British government insults Scotland via Lego campaign – and Lego is displeased

Britain and Scotland are in the middle of a heated campaign right now, with a question of critical nature to both countries: Should Scotland be an independent country and leave the United Kingdom?

That question will be put to a referendum on September 18, 2014, to be voted on by the people of Scotland.  As you can imagine with an issue as emotional and important as this, there is a heated campaign going on both sides of the issue. The British government is campaigning against such a referendum.  And that’s where Lego comes in.

An anonymous user posted this listicle to Buzzfeed: Scottish independence: 12 things that the £1400 UK Dividend could buy.  Citing an analysis by the UK Treasury, the post claims that residents of Scotland are £1400 wealthier because they are members of the United Kingdom. Using Lego pics, the post then goes on to delineate how £1400 pounds could be spent.  Included in that list:

  • An overseas holiday for two wish cash left over for sun cream.
  • Pay for Christmas presents twice over, with some money left over to spend on Hogmanay celebrations.
  • Scoff 280 hotdogs at the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Cover your family’s yearly shoe habit for about the next 6 years.

All well and good, right?  Well, then the United Kingdom government took the list and posted it to their own website.  And that’s where the trouble started.  Referendum supporters quickly accused the British government of patronizing Scot.  Leading U.K. media picked up on the scandal, as did a variety of U.S. media, including the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.  Among the complaints:

Pete Wishart, a Scottish National Party member of parliament, called it patronizing and ludicrous. “We all wish the Treasury and Scotland Office would grow up.

In a statement, Stewart Hosie of the Scotish National Party said, “This is the kind of patronizing attitude to Scotland we have come to expect … presumably the establishment elite think we spend all our time eating fish and chips and pies.”

The British government tried to say that the post was meant to be a humorous attempt at using casual language to prove a point, saying, “It was light hearted, it was different…There’s demand by the public for information, and we’ve got a job to get it to people.” He said Scots who didn’t understand the release were losing their sense of humor.”

And then, Lego got involved.  Side note: Politics is a bizarre field.  When asked for comment, Lego said that they wished the government would remove the images, with a spokesman saying, “We wouldn’t give permission for our stock images to be used … We maintain our position as being a politically neutral company.”  Bowing to pressure, the British government removed the Lego images from its website.  The post is still available on the website, but without the images.

Three points from this very bizarre incident:

  1. Government needs to be really careful in attempting to use humor.  Really careful.  What may come across as funny and be intended as light-hearted can wind up sounding crass, patronizing, insulting or worse.  Context is often lost in the written word.
  2. Be careful with what content you reproduce! For all intents and purposes, the British government did a big retweet here – they took someone else’s post and made it their own (though they did give credit appropriately).  This proves a point that has been seen on social media over and over again – content that you share/retweet/repost on your platforms will be viewed as yours, and you will be seen as having completely endorsed all aspects of that content, regardless of whether or not that was your intent.
  3. Be careful with third party content.  No matter what, I think the British government would have gotten dinged on reproducing this post – I think any objective observer could see how the tone and content could be viewed as insulting and patronizing, even if that wasn’t the intent.  However, there was an added embarrassment that came from Lego asking the government of Britain to remove their pictures – which Britain was forced to comply with.  If you share content and use someone else’s brand or trademarks, you can easily get in trouble.

What do you think?  Anything else to add?  Let me know in the comments!

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