It’s a task to balance. How do you engage fans and influencers but also protect your brand? Copyright law is fairly consistent around the world when it says that you must actively protect your brand: If you go after a counterfeiter, then you also must pursue fans using your logos on their fan sites. Of course, you want to encourage fans while protecting your business. The LEGO Group does this well.

Brands Turning Nasty

Promoting a Harry Potter event when you can't use the terminology
Promoting a Harry Potter event when you can’t use the terminology

There have been numerous cases of companies heavy-handedly protecting their brands. The 2000 case of Warner Bros. demanding Harry Potter fan sites hand over their domains became famous after a 15-year-old website owner was reduced to tears. Her father described Warner Bros’ behavior as bullying. After this Warner Bros took a lighter touch with fans and set out an agreement. The fans were given limited use of the names and logos, with an agreement there was no commercial passing off. Fox sent cease and desist orders to Etsy store owners who were knitting and selling hats modeled from the show, Firefly. Disney is also known for its strong-handedness against fans.

How The LEGO Group Protects Its Brand

I’ve just spent 15 minutes trying to find stories of the LEGO Group enforcing copyright on its fans. I can’t. I can find many references to them chasing copycat brick manufacturers but nothing against fans. I’m assuming because they have been proactive working with fans. They definitely have a strong community engagement campaigns.

Brand Guidelines for Fans

The-Lego-Group-Fair-PlayThe cornerstone of this is a style guide for fans. It’s a 13 page Fair Play document explaining exactly what the LEGO Group will and won’t accept. No domains with LEGO in them, no manipulating the logo. Relatively standard items. The document is informative enough to explain what the different legal terms are – great for fans – but strict enough to let fans know they aren’t joking. It even explains the history of the LEGO Group, to give information and stats and bring the fans into the fold.

From what I see, the fans abide by the rules and respect the LEGO Group’s rules. Even the domain is available. , so the LEGO Group hasn’t felt the need to snap up all the domains to stop misuse.

Including the LEGO Community

The other aspect that helps the LEGO Group protect their brand is including the fans in the experience. Conventions, forums, and art abound with fans taking the blocks and using their imaginations. It’s hard for a fan to exploit or damage a brand that they’ve had a hand in building.

BrickCon, Conventions, and User Clubs

In Seattle, each October AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO) converge to show off creations and discover what’s new at BrickCon. Similar fan-run events occur around the World, and the LEGO Group encourages this. It’s all positive PR, drives sales, and doesn’t create extra work or costs. While working with the guidance of the Fair Play brand guidelines, the fans become an unpaid sales force. Recently LEGO Group staff participated in a build contest with AFOL, endorsing the events and building relationships.

The Seattle, four-day event has been running for 15 years now. That’s a lot longer than influencer marketing has been a thing.

Star-Wars-LegoDocumentaries and Fan Art

Several large-scale documentaries have been made by filmmakers (whom I assume are also fans), over the years. A LEGO Brickumentary was released last year and included interviews with LEGO Group staff members, along with fans.

The LEGO Group also makes it easy for anyone to make LEGO movies. There is the stop motion iPad application, which even a small child could use to make their own LEGO movie.

MOCs and LEGO Ideas

The LEGO Group solicits new build ideas from the fans. With LEGO Ideas fans can nominate their original builds (MOCs), and other fans vote to see which are put forward for review. Again, the LEGO Group sets rules (no drugs or guns) and getting the votes only puts the MOC for review but make no promises of what will be released. the LEGO Ideas products are a badge of honor for the designer and celebrated by all.

Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Brand

Lego-HermioneThere’s a lot we can learn from the LEGO Group and how they manage their brand with the fans.

– Set the rules upfront
– Aim for fair – it’s like a family, compromising and all
– Encourage, don’t dictate

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