If you’ve ever stepped on a Lego block in bare feet, you’ll have known real pain. The little plastic bricks are a rare product – more dangerous to adults than children.
This week, is it the turn of the Daily Mail to grip the nearest radiator in confused agony, only one unmaimed foot on the floor? I ask, because Lego responded to a social media campaign and pulled its adverts and future sponsorship from the ‘hate-filled’ pro-Brexit Mail.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling morally queasy reading the news in some of our tabloids this year, but reflections on that are for a different forum. This article’s concerned with what this eye-catching episode tells us about ‘the media’.
Well, which media? At one level, it’s a test of strength between newish social media and traditional media.
The Mail is an immensely powerful media unit. It is commonly thought that an aspiring prime minister can’t hold office without either winning over the Mail, or at least securing its indifference. Its circulation and online reader figures put more cerebral titles in the shade, here and in the US.
Manufacturers of consumer goods mostly don’t take on such power – or wouldn’t have before the advent of social media, where many millions of people can call you out for keeping bad company.
Lego has given away free samples with copies of the Mail before; no more. Lego’s image is, more than ever, all about diversity, play, creativity and family life. That doesn’t sit well with recent headline stories. (‘SEND IN ARMY TO HALT MIGRANT INVASION’, is one of my personal unfavourites.)
But the Mail is hardly a recent convert to some of these views, famously saying similar things about Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
Why now? Social media can be used to put huge pressure on a brand – here contrasting the values of the Mail and Lego’s declared values created a danger of ‘contagion’ for Lego.
But this is also a story about allies. Lego’s decision has earned it countless retweets and Facebook updates – the majority in favour of its decision. Pictures, memes and videos are all circulating.
It has also got coverage in the traditional media, many of whom resent the Mail’s success as much as its views.
Lego, of course, broke the news by tweeting its decision: ‘We have finished the agreement with the Daily Mail and are not planning any future promotional activity with the newspaper.’
Whether the Mail cares will depend on whether other advertisers follow suit. Though it’s worth noting that one of the less-known aspects of the newspaper world is that high-minded broadsheets are far more dependent on advertising to survive than bigger-circulation tabloids. The latter generate far more from copies sold, and so can face down such pressure – commercially at least.
Still, Lego’s a product that attracts huge affection and its perceived values, strengthened by this decision, give it moral and emotional authority. That leaves the Mail, for now, stood on one leg and hurting.