games and to previous games, I am in no way associated with those games. I am NOT an official sponsor, nor do I hope to profit in any way from the Olympic Games, except to be thrilled, uplifted and inspired by my fellow humans running faster, jumping higher, being stronger.

Olympic Torch 2012 Cirencester

Back in May, when the Olympic torch started its journey around the UK, I was fairly cynical. I was looking forward to the games being hosted here in the UK. I am very proud for our country. But  there were lots of things that didn’t feel right, and in some ways, when I went to see the torch come through Cirencester, I was right.

1. The presence of sponsors was significant and distracting: flags and buses, brightly-dressed staff handing out stuff and whooping the crowds up. It seemed as though it was more about them and how brilliant they were than anything to do with the Olympics, and definitely felt a bit uncomfortable to me, but on the other hand, noone else seemed that bothered. At the start of this there was a great deal of press attention about torch-carriers being asked to pay for their torch, then selling them on eBay. At the time my reaction was “whatever”, and it appears I was not alone.

2. There have been some very odd commercial decisions about ‘celebrity’ torch-bearers. I applaud the use of athletes alongside local celebrities and especially ‘ordinary’ people nominated by their communities. But in Taunton, will.i.am carried the torch. Forgive me, but (a) he’s not from round here, (b) he’s got nothing to do with sport, (c) he’s only in this country because he’s paid to be a TV show host…
My reaction to this is unchanged 2 months on: how would you feel if you’d nominated your mum who’s been a lollipop lady for 50 years and she missed out to will.i.am (with all due respect to Mr .am)? I know why these decisions were made, I just don’t like them much.

3. For all the slick commercialism, the communications on the afternoon were pretty ramshackle. It was a gorgeous hot day (perhaps the last one until this week!), but noone seemed to know what was going on. The torch was apparently running late, but the buzz in the crowd ranged from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. The elderly ladies next to me were getting tired standing for so long in the heat. Noone seemed to know exactly why it was late. Some said it was Didier Drogba in Swindon who delayed things, others just shrugged. Either way, despite the hoards of staff, noone told the crowds anything.

4. Money definitely talks. The restrictions on official sponsors and logos has been astonishing. This exclusivity seems utterly in conflict with the inclusive, universal ambitions of Pierre de Coubertin in this post’s title.

Again, I can understand the aims of these sponsors who have supported the Games with millions of pounds, but the more recent guidelines about the use of language, serving of chips within the Olympic Park and so on are all pretty laughable/unnerving. Luckily, Oddbins are trying to see the funny side.

Oddbins 2012 advert

HOWEVER, the afternoon I spent in Cirencester was enormously uplifting, and reinvigorated my faith in the Olympic Games, held deep from childhood, and why I am twitching like an excited boy waiting for Christmas and the promise of a new bike.

1. The community spirit on display was immense. Apparently 8,000 turned out in Cirencester, roughly equivalent to 50% of the town’s population, or at least a quarter of the local catchment area. The (Grand)Mothers’ Union were set up in the Church porch, distributing free tea and cold drinks to anyone who wanted them on that scorching hot afternoon.

2. The kids were all given the afternoon off school. I feel certain they will remember that day in a way they’ll never remember the final of X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. This mattered, and will live on as An Important Event.

3. Cirencester’s not the most diverse community in the UK, but there were all generations and all classes out on that afternoon, and not just because they had been given the afternoon off and it was sunny.

4. When the torch finally arrived, there was genuine excitement right through the crowd, which had nothing to do with the sponsors’ promotional staff clapping their hands or playing upbeat music over a tannoy from their mega-bus. In Cirencester marketplace we saw a paralympic athlete in a wheelchair, who had been preceded by a teenager. It did feel like everyone mattered and that, for today at least, we weren’t cheering reality TV stars. When the sponsors’ “caravan” arrived, it did remind me of the Tour de France (which, despite my deep love, is also pretty much all about the sponsors) with a big lift for the crowds, then a genuine buzz as it flies past for a few brief seconds.

Some of the most iconic moments from my life have been about the Olympics..

I can’t wait for the 2012 Olympic Games to start.

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Design agencies must be having a field day this year. Just as the nation waits for major events on which to launch a branding bandwagon, two come along at once. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee has seen an outburst of media and marketing patriotism, at least in the multitude of ‘limited edition’ pack designs that have adorned our shelves. Everything from toilet paper to dishwasher tablets, from ‘Queensmill‘ bread to Tate & Lyle Syrup becoming ‘Hope & Glory‘; apparently nothing is too mundane or irrelevant to borrow the mood of the nation for its own ends.

Daimond Jubilee Brand Packaging BritKat Maamite Digestives

Not all of them are terrible…

And in a few weeks, the 2012 London Olympics start, only with much, much tighter marketing and branding rules. From exclusivities on confectionery, soft drinks, fast food and even cashpoint machines, this is properly a corporate operation which is deadly serious and has billions of pounds at stake. But even that hasn’t stopped non-sponsor brands from trying to muscle in on the Olympic action, ‘acquiring’ sporting athletic values for themselves despite everything.

