LEGO City and Friends: Collaborating with National Geographic

The LEGO Group’s City and Friends marketing pros explain what the collaboration with National Geographic is all about

During the distanced LEGO Fan Media Days 2020, City Marketing Director Anders Hamilton Heidemann and Friends Marketing Director Costas Syrmos present the new campaign that sees the LEGO Group and National Geographic inspiring children with stories of those working with nature around the world.

“What you have seen over the last couple of years is that we have been partnering with National Geographic primarily on content, on campaigns that were loosely related to the sets,” Anders begins. “We sort of changed that last year when we started up the partnership with NASA … when we did Space sets and we had quite a lot of meetings with NASA to get those icons in the right manner. We wanted to take that to the next level also with National Geographic.

“We have had this partnership with National Geographic for the last couple of years but we wanted to evolve that to make it much more apparent how we are actually partnering with National Geographic on the model development as well as the stories that we tell.”

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That partnership has focused in the past on volcanoes in City and underwater in Friends. Costas explains where Friends is heading this time around: “Jungle is a returning theme. Jungle was the first pulse theme we did back when Friends started, it was sort of 2012/13 we did Jungle as an additional extension to our Heartlake City story. We are bringing it back this year to celebrate the partnership with Nat Geo. We know that one of the most important passion points for kids is caring for animals so this assortment does exactly that. It represents how the LEGO Friends care for animals in the jungle.”

“Similarly on City you will also know that Ocean is a recurring thing that we do,” Anders adds. “This time around, in partnership with National Geographic, we want to put much more emphasis on the wildlife and particularly some of the endangered species, some of the precious species in the ocean that we have. You will see for example that we have a great white shark that can almost fit a minifigure inside of it … we have a new stingray fish as well, then we have a glow in the dark angler, fish which are only visible in the deepest parts of the ocean.”

While these themes have visited these topics in the past, Anders and Costas are keen to emphasis that this time around, National Geographic explorers have been inspiring the products.

“As we were developing the models, we actually had the opportunity to talk to different National Geographic explorers, to make sure that the models that we developed for the play were as true to real life and as true to mimicking the world that these explorers endeavour in and live in. We got a lot of real cool icons in there, such as what is the type of equipment you need on the big ship to go exploring, to what is in the deep sea base, or what kind of equipment do you need in the jungle?” Anders enthuses.

The inspiration goes both ways though, with the logo for National Geographic emblazoned on the boxes as part of a marketing campaign that aims to encourage children to be curious about the natural world.

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“One of the really important things for us to do is to tell the stories of these explorers,” Anders elaborates. “The wonderful things that they are doing for the world in terms of increasing the understanding of the situation that these animals are in, the habitats that we live in, what we can do to protect them and we wanted to call this out. That’s why when you open the boxes you will find in the building instructions you will find images o0f these scenarios, of these explorers, of the equipment and the animals to inspire the kids to learn more about this.

“It has just been an amazing collaboration we have had throughout the last years with National Geographic and this is really taking it to the next level, being much more true to how we can bring these inspirational stories across.”

Fielding questions, Anders also talks about how the animals were selected for LEGO City: “[Children] appreciate that element either of danger or excitement. We picked the fish that we felt were most attractive for this [audience]. So naturally we needed to have the great white shark in the set, and the great white shark can actually fit a minifigure in its mouth as well, because that’s how we know kids will play it out.”

“From our side, what we are addressing is the idea of nurturing,” Costas continues, referring to Friends. “We know that kids and girls love something about nurturing animals and protecting animals. The whole assortment of the Jungle has been designed with that in mind. So you have clinics, doctor, little stations where the animals can be taken care of … it’s a combination of how do you represent adventure for kids but at the same time caring for [animals]. The animals we have chosen, the panther and the elephant, are based actually on National Geographic stories where explorers came up with innovative solutions around those animals.”

It has long been understood that building is education for children – spatial awareness, problem solving, construction basics… with this enhanced collaboration, they may learn something about the natural world as well.

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Graham was the Editor up until November 2020. He has plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education. Follw Graham on Twitter @grahamh100.

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