A Problem: The Greenpeace Video
At least, that’s what the LEGO company tells us. Greenpeace, however, sees through the LEGO advertising and marketing ploys and seeks to expose LEGO’s dirtier underbelly. In a now-famous video lasting just under two minutes, Greenpeace literally and metaphorically drags LEGO’s image through the mud (or oil, to be precise), tarnishing its squeaky clean facade as a perfect company selling a perfect product.2 This video suggests that LEGO’s image does not square with its reality. With LEGO’s upbeat pop hit “Everything is Awesome” playing in the background, the Greenpeace video shows what appears to be a beautiful, pristine Arctic landscape made out of LEGO: a snow-filled wonderland where bears and huskies, fisherman and hockey players, birds and soccer players all blissfully frolic together. True to the spirit of the song’s call to collective and mindless happiness, the scene presented is just your average everything-is- awesome-kind-of-moment in the Arctic LEGO landscape—everyone is part of the team, side by side, living out a dream, sticking together, and working in harmony. The music and images work together to construct an exaggerated and idealized conception of humanity’s relation to nature.
Against this naive and idyllic LEGO background scene, the video cuts to a stark contrast: a large Shell oil rig, whose “big boss” in a fancy suit stands tall, dominating over his industrial terrain, enjoying his cigar, and relishing his apparent power over nature. This big boss looks remarkably like President Business, the president of the oil company Octan in LEGO’s fictional world. President Business is a controlling person whose secret alter ego, Lord Business, has an evil plan to control the world—the similarities between this boss, Lord Business, and the CEO’s of big industrial companies are not to be missed.
Unfortunately, the big boss in the scene is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t notice the small oil leak below. Slowly a mass of black oil begins to spread, suffocating and engulfing everything in its path. The reality of this image undercuts the naivete of the theme song. As the lyrics pathetically try to persuade us that everything is better when we work together as a team, we are presented with the ugly truth— innocent people and wildlife slowly being engulfed in oil leaking from the rig. As the lyrics encourage us to work in harmony, we see helpless children slowly drowning, and animals dying. The video ends with a close-up shot of a polar bear trying to escape the oil on an iceberg with the Shell flag on it. Slowly, the black oil engulfs not only the one remaining bear clinging to the last chunk of iceberg but also proceeds to fill the entire screen in darkness and destruction. We are left staring straight at the culprit responsible for this horror: the Shell flag against a black screen.
Clearly, in the Greenpeace video, we are meant to believe that not everything at LEGO is as it claims to be. Rather, LEGO’s relationship with Shell is tarnishing the clean and pristine image that LEGO wants to portray. The video ends by commanding viewers to “Tell LEGO to end its partnership with Shell,” implying that Shell’s oil drilling efforts are ruining the Arctic for all of its inhabitants. LEGO had profited from a merchandising contract with Shell involving Shell-branded toys being sold at Shell stations. The Greenpeace video suggests that this contract links LEGO to Shell’s destruction of one of the last pristine environments in the world.
Given that LEGO advertises itself as a wholesome lifestyle choice whose values include being part of a team that educates people, living the dream where people do the right thing, this video poses a serious threat to their image—maybe also to the reality behind the image. The video undermines the entire ideology behind the LEGO brand and everything it stands for. As the title of the video reminds us, “everything is not awesome.”