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LEGO Does a Netflix in Closing LEGO Universe

LEGO Universe Closes

It’s a sad week in the Pulizzi household.  LEGO recently announced that, effective January 31, 2012, they were closing their multiplayer online game called LEGO Universe.

According to Jesper Visltrup, Vice President of Marketing for LEGO, despite having over 2 million registered users and very positive feedback about the game, LEGO could not convert enough paying members to keep the game viable.

Focusing on the Wrong Metrics

Now, I don’t know if this is a publicity stunt, or if LEGO plans on releasing a new online game, but let’s take the news at face value.

From all accounts, LEGO has determined that the success of LEGO depends upon direct profitability of LEGO Universe.  Why? Why judge the success of brand engagement activity solely off of direct revenue?

  • PlayLand areas at McDonald’s don’t produce direct revenue.  They take up a ton of space and McDonald’s must employ people to keep them clean.
  • Kraft’s iFood Assistant, even though an incredibly helpful application, doesn’t turn a profit.  Kill it.
  • American Express cannot directly prove that AMEX Open Forum drives more credit card sales.  Bye bye.

Is this move by LEGO short sighted?

Let’s look at some numbers.

Let’s say, of the two million members, 50% are adults and parents.  Then let’s take the remaining one million members and estimate that 10%, or 100,000 children, are somewhat active on the site.

My son spends an average of 30 minutes per day (that’s a low estimate) at LEGO Universe.  If we use that as a general estimate (I know many children that spend multiple hours per day on LEGO Universe), that means an average user spends 15 hours per month engaging with the LEGO brand.

What’s the value of that engagement?  Priceless.

I can honestly say that we have purchased a heavy does of LEGO products directly because of LEGO Universe.  Can LEGO track it directly?  Nope.  But just because you can’t track it doesn’t mean it’s not working. It’s ROI gone a muck.

LEGO Universe was an innovation.  It was worthy of being talked about.

Did LEGO Pull a Netflix?

Sometimes we marketers focus on the wrong metrics. For example, does a certain number of website visitors or Facebook likes define success? Of course not.  For example, if a BtoB company has only 10 enewsletter subscribers, but those subscribers are the ten most important customers, it’s probably worth it.

The point here, as with all content marketing activities, is to clearly define what success looks like. LEGO Universe should be treated like any other consumer-facing engagement activity, not just off of direct sales.  In this case, I believe the objective should not have been direct sales of the product, but ancillary sales from direct engagement.

Not happy with direct sales?  Try these:

  • LEGO Universe book sales
  • Halloween costume sales
  • Television and DVD specials
  • Limited edition LEGO Universe products

And the list goes on.

I feel sad for those people that have lost their jobs creating an amazing product for loyal LEGO customers.  I feel sad for the kids. I feel sad for innovation. But most of all, I feel sad for marketing in general. Marketing took a step back this week.

I hope I’m wrong.  I hope.