In Conversation With... Karina Kjærgaard

Videos & Podcasts
Posting date: 20 January 2022

Is Lego building the blocks for a more creative and inclusive world?

Lego is one of the world's most iconic brands, with the simple toy spawning wonderfully creative, critically acclaimed multimedia. So what duty of care does the brand feel it has? We chat to Karina, Senior Communications and Brand Specialist, about how the organisation is structuring campaigns that build for a better future, and question the nature of 'play'.

‍Full episode transcript:

- Welcome to today's "In Conversation With", I'm very lucky to be joined by Karina from Lego in Denmark, Karina, I apologize, I'm not going to try and pronounce your surname. You might have to help me out on that, but you're already a senior brand and communication strategist within The Lego Group. So thank you for taking some time to join me today.

- Thank you for inviting me, so happy to be here.

- So you are part of the a like our group, as I mentioned, your joining us from Denmark, what does a senior brand strategists do within that organization?

- Yeah. So I'm actually right now working as a cultural strategist and it actually means that I'm a specialist on cultural trends and shift and movements that not only impact us as human beings and brands, but also as the future as a whole.

And it is indeed a very, very interesting time to be a cultural strategist because so many shifts are happening right now. And it's the big shift that is happening. It's important shifts if we look into what is happening on the whole diversity and inclusion agenda, sustainability, and actually also just, you know, how creativity and play is
changing roles in our lives.

That is what I'm very much into at the moment.

- Look, I think they're all subjects that we're undoubtedly going to sink our teeth into, but first of all, look, everyone's familiar with Lego. I think that's probably a
safe assumption, especially, it's just one of those toys that everyone had or has, you know, either they played with it as kids, or they're giving it to kids now, or to be perfectly frank, I've got friends who are my age, who have Lego collectibles.

One of my best friends is building a whole street in their house. But when I was a kid, I kind of think Lego was easy to define, but less so now, because not only is Lego a toy, but it's multimedia, it's all these other bits and pieces.

So how would you describe the organization today?

- I think that it's a very, very good question. And I think actually at its core, Lego has always And I think actually at its core, Lego has always and is still the same.

I don't know if you know it, but Lego actually stands for "leg godt" in Danish and that means play well. And that is no matter where you see Lego is popping up. That is what is at the heart of what we about. It's about play.

And I think, it's about play and how play can have a positive impact on our lives in general. I think a big vision is really to make sure that we are a global force of learning
through play is what we call it.

And it's really just that notion around that if you go into stuff and want to learn new stuff, do it with play because that's a risk-free environment to be in and that's where you're curious and just in that moment of, figuring out stuff.

- I think there's maybe a nice message there that you're never too old to play then, you know, even as adults, there's the opportunity to be creative and to play and to learn in that manner.

- Absolutely, and it is important for us also as adults to really keep playing because that's how we learn.

- Yeah, absolutely.

- And I think also at least that's one of the things that the pandemic has also kind of taught me. And in some ways really, you know, being in a stressful environment and being, you know on screen most of the day and stuff like that, it's really nice to actually have a space where you can go back and kind of just unwind and connect with something tangible and play with it.

That's at least that has also been a role of Lego for my life the last one and a half year, I think.

- Just out of interest. Did you play with Lego as a child? I mean, I kind of have this assumption that certainly in the UK, it's kind of everywhere. I assume in Denmark, given it's a Danish brand, it's kind of everywhere.

- Absolutely, I actually, I have a picture in my photo album that goes back from my first Christmas and I'm getting a small box of Duplo. So Lego has been a part of
my life all the way through.

- Looking at the website, right? You state that you want to have a positive impact on the world. And we've started this interview by talking about some pretty big themes, but let's break that down. When you say having a positive impact on the world. How do we actually kind of define that?

- Yeah, I think first and foremost, I think that is just a thing that we are responsible to do. I think it's a Spider-Man quote right? On, you know, which "With great power
comes great responsibility".

- Yeah absolutely.

- And that goes for us as a brand as well. And I think that specific thing that you're referencing here from our website is really all about our Planet Promise and the fact that we want to make sure that the world we live in today, that we hand it over to the kids of tomorrow in the best possible shape.

So through that, we have a lot of different initiatives that we are trying to drive as a brand on that agenda. And one is, for example, of course the bricks are made out of plastic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because it's also a material that has a long lifetime. So it actually also means that you can pass on your pre-loved bricks to someone else that is need of play. So we have a whole program for that.

