LEGO announced on Saturday it will end its promotional programs with The Daily Mail after the British paper was criticized for engaging in discriminatory and hate-filled reporting.
The decision came days after Bob Jones, a LEGOs fan, wrote a Facebook post on Nov. 4 expressing his dismay at the Danish toy company’s partnership with the Daily Mail. The post attracted support from hundreds of commenters along with advocacy group Stop Funding Hate, which itself mobilized a campaign over the summer encouraging UK retailers to also stop advertising through similar papers such as Daily Express and The Sun.
“Headlines that do nothing but create distrust of foreigners, blame immigrants for everything, and as of yesterday are now having a go at top judges in the U.K. for being gay while making a legal judgment. Their stories have gone a little too far,” Mr. Jones wrote. “It genuinely bothers me, that a great progressive company like yours supports this "news" paper, helping increase its circulation.”
This is not the first time LEGO has come under pressure over its working partnerships, and it may become more of a norm for other corporations as consumers increasingly expect retailers to champion social values. Choosing not to risk the ire of their customers, some corporations - particularly those targeting Millennials - have over the years responded accordingly, aligning themselves with causes whether through rebranding or ending business relationships.
“The days of standing completely on the sideline are disappearing,” Farah Parker, a corporate consultant with FD Parker & Associates in Los Angeles, told The Christian Science Monitor in 2015. “Businesses can no longer remain completely silent on social issues. As more corporations strive to create communities and not just consumers, the target audience now picks products based on quality and the company's cultural platforms.”
Recently in the US, corporations have taken positions against legislation that activists say discriminates against LGBT individuals in places such as North Carolina and Georgia, withdrawing from scheduled conferences and pulling business from those states. Silicon Valley CEOs and companies are also noted for speaking out for political or social causes, particularly on LGBT rights and immigration issues.
In 2014 when LEGO was riding high from the success of “The Lego Movie,” it was attacked by a viral Greenpeace spoof video “Everything’s Not Awesome." The Greenpeace campaign brought to an end LEGO's marketing partnership with Royal-Dutch Shell as a means to criticize the fuel company's ongoing plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.
According to the BBC, LEGO’s Daily Mail promotions have been running since at least 2013. Readers are offered coupons for free Lego toys at specific retailers.
But after the Brexit vote, the Daily Mail was accused of writing headlines that target opponents of the referendum. Most recently, it was criticized for calling the three UK judges, who ruled that the British prime minister requires parliamentary approval to trigger Brexit, “enemies of the people.” More than 1,000 formal complaints were submitted to the Independent Press Standards Organization, as reported by The Independent. The paper defended their decision by stating that legitimate criticism by the press is justified.
At the height of the European refugee crisis, the Daily Mail, among other conservative-leaning newspapers, was criticized for reporting on refugees by endorsing a “hardline anti-refugee and migrant” approach without including humanitarian themes, according to The Conversation. In October, the UK Green Party complained about the Daily Mail's publication of child refugees' pictures in an article questioning their ages. According to Guardian, the Party claims the publication contributes to an "atmosphere of prejudice" against refugees.
“Discrimination isn't a political stance. It's not a matter of belief. It's just fundamentally wrong,” Mr. Jones wrote about LEGO on Facebook. “Targeting set groups of people and casting them all in a negative light, doesn't reflect the standards your company projects. Discrimination breeds xenophobia, racism and distrust of people, undeserving of it.”
In its response, LEGO did not specifically state why it ended the Daily Mail partnership, but emphasized its responsiveness to customers.
“We spend a lot of time listening to what children have to say,” a LEGO spokeswoman told The Guardian of the decision. “And when parents and grandparents take the time to let us know how they feel, we always listen just as carefully.”