February 24, 2014 E3

What The Lego Movie Understands About Content Marketing

It can be difficult to describe content marketing to those outside of the business. Content Marketing Institute, a leader in the industry describes it as:

“…a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Makes sense, but some people still have a hard time grasping it in action. Thanks to Lego, it’s become quite easy to describe content marketing. If you have children (or nieces and nephews or godchildren), and those children went to see The Lego Movie and then promptly demanded a new set of Legos… THAT is content marketing.  Some, like the marketers at Econsultancy, say The Lego Movie is content marketing at its finest.

The movie has also been heavily criticized as being the longest advertisement ever. But if you’ve seen it, you understand that the movie makers are just as aware of this as you are. And they don’t miss any opportunity to poke fun at themselves. The Lego Movie is chock full of little jibs and jabs at the product it’s pushing (look for awkward attempts at hand-holding and “relics,” aka strange and rather gross items you’d be likely to find in an old box of your own Legos).  They don’t pretend that the movie is about anything other than the world of Lego. And it works. Most people agree that it doesn’t feel like an ad. It just feels like a good movie.

So how did they pull it off?

The Product Is The Movie

Parents are used to the ensuing frenzy of consumerism that follows the release of popular movies for kids. Every Disney picture means running out and buying action figures, fighting over whether or not the kids can have a Happy Meal, and then finding the toys discarded and forgotten three weeks later. There isn’t a long-term relationship building strategy with most movies for children. But with Lego, there is.

In this case, the product IS the movie. It’s fair to say that this movie, had it not been set in a world of Legos wouldn’t have been as good. It would have been just another animated movie for kids that would be forgotten by the first thaw. It’s the Legos themselves that drive the story. If the characters were just regular people, the audience probably wouldn’t care.

Lego has stopped selling toys and started selling possibilities. They don’t peddle plastic bricks. They peddle imagination. Children CAN build complicated-looking cities and scenescapes. Everyone can do it. You just have to let your imagination run free. Don’t believe them? Watch the movie.

Legos Are For Everybody. Literally.

The movie is good. It’s an engaging story that captivates children and keeps parents entertained. And that’s where Econsultancy says Lego got this whole content marketing thing right. For some time now, they’ve treated adults and children same, developing a “catch-all” strategy that incorporated social media channels and the Lego Cuusoo website. And this catch-all strategy culminates with a monster piece of content marketing in The Lego Movie. The movie is for everyone. Therefore, Legos are for everyone.

When we were kids (we won’t say when that was, so don’t ask), Legos were popular, but they hadn’t cornered the market. They were viewed as boring, plastic bricks, and they were outsold by flashier, more “complicated” building sets.

But in recent years, Lego has expanded their target market. There is an order to a set of Legos, but Legos aren’t just for orderly, scientifically or mathematically inclined children. They are marketed for anyone with a little bit of time and the inclination to build something special. Those who love order and direction can build exceptional Lego scenes. But so can those who hate order and wish to do their own thing. According to Lego’s content marketing, both the logical and the creative can flourish with a simple box of tiny plastic bricks.

But it doesn’t stop with children. Lego has made a direct effort to target adults, as well. And not just the parents of kids who want a Batman Lego set.  They go after adults who want to build their own Lego sets.  Now that the children of the 80’s and 90’s have their own money and don’t have to answer to mom and dad, they can spend it on intricate sets of Legos to recapture a little bit of their childhood. And they don’t feel like they’re playing with toys. No, they are building amazing things.

This type of throwback nostalgia isn’t new. The Transformers movie was designed to appeal to adults of a certain age who spent many an afternoon forcing their younger siblings to be the Decepticons and lose battle after battle with the Autobots.  But those same adults who were willing to fork over money to see Optimus Prime on the big screen did not feel compelled to run out and buy Transformers after seeing the movies (…And then there’s the fact that the movies weren’t that good, but that’s a conversation for another time).  The Transformers movies were nostalgia, but the Lego Movie is content marketing. Through their content they are building long-term, repeat customers for life.

The Power of Strategic Partnerships

The Lego Movie is a Warner Brothers production. This partnership meant they could incorporate wildly popular licensed characters into the film and attract high-quality talent. Characters from Batman, The Simpsons, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars all make appearances.

Without Warner Brothers, Legos probably couldn’t have scored an A-List cast. And without Legos, this particular story would have fallen flat for Warner Brothers. It was a win-win for both, and they’re already working on a sequel.

Content Marketing Before The Movie

But the partnership was a long time in the making. It took Legos two years to agree to the film and another four to make it. Why? Because prior to the movie, they already mastered content marketing. And according to Michael McNally, Lego’s brand relations director, “It wasn’t like we needed a movie to help us sell more stuff.”

Prior to the release of the movie, Lego had developed a content marketing machine that consisted of:

  • Microsites
  • Video Miniseries
  • Community sharing forums for users to showcase their creations
  • A social network for children
  • Magazines
  • Theme parks
  • Video game networks
  • Clubs

Their understanding of media revitalized their company and turned them into a market (and content marketing) force. And that foundation was critical to the successful launch of the movie. By focusing on content marketing, they built relationships that are designed to create customers for life.

Have you seen The Lego Movie? Do you think it’s content marketing at its finest, or just a really long and over-hyped commercial? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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