So that's one of the parts of our sustainability agenda. Another thing that, it's just come out is the fact that we have actually been able to produce the first prototype
bricks that is made out of plastic bottles. So actually taking like one use plastic and translate that into high quality plastic that is actually has a high durability as well. And delivering through the quality that we normally have in our bricks.

So we are on a journey here in getting there. So we are on a journey here in getting there.

- Yeah, no, I think that's interesting because I suppose it says a lot about society today. We all know that like Christ, this week at the time of recording the horrific reports in the Western U.S and Canada of kind of temperatures hitting 49.7 Celsius, I think in British Columbia and not just beating records by a couple of percentage points, but two, three degrees. I mean, it's terrifying.

And you do make reference to the point of the product is plastic and plastic is seen as this evil, I mean, and that we need to reduce those. It's great to hear that
you're thinking about making the bricks out of plastic bottles, but how much do you think people are encouraged to hand it down? And what else is there
in that Planet Promise that do you think that reflect society today?

- I think at least another thing is, I think one of the things that are close to our hearts are really also, children are role models and I think they are really speaking up right now for, we need to make a change for the environment. So that's one of the things and also for equality and making sure that we actually celebrating all of our differences in society in broadest mean, I think that's a part of it as well.

- You're touching on that. Let's talk about that because "Everyone is Awesome", is one of those phrases that probably everyone's familiar with because the success
of the Lego movie, right? But you've just released an LGBT set, right?

How did that come about? I read an article on your website, I think it was a British designer that's kind of one of the chief kind of leaders behind this new set, but how did that journey even start within the organization?

- I think it's a journey that we have been on for years, making sure that we are acknowledging differences and the fact that everyone has the unique contribution to the company internally, but also the fact that we believe that when the brick comes in hands outside the Lego walls is also about making your own creations and making your own ideas come alive.

And I think of course we need to make sure that we have that internal notion before we can actually also live it out externally.

- I noticed that one of the figures as well in the kind of the article about that was transgender, which is brilliant because when you think about the LGBTQIA+ plus community, I think there's elements of it, that society in, if I think about the UK is more accepting of these days than it was previously, which is great progress is fantastic, but there are still elements that are slightly more, I suppose, there's still a lot more work to do than perhaps some aspects and the transgender community
is certainly one of those.

But you referenced there that you're a global company. We've talked about that you're in over 40 countries, millions of children play with Lego in all communities. And just in this last football tournament with the Euros, we've seen that there are differences just in countries in Europe, towards acid Jews towards the LGBT community. So what's Lego's responsibility because you will be putting those products right in countries where there might be slightly harder attitudes to break through and more work to be done on the equality and diversity agenda.

Is that something that the company goes and thinks, well, maybe we shouldn't release some of these products into some of these markets or is it no, we have to release it and actual we'll go in there and make even more noise.

- Yeah. I love the perspective here and to answer the question, it is really when we go out with stuff like that, it is from the heart of the brand that we want to make a difference here. And when we want to make a difference, it's globally. So we also, we release products globally. And really, I think it's also important to see the products that we have with Everyone is Awesome.

It's really a manifestation of a value and an opinion that we have. And that's what we are putting out there.

- Do you think a set like that is, I mean, I noticed that there's a car on the shelf behind you. I suppose that car behind you sits there as almost an ornament rather than a play thing. Do you think that set it's a similar thing. I mean, it's a statement piece that someone could have in their home rather than it's not, but I suppose at the same time, maybe someone would want their children to pick it up and play with it, because then you can have that conversation about what that set represents.

- Exactly, and that's what it's all about as well, right? The products are a part of our life, no matter if it's Lego or another brand, but it's really to kind
of manifest what it is that we believe in what it is that we value and so forth. And that's where we hope that Lego as a brand can also play a role in making sure
that people can use Lego to express their opinion and feelings and values in that way too.

- So look, you talked a little bit about the future of play right at the top of the interview. The future of play, I think, is something that's super interesting and
it's worth kind of taking a bit of time to talk about. You as an organization, talk about wanting to inspire and develop the next generation of builders. So what what do we mean by the future of play?

- Yeah, so that's a good question too. I love it. So one thing is of course the future of play, we don't know what it is, but the most important is that we keep a finger on the pulse on what are the play needs that we see in the world and that's where we start.