Subway Olympics Ad 2012

Poor in almost every way…

I Reckon just about the single greatest piece of marketing to (re)position a brand by borrowing imagery from sports is the stunning ad campaign by Ogilvy & Mather for Lucozade in the mid 1980s. Originating more than 50 years earlier, Lucozade was a drink designed as a source of energy to help children recover from illness, and it had always been marketed in that way. It was something that mums bought when their children got poorly. It came in a big glass bottle with a cellophane wrap. It was bright orange in a way that suggested there were no real oranges in the product.

Daley Thompson is one of the UK’s (if not the world’s) greatest ever athletes. Four-time world record holder in the Decathlon, he also won two Olympic Gold medals, as well as the World and European Championships. Competing in 10 different disciplines over 2 days, his sport is as tough as it gets, and he was the best.

Shortly after his second Olympic success at Los Angeles in 1984, Daley Thompson became the new face for Lucozade. I remember watching this ad that started with the traffic lights and the introduction to an Iron Maiden song “Phantom of the Opera” from their fairly obscure first album, and Daley Thompson training on some track in the middle of nowhere. In my teens I had an ‘Iron Maiden phase’, and I loved this track. What was it doing in an advert?! For Lucozade!?

This campaign repositioned Lucozade from a medicine for tired and poorly children (and their mothers) to a fuel for athletes. “Aiding Recovery” became “Replacing Lost Energy”. This was a product for grown-ups, for healthy people, for athletic people, for men. It was no longer a sign of illness or weakness, but a sign of personal strength. And what better personification of that strength than Daley Thompson? For good measure, the voiceover at the end of the ad is by Des Lynam, at that time the BBC’s flagship sports presenter. And in purely executional terms, it’s about as far from their adverts of the 1970s as it’s possible to be.

In one ad campaign Lucozade invented the energy drinks market, which is now worth over $7bn in the US and £1bn in the UK alone. In the few years following this repositioning, its UK sales more than trebled as people who had never considered the product started adopting it in droves.

lucozade

A long way from a bedside drink for poorly children

Lucozade took on a new role that now is completely understood, but at the time was revolutionary. To achieve such a leap in people’s minds it clearly needed help, so it borrowed Daley Thompson. If anyone needed to replace lost energy, he was the man. He was exactly the sort of person who needed Lucozade, we just hadn’t realised it until then. This was a landmark campaign that enabled Lucozade to extend its presence into countless sports and even music festivals. I really doubt if anything we see this year will deliver even a fraction of that achievement.

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More than 50 years ago the great American broadcaster Edward R Murrow declared that television (not religion) was becoming the opium of the people. He despaired at the passivity of viewers and the poor quality of programming.

A lot of mainstream media attention today focuses on what it sees as the banality of social media chatter, about LOLZ and OMG and videos of cats, and how the internet demeans us as a species. But I Reckon it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cat video, and this is an outstanding cat video (or at least, a video about cat videos).

But instead of caring how many followers I have, my social media experiences are now about self-expression and wanting other people to recognise that. Why on earth would anyone write a blog except for attention, approval and recognition? I love it when someone I respect retweets me. Only a few days ago the excellent film critic Nigel Floyd replied to a witty comment I’d made on one of his posts (at least I thought it was witty, and it must have at least piqued his interest!).

We all want to be liked, and social media now provides with ample means to get the ‘positive strokes’ we might need. See how funny I can be tweeting on #cheesefilms or while watching #BBCQT. See how clever I am in my blog posts and film reviews. Look! I’m following really hip/cool/clever people and I can share/plagiarise their thoughts. Look at my beautiful pictures on Instagram, cast your eyes in wonder over my lovely Pinterest boards…

(I’m not on Pinterest, but the rest of those are true)

westonbirt arboretum blossoms instagram

Look, filtered and everything!

Getting affirmation from the twitterati or from friends and colleagues is great fun, and it becomes almost addictive. I’m disappointed if I post something on this blog only to find barely anyone reads it (IDIOTS! They don’t know what they’re missing!). Contrary to appearances these things don’t write themselves. But I come back again for more, because the dopamine effect I get when it does ‘work’ is a fantastic feeling. And

I’ve written about that ‘high’ some more on my company’s very excellent marketing blog here.

Of course, social attention-seeking can backfire on the vain…

A few weeks ago I was notified that I was being followed by @rolandjoffe, the famous film director of some outstanding Oscar-winning films, especially The Mission and The Killing Fields. This came as quite a surprise, and I kind of fell for it. I followed his account without checking much, only to receive a Direct Message hours later…

roland joffe tweet

Hmmmm…

On further inspection it seems that Mr Joffe rarely, if ever, tweets. I was followed (almost certainly) not by him, but by production staff, or studio marketing interns seeking out people who tweet about films a lot. It was nothing personal, purely a marketing strategy. I could and probably should have guessed that in advance. But then that’s the power of the dopamine…

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Occasionally I get exercised to write about stuff I don’t like. These posts are rarely about things I didn’t like beforehand, but almost always where I’ve been disappointed, most signficantly by someone or something whom I had previously respected, trusted or admired.

