Businesses – and customers – do make political decisions

Business and politics seem to live in different worlds, or even antagonists: one linked to private initiative, professionalism, agility, ambition. The latter connected with public, bureaucracy, slowness, lack of management.

If one were Simba, the other would be Scar. If one were Sherlock, the other would be Moriarty. Ok, ok, you got it.

Years of working and studying business, and the word ‘political’ barely made to my Marketing 101 lessons – in the format of PEST analysis). Even there, it appeared as an ‘external’ factor. Its effects can be huge on an enterprise, even though you as a business can have very few or no control over it. However, analysing the Lego versus Ai Weiwei case, I dare to ask. Can businesses refrain from making political decisions?

Lego is a Danish company with USD 4 billion turnover and over 13k employees in 2014. And one of the best case studies for MBAs classes of how to turn around a failing company into a massive and recognised innovative enterprise. Read more here.

Lego not only grow among youngsters (and adults), but also a source of internet jokes and memes.

Even more impressive it’s how people are using Lego to build stuff. When one reaches this point, it’s reaches the global awareness brand level. This is one my favourites examples:

Functional motor and car made out of Lego

In 2013, Lego achieved a double-digit growth in Asia. Obviously, plans follows for “a brand-new manufacturing and distribution center in China, solely to meet growing demand on that side of the planet”.

So, when Ai Weiwei –  a world-known Chinese artist and highly critical about the China’s (lack of) human rights – wanted to buy in bulk Legos for an exhibition about free speech in Australia, the company said “No, sorry”. Ok, officially, Lego informed that it refrains worldwide “from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda.”

And that was the beginning of #LegosforWeiwei.

People donating their bricks for the artist. Collection points are being organised around the globe. The first was a red car with an opened sunroof as slip pocket for the pieces – parked just outside Weiwei’s office in Beijing.

The morning droppings

A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

Maybe ever bigger is the negative reaction to the ‘no support to political activities’. Have you seen the Lego Movie and the appraisal of critical thinking and anarchy creativity. The Economist dubbed the movie review as “The Lego Movie – The politics of bricks”.

This is 2015, so let’s be honest. Supporting a Chinese government antagonist is a huge political risk for a business trying to consolidate its presence in the country. Thus, Lego decide not to do it.

Fine for me. You – as a business – choose your side. (Part of) Your customers choose other. Regardless, you – and your customers – are making political decisions. And the impact of such decisions will affect how your brand and value will be co-create by both you and customers.

Furthermore, you, as a much smaller organisation, probably cannot afford to make political decisions that do not reflect the value your customers are attributing to you.

Thus, stop thinking as political factors as external-hard-to-control factors. Instead, start thinking about believes: your principles as a business + entrepreneur + individual, and the beliefs of those you need to engage with in order to thrive as an organisation.

In the case of Lego, Weiwei will probably get more than enough bricks and do his exhibition. Lego will continue growing in Asia. Maybe new memes will appear criticising the company and changing again the meaning of ‘stepping into bricks’. Maybe this issue will be forgotten with the next breaking news.

In my case, nonetheless, I will start looking for political issues driving business decisions elsewhere.


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About the author: nprieto