And it's about what role can play actually having people's lives. And I think right now, of course, we are very, very deep into understanding the future skills that are needed. So creativity is indeed one of those skills that are needed for the future and making sure that our play experience actually reflects those future skills that are needed. One thing is creativity.

And another thing is collaboration making sure so that offsets are not only, you know, for sitting down and building yourself. It could also be for as
I'm socially experienced where you actually sit with a friend, a family and building together and through that learns about collaboration. So I think for us, it's
very much in understanding what are actually the future skills that are needed and how can we make sure that e can actually help the next generation
gaining some of those skills through playing with Lego bricks.

- How does that get driven through the organization? Because you know, you think about toys, right? And you think about the success of toys over the last 30, 40 years, it tends to be kind of a tie-in to a commercial kind of vehicle of some kind, there's that famous thing isn't there that George Lucas did not ask for huge amount of money from Star Wars, but he just asked for tie in of the profits from the merchandise.

And obviously the Star Wars toys built the shelves and got toys are put in markets where they're going to be commercially successful. What you're describing there is a completely different approach to how to market and how to push your product into society saying, I suppose, there of course there are commercial elements.

You can do the Lego Star Wars sets and they're big and they're very exciting, I imagine for children, but that social aspect, how do you even start to develop a toy from that perspective?

- I think it is in the core of, our DNA to care for actually making a difference in the world. And in order to do that, of course you need the commercial side to actually
help going on that journey. So I think it's important to say, of course it needs to go hand in hand on that.

- So look, the company's been around, when was the company formed?

- So actually next year is so a 90th anniversary coming up.

- So it's been around for a long time. It's obviously evolved a lot in the last 10, 15 years. Where do you see Lego going as a brand say in the next 10 years.

- A good one. Hopefully we will see that many more can actually benefit from playing with Lego. So around having a greater accessibility to Lego in general and I think also as you have seen, we have launched new type of products as well, where we are experimenting a bit with kind of the merge between physical and digital experiences.

And we are still on a journey there to explore how can we make seamless experiences that kind of jumps between physical and digital. And I think also reaching audiences that we might not meet today, where they are with their needs is something that we are exploring as well.

- And look, final question, you mentioned Duplo. I think there's that personal element isn't there, it's brilliant that you are working for a brand that has meant something to your life I imagine. If you have children or you have nephews or nieces, or you have friends who have children that they're probably playing with Lego, what's your favorite set of all this stuff that's available now, what do you kind of look at and go, not necessarily, this is the most fun to play with, or this is the most expensive.

What do you think really says something about Lego that you go, yeah, I'm proud to work for this company because we make that.

- Yeah, I think actually two things. I think there's nothing that beats, when I see my own daughter is actually playing with my old Duplo bricks. That is just something
that hits the heart. So it's really bringing a lot of warmth to see that the bricks and play can go generations by generations.

That's one thing, another thing is really actually the flowers I have on the shelves up here. That's my recent build that I built myself.

- Was that Lego, I couldn't actually pick that up on the camera.

- Yeah yeah it is.

- I see.

- And it's actually, it's something that is fun to build together just as a bit of a "hygge" moment where you actually sit together and build and then of course you have
a lovely bouquet of flowers that actually holds for a little longer than a normal bouquet.

- Yeah, absolutely. No, I genuinely, looking now it's obvious that they're Lego, but I hadn't looked with any great detail. I just assumed there were flowers. My eye was drawn to the car. And I was like, okay, that's Lego. I didn't even clock that the flowers were well.

Look, this has been a slight sidestep from kind of talking in detail about technology, but it's an organization where obviously technology plays such a key role these days, but it's great to talk about something that's a little bit more offline and that is having such a positive impact on people. And you know, when you're talking about building future skills, I think that's really relevant and important too. So I appreciate your time this morning. And given that we're recording on Friday and Denmark are playing in the quarter finals of the Euros, best of luck to Denmark as well.

- Best of luck to you as well.

In Conversation With...Video Series 

‘In Conversation With’ is a series of video interviews with leaders of businesses hosted by Harvey Nash Group Technology Evangelist David Savage. Each conversation is roughly 20-30 minutes in length and cover topical issues facing the technology sector. Now in its fourth series we have been fortunate to interview leaders from NASA, Williams F1 Racing, Lego, What3Words and PWC amongst others.

You can watch all the In Conversation with series here or find out more about our content on the Harvey Nash Group News Hub.