This article was originally published on Vamped on May 25, 2014.
Last month I was Googling for something vampire related to tweet for our site’s Twitter account, when I stumbled upon a picture of a 10-foot tall Lego vampire erected in New Orleans in one night by locals and expert Lego builders. The oversized vampire was destined for the Lego Land after he made friends with the locals to be part of the annual Halloween festivities.
Now you may ask why a giant ass Lego vampire caught my eye? Having a marketing background specializing in experiential campaigns, I am always watching for cool promotions that attract attention. To me assembling a 10-foot tall vampire made from Lego in New Orleans right before Halloween is genius!
New Orleans is getting a lot of attention from vampire fans this year thanks to Vampire Diaries‘ spin-off series, The Originals. Plus, this type of promotion also makes me think back to the amazing marketing strategy of popular vampire series True Blood, which I discussed in “Why Has True Blood Been So Successful?“
Since it’s common knowledge that vampire pop culture phenomenon bleeds into almost every marketable medium, it was no surprise that when I went searching for “Vampire Lego” after my New Orleans discovery that I’d hit the jackpot!
But I had no idea there was an entire Monster Fighter series. I was left with a few questions: why does Lego have a Monster Fighters product line? Was Lego jumping on the “vampire” bandwagon?
First I think it is important to understand the backstory of Lego from about 10 years ago. In 2003, Lego almost lost everything: “From 1998 to 2004 they had they had recorded sale losses for 4 out of the 7 years. Back in 2003 their sales dropped 30 percent and 40 percent by 2004.”
At the time, the Lego Group estimated they were losing $337K per day; they were haemorrhaging money. Was it because they branched out too quickly into the theme park business or because consumers felt their customer service was non-existent?
One major issue they immediately addressed was their supply chain management. It went under a total overhaul to help dig them out of the hole, but I am not going to bore you with business jargon and manufacturing strategies.
Like other industries the toy business has been transformed over the last ten years due to technological advances and from an investor’s point of view for the worst. Traditional toys are no longer in demand and video games are dominating the market. Now I could have included more recent statistics, but there is a method to my madness for focussing on this specific time period. Businessweek reported:
Video-game sales especially have depressed the growth rate of the traditional toy market. They have increased at a more-than-10% average annual rate since 1996. Video games accounted for $9.9 billion of $30 billion in total domestic retail toy industry sales in 2004, doubling their share of the total to about one-third, from only 16% in 1996.
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SIGNIFICANT REVERSAL. The traditional toy industry has been experiencing sales declines each year since 2002, with retail toy sales falling a total of about 8% over the past three years, to $20.1 billion in 2004.
Another factor affecting the Lego sales could be retailer giants like Toys “R” Us fighting for low prices and market share. They were desperately trying to compete with emerging online shopping sites like Amazon and major box store players like Target and Walmart.
With traditional toys on the decline, actual toy stores are being brushed under the carpet and going out of style. As Wikipedia notes, “On July 21, 2005, a consortium of Bain Capital Partners LLC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Vornado Realty Trustinvested $1.3 billion to complete a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout of the company.”
One thing to understand about the Lego product line is they have what’s called an “evergreen theme.” This is where they consider one of their series so popular that they reintroduce it into the market every couple of years with minor tweaks to the product. Normally a Lego theme has a life of one to three years, depending on the popularity.
In 2002, Lego released a classic movie monster line-up in the K1383 Scary Monster Madness Kit that included favourites like Dracula (“Vampire”) and Frankenstein’s Monster as part of its Studios series (2000–2004).
The series also included comic book characters, dinosaurs—and Steven Spielberg. The sets also came with their own comics. Here’s a panel from the 1381 Vampire’s Crypt set:
Since we know Lego likes to bring back popular themes, was that the case here when they launched the Monster Fighters line in 2012? I don’t think so, because the Studios line-up was catered to movies as a whole. This new series features vampires as headliners.
By 2012, vampires were in full swing with popular TV series like The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Supernatural, Lost Girl and the Twilight franchise. I’m sure you are asking, aren’t these adult shows? You’d be correct, but there were some video games out that year such as Infamous: Festival of Blood for Playstation 3 and Vampire Season Monster Defense for IOS.
There may not be a direct correlation between these mediums and Lego’s decision to launch a vampire line, but if my marketing background has taught me anything, they were just trying to cash in like the rest of the world by following trends.
No matter how much you analyze it, companies go where the money is. Plus now that we know Lego releases limited product lines, the overall cost for them to produce a special edition product is next to nothing.
The bonus is, if it sells then they turn it into an evergreen theme. The demand goes up when the store inventory runs out and collectors pay big money for hard-to-find sets.
Over the years, Lego upped their game from just simple sets to including a full-out adventure with your Lego series incorporating interactive websites that showcase videos, games, product information and maps. Someone is on the ball with this one, integrating videogames and Lego!
Lord Vampyre is the evil ruler of the Monster Realms, with his Bride. He originally planned to give his moonstone to his beloved wife, but soon unearthed the powers of the spooky moonstones and built a contraption to eclipse the sun forever, using the magical powers each moonstone possess. After he eclipses the sun, all the monsters will be able to roam freely in the Monster and Minifigure realms. So he used his own moonstone’s magical powers to control other monsters, and made them retrieve all 6 of the moonstones. Lord Vampyre owns a loyal zombie henchman, the Zombie Driver, and an army of man-sized bats called Manbats, who protect his castle. He owns a hearse, of which he uses to roam around the Monster Realms. Lord Vampyre also owns the Haunted House, which is home to his Monster Butler, Zombie Chef, and 2 ghosts. Lord Vampyre is constantly fighting the Monster Fighters, particularly Dr. Rodney Rathebone, for possession of the moonstones and will stop at nothing to complete his plan.
Lord Vampyre needs a hangout for him and his bride, so it’s not surprising one of the sets includes Vampyre Castle. It comes with 6 minifigures including Rodney Rathbone, Jack McHammer, Lord Vampyre, his bride and two man bats.
You also get some cool features with the castle like secret entrances, an organ, coffins, shooting spiders, hidden spikes, trapdoors, stairs and a dungeon. It sounds like the designers went all out on this one. Oh, and I almost forgot it also comes with a Hero Car with a net launcher.
Lord Vampyre travels in style and even has his very own Vampire Hearse with zombie driver! After all, if you are tracking down moonstones you need some wheels to get around town.
The set includes a motorcycle for Dr. Rodney Rathbone so he can keep up with the monstrous couple, a coffin catapult launcher, and another moonstone. You also get 3 minifigures; Dr. Rodney Rathbone, Lord Vampyre, and Zombie Driver.
So there you have it folks! Lego just fluked out years ago by introducing Dracula with some other classic horror monsters and now that vampires are trendy in pop culture the set is basically a collectors’ item. Lord Vampyre has taken center stage this time around, and should be more successful than his predecessor because he is integrated with technology and all the toys of a modern playboy.
If Lego wants to compete with the video game market, they are headed in the right direction. They have to keep moving with the times and understand kids don’t just want to play with a set like Vampyre Crypt, they crave online interaction and want their characters to bite back.