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Web back-story a key building block for Bionicles

To build hype for its fall-launching Bionicles toy cluster, Lego Technic is using the web to weave the line's original back-story. Both the play element and the medium have often been left out of Lego launch strategy in the past....
March 1, 2001

To build hype for its fall-launching Bionicles toy cluster, Lego Technic is using the web to weave the line’s original back-story. Both the play element and the medium have often been left out of Lego launch strategy in the past.

‘The story is the engine behind the marketing plan,’ says Colin Gillespie, assistant brand manager for the Bionicles property. The scoop is that inhabitants of an island called Tohunga are indebted to an ancient beneficent spirit named Mata Nui. However, the spirit’s jealous brother Makuta casts a spell sinking Mata Nui into a deep sleep and attempts to subvert his worshippers. Incensed when the islanders spurn him, the evil spirit plunges the island into darkness. The Tohungans turn to the legend of The Bionicle, foreseeing six mighty warriors liberating them from evil. Finally, the heroes arrive, marking the beginning of the on-line story.

‘This is the first time we’ve put so much behind a line in terms of the Net,’ says Gillespie of the web project, which is being billed at over US$500,000. The www.bionicle.com site, which launched at the end of December, is initially serving as a teaser; flash animation lets the user look through the eyes of one of the characters, discovering new elements of the saga from month to month until fall. There are 10 installments planned, but they aren’t played as traditional episodes. It is an on-going serial in which, Gillespie explains, ‘the kids must search for the story themselves. The site changes everyday.’ A user doesn’t necessarily get more story everyday, but there are elements that change, like moss on a rock or the water level. Eventually, given some subtle clues, the user is able to access more of the story. The toys themselves will also come with secret web codes that will access still more areas of the site.

In May and June, Lego will polybag a Bionicle comic book with its bimonthly Lego magazine, which has an international reach of 1.8 million kids, as part of a deal with DC Comics. Written by Lego and inked by DC, the comic will not only provide additional story off-line, says Gillespie, but it will also point surfers to updates and clues.

Launched late January, Bioniclemusic.com lets kids mix their own Bionicle tunes in anticipation of the CD that will be available closer to the fall toy debut. There will also be a music-driven mobile promo tour starting this summer, says Gillespie. The toyco has planned upwards of 1,000 Bionicle events across North America and, following findings that there is a strong demo potential in extreme sports fans ages seven to 12, has signed a deal with six-time X-Game skateboarding gold medallist Andy MacDonald to support the brand and make appearances. The company will also sponsor amateur skateboard events.

Entertainment for other platforms like TV, vid game consoles (Gameboy and CD-ROM software) are in development.

Lego has also entered into a QSR deal with McDonald’s, the details of which were pending at press time, but with hints that the initiative would spin a little differently and feature quality product, available exclusively through McD’s.

Like all Lego product, the toys, the webisodes, the music and the promos all feature the make-what-you-want-of-it element that has made Lego a mainstay for kids ages seven to 12 for years. The key this time out, though, is that it all jumps back to one underlying story on the web.

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