LEGO Launches U.K. Online Campaign

Toy manufacturer LEGO again is turning to the Internet, this time in an effort to promote an upcoming Web-linked set of its building-block products in the U.K.

To handle the online portion of the campaign, the Billund, Denmark-based company tapped interactive agency Digital Outlook, which specializes in work for entertainment and gaming brands, such as Sega.

The campaign for Spybotics — a game that involves building miniature LEGO “Spybot” robots. controlling them with a PC, and sharing results via the Web — is aimed at reaching 9 to 12 year-old boys. In a prelude to the product’s launch on Monday — and in advance of upcoming television, out-of-home and print work debuting later in the year — the company began launching online “teasers” last month.

The “teaser” effort centered around interactive “bots” in Habbo Hotel, a U.K.-based 3D online environment for teens. In the weeks leading up to the product’s launch, London-based Digital Outlook placed two “bots” in the environment to spread clues about the upcoming game.

This month, the campaign is planned to go into full swing, with static, animated and Macromedia Flash banners going up on sites including Granada Media’s CiTV community site, Cartoon Network, and Fox Kids. The buy also includes DHTML “takeover” ads on a number of sites.

Billboards will be posted throughout the Habbo Hotel virtual environment, encouraging users to visit spybotics.com. LEGO Spybotics also will be promoted in Habbo newsletters and on its homepage.

“This campaign allows us to target the audience we’re aiming at very specifically,” said LEGO Brand Manager Pierre Dadd. “The details of LEGO Spybotics are top secret until nearer the release date, so we want to create buzz and excitement with the teaser activity before launching into the more comprehensive campaign at the beginning of August.”

Additionally, LEGO plans to distribute a streaming video email to 20,000 children who have opted-in to receive offers from Habbo Hotel. The mailing will feature the product’s TV commercial, which is slated for launch in October.

The main campaign buy also includes inventory in children and family areas on AOL Time Warner, AOL Europe and Tiscali. In addition to ads seeking to drive traffic to spybotics.com, LEGO gave merchandise to sites including kids-oriented trading site SwapItShop, which will then offer the products as part of promotional contests.

Various parts of the campaign will run through the holiday season, though the bulk of the media is centered around the next few months.

“It’s quite a long campaign, but this is the critical period now, which we call the ‘pester period’ when kids pester their parents for new toys in the months leading up to Christmas,” said Digital Outlook Operations Director Maurice Wheeler.

Spending was not disclosed in the effort, but sources close to the campaign say it’s comprising a large part of LEGO’s estimated six-figure spend on the Spybotics launch, due to the fact that much of the company’s target audience spends a significant amount of time online.

The online effort is probably even larger than most other LEGO launches, Wheeler said, owing to the nature of the product.

“It’s very driven by going online to download new missions and the spybotics Web site is very key to whole proposition of the product,” he said. “You can create your own missions and upload them and swap them on the Web site. The site is a key element, so obviously, if you’ve got kids online, they’re going to be a key market.”

The new campaign reprises an effort launched by LEGO in the U.S. last year. For that work, the toy manufacturer tapped U.S. interactive shop Organic — now a unit of Omnicom Group’s Seneca arm — to handle a targeted campaign around the holiday season for its “Star Wars” and “Bionicle” product lines.

Last year, in addition to takeover and large-sized executions on portal sites, Organic brokered a deal in connection with Sony Corp.’s “Star Wars Galaxies” video game, in which LEGO’s properties would be promoted in ads preceding and following streaming media clips from the title.

Such efforts point to the relative strength of Internet media for marketers of kids-oriented brands — especially games. The major video game advertisers routinely spend large portions of their budgets in online and offline trade buys, while Microsoft reportedly spent millions promoting the XBox online and in cross-media deals with partners like SoBe and Taco Bell.

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