Marketing is often a mission to manage expectations. Does the product match up against the claims of your concept or advertising? Apparently  Terence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life attracted significant audiences last year among people who saw Brad Pitt feature strongly in the trailer, but then who left after barely 20 minutes, aghast by Malick’s beautiful but arthouse meditations on the creation of life and the nature of what is divine (and the relative lack of Brad Pitt).

Lego is surely one of the greatest brands of all time. For over 60 years these plastic bricks have entertained and inspired children of all ages all over the world. Iconic in the extreme, it has succeeded in also reinventing itself and moving with the times. Having introduced Space Lego in the 1970s shortly after the Star Wars movie phenomenon and before the real-life Space Shuttle, there are now themed Lego sets for virtually every major film franchise; in fact, it would be almost unthinkable for a studio to ignore Lego merchandising. As a company, Lego is flying. Its last full year report (2010) declared revenue and profits up over 30% vs 2009, and the first half of 2011 continued that sort of growth.

Lego is universal, simple and timeless. It has no language barriers, or even issues of sex, class or development. All it requires is imagination to create, build, rebuild and tell stories. I loved it as a child, and my daughters love it now. As I type this they are creating their own narratives using Harry Potter Lego characters and buildings. Hannah has built a new flying ship out of Hagrid’s hut, and there’s a lot of head-switching between the Death Eaters and the Weasley family.

Lego for girls advert 1970s

This Lego ad from a generation ago sums it up perfectly. Anyone can build anything, and it can represent whatever they want it to. Hannah loves both her Lego technic kits which she can now almost rebuild without the instructions to create helicopters and bulldozers and her Harry Potter sets, which are endlessly demolished and restyled to suit today’s ideas.

Lego is cool without having to try to be cool. It’s been used in street art, features in countless spoof Youtube clips, including this beautifully observed version of Summer Nights, and of course, that Eddie Izzard routine. Perhaps most famously(?), the award-wining director Michel Gondry used Lego to transform The White Stripes…

All of which makes my groan of disappointment more heartfelt when I see stories like this one. Not content with their brand being timeless and sexless and perfect in almost every way, the maestros at Lego have evidently done some (too much?!) research that says girls don’t like Lego enough, because they also play with Polly Pocket and Barbie and Bratz.

So, no doubt targeting some unpleasant measure like “share of playroom occasions”, the Lego people have launched Lego Friends, a depressing copycat against all those other brands that try to tap into girls’ modes of play in which relationships and sharing are all important (as opposed to boys who build things and blow them up). Do they not realise that Lego does this already? With film characters and generic scenarios (farms, cities, homes), Lego already fulfils everything a child’s imagination needs to run riot. It lets my daughters plan wedding parties for Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, as well as fight battles against dragons and Death Eaters.

You don't need to to this. I don't care what the research says. It's wrong.

Apparently not… now girls can have their ‘own’ Lego ‘Friends’, who ignore the timeless, genderless qualities of the brand, who ignore the brand’s differentiation through simplicity, instead opting for stereotypical clichés that already exist from floor to ceiling in practically every aisle of most toy stores. Instead of appealing to the imagination inside every boy and girl, these new ranges appeal to constricting cultural ‘norms’ in which young girls are assumed to want to be teenagers, in which their toys leap from being babies (dolls) to teens with breasts and makeup and low self-esteem, and in which the world-view horizons are crushingly mundane. Can they go no further than the Shopping Mall or pet shop? Is this Lego’s failure to inspire us, or a sad indictment of our own failure to inspire our children?

And in amongst all this Lego has created a rod for its own back. By making these Friends so stultifyingly contemporary, they will be forced to update them with every shift in technology and fashion. “Your Lego ‘Emma’ has only got a 1st Generation iPad… LOSER”.

Lego has disappointed me, in many different ways.

  • This campaign is reactionary, defensive and weak, and seems to betray a lack of confidence in its own magnificence.
  • It’s unnecessary, utterly avoidable: their products and brands are fabulous and always have been
  • They’ve reduced themselves to a lowest common denominator. Other brands go for the fashion route because they have to, because they don’t have what Lego has. This will be short-term and forgettable. Lego will endure and thrive.

Last summer we had a family trip for my daughter’s birthday to Legoland at Windsor. I was at least partly dreading it, because I get nauseous when companies try to sell me a bottle of water for £3.50 or photos from a ride for £12. It was busy, but it was terrific. The Lego landscapes are fantastic and there are brilliant adaptations of the Lego philosophy into real experiences: you can drive a Lego Fire Engine and control a Digger. There are Lego castles and trains. Even the Lego shops are brilliantly stocked with hard-to-find sets. It is a terrific day out.

Lego Helicopter

Hannah's 9th Birthday: the helicopter with a millionairess pilot. She thought of that idea by herself. Who needs Lego Friends?

I love Lego. I have a Lego Indiana Jones figure keyring, which should say pretty much everything about my relationship with the brand. But this, Lego Friends, is depressing, demeaning and so, so disappointing. In true parenting style I shall try to ignore such bad behaviour, and reward their otherwise fantastic behaviour with all the other sets my daughters love to play with, every day, every week.

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