LEGO CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp has been talking to news channel CNCB regarding the companies plans for China ahead of the opening of their first factory their in 2017. He told them that the country offers “a unique opportunity for growth,” claiming that his firm is well-positioned to become the country’s number one toy brand.
LEGO according to CNCB face challenges after facing criticism over how they handled the issue with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with critics accusing the company of not wanting to wrong-foot the Chinese government. However Knudstrop said “We’ve seen people building concentration camps out of Lego and pictures of the Prophet Muhammad.”
“We noticed a huge sensitivity to so-called ‘political topics’ and in this case one of our staff members in Australia found the purpose suggested by Ai Weiwei was too sensitive and so the order was refused,” he added.
LEGO is aware it needs to bridge cultural divides to gain market share in China. A key part of the long term appeal for western parents is its educational value. However, the concept of “learning through play” isn’t so well-established in China.
In a bid to change attitudes, the LEGO Foundation is pouring millions of Danish krone into research focusing on the cognitive benefits of play. The foundation funds “LEGO professors” and is partnering with a leading Chinese university “to support creativity and play in Chinese schools,” according to a press release in January
As part of companies plans to grow sales in China and Japan, it’s also updated its play kits to include more Asian characters and settings. Its revamped it “Ninjago” range – featuring dragons, ninjas and a tea-drinking sage. However one thing they need to tackle is the counterfeit and clone brands that is wide spread in China, who’s copyright laws are nothing like countries where LEGO have been established for decades. If anything is going to effect LEGO making a mark in the country, this will be their biggest challenge.