Five ways the Lego Movie sets the standard for brand storytelling

A company that sells small plastic bricks is about to convince millions of people to pay to see one giant ad. Just what does this tell us about the power of brand storytelling?

Lego Movie: lessons in brand storytelling
Lego Movie: lessons in brand storytelling

You can’t have helped but notice that there is a Lego Movie about to open in UK cinemas  on Friday. The movie smashed its budget ($60m) in the first week in the US alone, and is sure to be one of the hit films of 2014. It will be very interesting to see how this movie influences the future direction of brand marketing and impacts the global sales of LEGO.

But let’s deal with the elephant in the room for a second. This is an advert for a children’s toy – and a long one at that. So why are men, women and children of all ages lining up to hand over their hard-earned cash to see it? If there is one thing that the Lego Movie will teach us, it is the power of brand storytelling.

1. Ideas inspire, product’s don’t

Anyone who has ever done any form of sales training has probably heard phrases like, "You’re not selling a bed, you’re selling a good night’s sleep". The idea is that the product isn’t the reason that people feel compelled to buy, largely because most products are actually fairly uninspiring, but it is what the product allows them to do that is inspiring. Lego has worked on this principle since it was founded in 1949.

Lots of brands are doing this. BT is trying to sell broadband packages by telling us about the dating exploits of some socially awkward middle-class students. When we buy a pair of TOMS Shoes, we’re giving a pair to a child suffering poverty in Africa, and we’re led to believe that our apple pies are lovingly baked by Mr Kipling.

In simple terms, a bucket of plastic bricks (like a fast internet connection or a pair of shoes) isn’t that interesting. What makes it interesting is the imagination of an eight-year-old who wants to make a huge tower, a spaceship, a plane, a tank, a racing car, a football stadium, a giant house with guns on the roof or whatever else I could come up with in the confines of my bedroom. Lego didn’t sell those ideas to me, I made them up all by myself, and that is what will make the Lego Movie such a phenomenal success.

Like many, I’ve seen the trailers for the film and I’ll admit, it is certainly appealing to the eight-year-old within me. I’ve created those stories, where the good guys have to save the world from evil, on my bedroom floor and now I can see it on the big screen. Even 20 years later, this movie absolutely plays on my love for my favourite toy. 

So how do brands recreate this success without investing $60m in a movie with Warner Bros, or building six amusement parks around the world?

2. Understand who buys your product, and why

Understanding what motivates your customers to actually make a purchase is critical to getting your brand story right – because that is how you are going to inspire them. For Lego, its product is about inspiring young people to come up with amazing creations, make up their own stories and to let their imagination run free.

Your product may well be a cheap holiday, but it could also be two weeks of family relaxation in the sunshine, with clear blue seas lapping at your feet. If could be just a large TV, but it could equally be an immersive home cinema experience with a world of entertainment little more than a click away.

Understand the real reasons why people are engaged with your brand, then come up with a story that reflects them.

3. Playing to the strengths of brand advocacy

Why do sportswear brands associate themselves with the best, most prominent sportsmen and women in the world? Because these are people that inspire. If I want to improve my football skills, an endorsement for a new pair of boots from a leading footballer is a very compelling message.

Nike has really nailed this point. It’s ‘Parklife’ ad put 90s football stars on the pitches at Hackney Marshes, while the Guy Richie-directed ‘Take It To The Next Level’ campaign took us through the journey from Sunday league to international superstar – a dream that, for millions, will probably never quite die.

4. Use nostalgia to your advantage

Much of the Lego Movie’s success is down to nostalgia. It is a product that has spanned generations and will continue to do so.

Nostalgia is a big selling point. The aforementioned Mr Kipling takes people back to the tastes and the smells of home cooking. US car manufacturers play heavily on the fact that they are still based in the hardworking, blue-collar town of Detroit and Microsoft played heavily on 90s nostalgia to reconnect people with Internet Explorer.

5. Keep your narrative consistent

If it sounds obvious, it’s because it is. Having a consistent narrative is critical to ensuring that consumers can buy into your brand story. If you have a diverse range of products, think about how these individually connect with your story and ensure that your core brand value is at the forefront of your mind with every decision that you make. If not, you’re going to end up with a narrative that is confused, unclear and ultimately, uninspiring.

Michael Hewitt, is content marketing manager at Stickyeyes 

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