On February 7, 2014, the media world watched in anticipation as "The Lego Movie" launched in theaters. Just a few years earlier, "Battleship," another toy-themed movie, had miserably failed. Lego, one of the best-loved brands in the world, had put its brand image in the hands of Lin Pictures, the company producing the movie, and on the big screen for the public to judge.
For Lego, the stakes were sky-high. As it turned out, so were the profits.
"The Lego Movie" saw a monster success with the critics and the audience. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film and the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Animated Feature, and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It grossed $468 million worldwide, while costing just $60 million to make.
The movie accomplished what toy movies only dream of achieving.
The film's value to Lego went far beyond the revenue. "The Lego Movie" sent the Lego brand into the stratosphere. In 2014, Lego saw record profits and revenue grew by 15 percent to reach a startling $4.3 billion. Mentions of Lego online as reported by Google Trends, saw an all-time high during the month of the film's launch (February 2014).
"The Lego Movie" was simultaneously a work of art and an advertisement. It created a touching, enthralling story, and enhanced the value of the Lego brand all the while improving Lego's bottom line.
The future is native
What can we learn from this surprising and remarkable success? "The Lego Movie" gracefully integrated a compelling, human narrative with a brand and product message. In our media-saturated world, people are becoming increasingly better at blocking out interruption advertisements, whether consciously, through services like AdBlock and TiVo, or unconsciously, due to banner blindness. To cope with consumers' decreasing attention span and growing impatience, brands need to stop interrupting them with brash self-promotions. Instead, brands need to engage consumers and entertain them while educating them on the how their products and brand can foster a better experience for them and others.
Among the most powerful ways to achieve this is by partnering with creatives that are experts in their medium. This is exactly what "The Lego Movie" did by partnering with Lin Pictures, and this is exactly what forward-thinking brands are doing by partnering with social media influencers to create and publish branded content.
With the film's wild success in mind, here are three lessons that influencer marketers can apply to their campaigns.
Ideas sell, products don't
Any good salesperson will tell you that to make a sale, you don't sell the product. Instead, you sell the emotion that the product creates for them. To achieve this, you must focus on crystallizing and communicating your brand essence. Great sales center on the why rather than the "what" or the "how."
In the case of "The Lego Movie," Lin Pictures focused on the values of creativity, youth, self-discovery, and courage. Only once these values had been established as the North Star did the Lego products enter the equation. During my conversation with Seanne Winslow, the executive producer of "The Lego Movie," she explained that "when we created 'The Lego Movie,' our goal was not to create a movie about Lego, but to create a great movie that used Lego as the medium of communication."
The idea was the core. The product was only the medium.
Lesson for influencer marketers
To create great branded content with a creative partner, be it an influencer or movie studio, clearly communicate your brand essence. Once these values have been identified and solidified content can be created that reflect them.
Give creatives control
Lin Pictures was not the first to pitch the toy company for the film rights. For years, all the major Hollywood studios had coveted Lego, with no success. Being one of the best-known and best-loved brands in the world, Lego feared that the potential brand damage would outweigh the financial and branding gains.
How could they put their baby -- their brand image -- into the hands of a third-party?
Finally, after several conversations, Lego found the right partner in Lin Pictures and moved forward with the project. Lego stayed involved throughout the creative process, but let the experts at Lin lead the way (after all, that is what they were paying them for). As Winslow told me, "The Lego Movie" was as successful as it was because Lego gave us [Lin Pictures] the power to shape the creative vision. Only then were we able to bring the Lego brand to life on the big screen."
Lesson for influencer marketers
When you hire influencers to promote your brand, you are paying for both their reach and their creative vision. If you pick the right people, they will be experts in their medium and know their audience like the back of their hand. Leverage this asset by giving them guidelines on your brand values and campaign goals, but allow them the freedom to let their creative juices flow.
Choose your creative team wisely
Winslow had a clear vision when she set off to build the team for "The Lego Movie." At Lin Pictures, Winslow was part of helping build a highly efficient and structured organizational culture where everyone knew their position and responsibilities.
For Lego, she aimed to create something completely different: a culture that encouraged free-thought and open discussions. The organization was flattened and hierarchies smoothened. In the early days of Lego, she recalls one time when an assistant editor asked her assistant, "Seanne has emailed me three times, but I've been afraid to reply. Am I allowed to?" Since then, Winslow built an environment where everyone was able to voice their opinion on the creative direction.
There is a crystal clear mirroring between the values embodied in "The Lego Movie" and those permeating the organization that created the movie. Values of creativity, youth, self-discovery, and courage were shared by both. After all, products are physical representations of their makers' minds.
Lesson for influencer marketers
The influencers you select will make or break your campaign. Make sure that they understand and embody your brand values. Here are a few recommendations to guide your selection process.
As consumer attention becomes ever harder to secure, branded content will become an increasingly more powerful strategy for companies that need to break through the noise. We will see brands striking many more partnerships with music artists, studios, bloggers, and influencers to co-create content that people want to watch. The most successful brands will be those that learn how to leverage creatives successfully, as Lego did with Lin Pictures. To sum it up, the three lessons from "The Lego Movie" are:
- Brands must be crystal clear on what their brand values are, communicate them clearly to creatives, and make them adaptable to social media.
- Brands must empower influencers to leverage their creativity and social media expertise.
- Brands must meticulously select the right influencer partners.
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"Lego figure heads" image via Shutterstock.