Branded content is about creating a narrative and a conversation with the customer. That is probably the main thing Lego understood. Lego created a narrative in the sense of a story, and to Lego, the story always came first. Lego knew the essence of its brand and made a movie about that, not about selling toys. Playing with Legos is all about the marriage, and sometimes conflict, between following the directions on the box and following your own creativity and imagination about what each Lego piece can be when it is connected to another. That was what The Lego Movie was about; the quest to find the perfect equilibrium between creativity and order. It was all about the story and the core values of what Lego is. As a result, the Lego sets and characters that were used in the movie felt less like product placement and more like fitting narrative elements of the film’s universe. We became involved in the narrative and never realized that, in many ways, we were watching a long Lego commercial.
Yet, before there was even a narrative, Lego had already begun its conversation with its customers years earlier. Lego involved its core followers when The Lego Movie was only in pre-production by creating a contest in which people all over the world were encouraged to create any sort of vehicle using Lego pieces that were designed for something else. For example, create a tank out of a set designed for an airplane. The creations of the winners would be featured in the movie. This sort of contest was successful not only because it started a dialogue with core audiences but because the dialogue that it started was about those core themes and values of the Lego brand and, subsequently, of the Lego movie: Follow the instructions vs. create something new.
This cinematic piece of branded content, budgeted at $60 million, revitalized Lego sales but also grossed more that $460 million and inspired a future sequel along with numerous spin-off TV series that are themselves also branded content. What is so powerful about branded content as a business strategy is its power to go beyond just one source of revenue and create a dynamic conversation with its targeted audiences from many different fronts and media sources. With this in mind, what made The Lego Movie successful is what makes any piece of branded content successful, regardless of its length, Lego paired up with real filmmakers and crafted a story that stands on its own merit. Whether it’s two minutes, or two hours, that is what all branded content needs to achieve.