In one of the more unlikely corporate disputes we can remember, Lego has fallen out with Spinal Tap. The spoof rockers wanted the toymaker’s permission to use a clip of the band as Lego characters (playing the classic ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight’) in their new DVD, but Lego has refused – apparently because they think the song’s too rude for their target customer. You can see why Lego might think this is a brand extension too far – but are they missing out on the opportunity to market their wares to an even bigger audience? We could have had a Lego ‘Stonehenge’ gift set…
The clip was originally created by a 14-year-old rejoicing in the name Coleman Hickey (whose 42,000 Lego brick collection leads us to suspect that he doesn’t have a girlfriend) and became a YouTube sensation. It amassed a huge following among Spinal Tap fans (among whom we number ourselves), and the ‘band’ themselves liked it so much that they used the video on stage during their ‘Unwigged and Unplugged’ tour earlier this year. Lego didn’t object to any of that, but drew the line when the Tap wanted to release an anniversary DVD containing footage of the tour.
A spokeswoman for Lego systems told the New York Times that although it relished customers’ creativity with its products, it felt the ‘inappropriate language’ and ‘tone’ of the video wasn’t right for its target demographic of kids between the ages of 6 and 12. In other words, the sweary antics and general rudeness of the Tap are not best suited for pre-teens who think Hannah Montana is the coolest person on earth. However, it hasn’t asked for the clip to be taken down from YouTube (where it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times), because it’s a ‘less commercial’ use. So taking their bricks in vain is one thing; making money out of it is another thing entirely.
You can see their point – and it clearly isn’t immune to the power of social media or the attractions of viral marketing, or it would have banned the clip altogether. But focusing exclusively on 6-12 year olds to the exclusion of all else does seem a little short-sighted. This would have been a bit of free publicity for Lego, giving them access to thousands of Spinal Tap fans around the world who might be labouring under the misapprehension that Lego has no place in spoof rock videos. Besides, we can’t imagine too many tweenies either watching the Spinal Tap DVD, or being so disgusted by the song that they’d boycott Lego for the rest of their childhood.
Then again, given the amount of publicity this copyright refusal has attracted, we suppose Lego’s marketing people are laughing either way...
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