The world's largest toymaker Lego said on Thursday it was ending a deal with oil giant Shell, bowing to pressure from a Greenpeace campaign linking Lego toys to Arctic oil spills.
Announcing the decision to stop the multimillion dollar marketing deal -- which includes Lego sales in Shell petrol stations around the world, and Shell logos on the toys -- Lego chief executive Joergen Vig Knudstorp said "we do not want to be part of Greenpeace’s campaign".
Since July more than five million people have viewed a Greenpeace video on YouTube entitled "Everything is NOT Awesome" -- featuring Arctic Lego landscapes dotted with oil rigs, polar bears and children playing ice hockey -- until they are all drowned in oil. The only thing left is a Shell flag and the slogan "Shell is polluting our kids' imagination".
"The Greenpeace campaign uses the Lego brand to target Shell. As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell," Vig Knudstorp said in a statement published in Danish daily Politiken, adding that the Shell deal would end when the current contract expires.
"The Lego brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of Greenpeace’s dispute with Shell."
The decision marked a major turnaround by the toymaker, said Annika Jacobson, at Greenpeace Nordic, as the Danish company initially claimed it had nothing to do with the environmental group's fight to stop Shell prospecting in the Arctic.
- Signal to oil companies -
"This sends an important signal to oil companies that they will not be able to use other brands to gain social acceptance," Jacobson told AFP.
Since the online campaign began in July, more than a million YouTube viewers have mailed protests to the toy company via a Greenpeace website.
"We would not have achieved this without all the people that have signed our petition and asked Lego to stop the partnership -- so it's a victory of the people," she said.
"The same thing that happened to the tobacco industry is now happening to oil companies... They are totally dependent on not being pictured as 'bad' companies. They're dependent on these kinds of partnerships."
In August Shell submitted a new plan for drilling in the Arctic off the coast of Alaska, more than a year after halting its programme following several mishaps with drilling rigs and high-profile clashes with Greenpeace activists.
Lego's announcement will make it harder for Shell to avoid negative publicity in the future, said Jacobson.
A spokesman for Lego would not confirm the value of the co-promotion partnership which Swedish media reports have valued at around $103 million (81 million euros).
The company also declined to say when the contract with Shell would end but Greenpeace Nordic believed it would be within 18 months.