Lego, the Danish toymaker, first entered the Chinese market in the 1980s and has since grown to 140 stores across 35 cities, but with plans to expand its retail estate to 220 stores by the end of this year it recognises it must adapt to local tastes.

“Unlike people in developed markets like the United States and Europe, people in China didn’t grow up with Lego bricks,” Paul Huang, GM of Lego China, told Campaign Asia-Pacific for its “brand health check” series of articles.

“The brand affinity of Lego is still comparatively low … we need to connect with more children and parents,” he added.

To do so, Lego is placing great emphasis on in-store and digital play experiences, with the underlying message that this enables families to spend quality time together.

“At our Lego flagship store in Beijing, the design of the store shows strong bonds with local culture and tradition with iconic builds, such as giant eaves inspired by the Forbidden City (made of 2.2 million Lego bricks), scenes of the Great Wall and traditional Chinese-style sedan chairs, as well as models of guardian lions and mosaics of a guardian dragon,” said Huang.

In addition to these Chinese-themed, hands-on experiences, Lego has been active building its brand online – most notably through its partnership with Chinese tech giant Tencent, one of the biggest mobile game developers in the world.

According to Campaign, this partnership has worked well, with a Lego Video Zone platform already gaining more than a billion views. “Digital is an exciting opportunity to supplement and enhance the Lego play experience … not as a replacement or a competition,” Huang explained.

A third element of its strategy involves play and education. Despite embarrassment over the closure of its branded education centres at the end of last year following differences with its local partners, Lego has found more success with a multi-channel campaign that highlights the benefits of playtime for children.

Discussions asking “what’s the use of play” took place over social media platforms, such as Weibo and Tencent-owned WeChat that cleverly appealed to Chinese parents to allow their children an occasional break from their studies.

Sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific, South China Morning Post; additional content by WARC staff