The Best Example of Brand Storytelling Ever: The Lego Movie

by Marcus Sheridan

Lego_Movie_Branding

We hear lots of talk these days about the power of “storytelling”—and why it’s so critical for businesses and brands as we continue to rush forth in the digital age.

But like so much of this other stuff we yap about in the marketing and branding realm, storytelling has always been important. It has been the essence of the greatest and most successful communicators since the beginning of man.

Socrates was a good one.

Jesus was even better.

Ben Franklin was masterful.

Dale Carnegie was genius.

The list goes on and on.

But today, stories, when used properly, not only give “soul” to a brand, but can also supercharge their overall branding and marketing efforts.

And no better example have I ever seen of this than The Lego Movie that was just released by Warner Bros. As I sat in the theater this evening to a packed house along with 3 of my children, I marveled at what I was witnessing. Kids laughed. Adults chuckled. Everyone was thoroughly entertained. All because a brand had managed to create a masterful story, using their product as the star, and at the same time created what is the most effective 90 minute commercial for a “toy” we’ve ever seen.

In fact, an hour after we had returned from watching the movie, two of my kids walked out of their bedroom, each with a newly-built Lego ship. (This after not having touched their Legos for months.)

A few minutes later, my 11-year old son made a simple statement to his mother:

“Mom, I need a new Lego set.”

And that, my friends, is how to tell a story and induce your customers to action.

Sure, making people feel good when they hear or read a story is nice, but making them spend their money is ultimately what it’s all about—at least if we’re being honest with ourselves.

The Simplicity in How Lego Did It

But the reaction of my kids is no surprise really. If one analyzes the film, it’s quite apparent what makes it so very effective:

1. It’s actually a good movie—incredibly well written— for kids and adults.

2. The product is the entire movie. Every scene is masterfully created with Legos.

3. There are deep messages happening within the movie, all of which are uplifting and easy to get behind:

-There is a “builder” within each one of us if we only believe

-We’re only as limited as our imagination allows us to be

-You’re never too old to create magic

This is exactly why Lego has hit such a huge home run with this movie, which is quickly becoming the mecca of “story telling done right” for brands big and small going forward.

Stop Selling “Stuff”

You see, Lego doesn’t see themselves as a company that simply makes little blocks that can be turned into bigger objects.

brand storytelling

Rather, Lego understands their bigger purpose—one of challenging the minds of people young and old to create, imagine, and go beyond what they believe is possible.

In fact, Lego doesn’t sell “blocks” at all, they sell possibilities.

It is my firm belief that every brand and business needs to find their inner Lego, as it’s certainly within each one of us.

We can sell “things,” or we can sell so much more—something with meaning, depth, and purpose.

So my hat tips to Lego for thinking so far ahead of the storytelling curve, and it’s my hope that this is just the beginning…





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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Anthony Fors February 17, 2014 at

Hey Marcus,

Thanks for writing this (and for everything you do), I’ll be spreading this post around an organization who hired me to help with their customer experience.

They are a Verizon Wireless retailer and I’m taking the approach that I’d like their staff to consider that they do not sell smartphone and tablets, but connection machines that make their customers’ lives better, easier, more fun, and to share stories about our remarkable products…and the Lego movie and your post will help me with that message.

Thanks a ton!
-Anthony

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Marcus Sheridan February 17, 2014 at

Sounds like y’all need a company trip to the Lego moving my man!!

Hope you’re well, and hope to see you again in 2014 :-)

Marcus

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Jeremy Abel February 17, 2014 at

Hey Marcus,

You are spot on with the statement, “Lego doesn’t sell ‘blocks’ at all, they sell possibilities.” And isn’t that the crux of great marketing- convincing people that your product/service will help get them from their actual state to their ideal state.

A great example is HubSpot’s marketing- they aren’t focused on selling the software – they’re selling the idea that inbound marketing can help grow your business. And if you want to grow your business by implementing an inbound marketing strategy, then their product makes the process much easier for you to reach that ideal state.

Problem recognition (stage 1 of the consumer decision making process) is sparked by a discrepancy between a consumer’s actual state and his/her ideal state. And for many brands, it’s becoming harder to set the stage for problem recognition as we tune out the traditional sparks (e.g. TV and radio ads). LEGO did a tremendous job exemplifying how marketers should be doing this by making the problem recognition (or should we say, “opportunity recognition”?) arise as a result of *first* providing great content (i.e. the movie). Very analogous to how HubSpot uses educational marketing content to spark opportunity recognition in marketers :)

Excellent post Marcus- I hope all is well!

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan February 17, 2014 at

Jeremy, LOVE the analogy with HubSpot. Yes, this is exactly why they shifted from Inbound Marketing to simply “Inbound”—a culture and mindset if you will for businesses.

Always appreciate it so much when you stop by my friend!

Marcus

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Owen Blevins February 17, 2014 at

Hey there brother!
I was putting off going to see this movie with my kids but now I’m all over it! I can enjoy the movie and get schooled at the same time! Great example of influencing others without having to pitch them. Lego’s and WB’s even charge us to build their brands! I love it…
Rock on my friend…
BTW, putting the finishing touches on my long overdue “Massive and Candid Review of the Remarkable Growth Experience” Stay tuned!

Owen

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Marcus Sheridan February 17, 2014 at

Awesome bud, and can’t wait to review your thoughts!!!

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Davina K. Brewer February 17, 2014 at

If you think of some of the prestige brands like Coke, Disney, Apple.. they stopped selling ‘stuff’ years ago. No features, no specs and benefits – it’s all about the experience and lifestyle, the possibilities and opportunities, the memories and freedom. It comes understanding that WIIFM customer mindset, focus on ‘what we can do for you, how our X makes your world better’ and then it ‘sells’ itself. Hadn’t seen the movie Marcus, but you’ve got me tempted. ;-) FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan February 17, 2014 at

Glad to know I’ve given you an excuse for some popcorn and good laughs Davina!

Great seeing you my friend :)

Marcus

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Adam Kielich February 19, 2014 at

There’s an oft-quoted story that when Coca-Cola released New Coke, there was a letter sent by an elderly woman complaining that they were ruining her memories, not just some drink she enjoys. That’s a powerful brand.

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Davina K. Brewer February 19, 2014 at

Heard a lot of theories about New Coke, never that one Adam. Makes me think of the complaints Disney much get as they change and update rides; I know for Winnie the Pooh, there’s a copy of the deed on the wall to honor the change from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. FWIW.

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Vincent Messina February 17, 2014 at

This article left me wondering about some things that you might be able to clear up:

1. Did Lego actually have anything to do with the creation and production of the film?
2. If not, can we attribute any type of label that recognizes them as a brand that uses stories to market their product?
3. Or are you suggesting, seemingly in a more accurate way, that all brands can learn, less from the actual model, and more from the concept of using stories to sell stuff?
4. Is there an example, that is similar, that demonstrates a lesser known brand, using the concept?
5. Even if Lego DID create the films story and actual film, given the demand model of actual legos, is it fair to say that this example of the concept of story telling is applicable for “all brands, big and small”?

Separately, and more as commentary on the folks you use to represent great story tellers, both Socrates and Jesus were executed well before their stories were able to resonate with the masses. In fact, it was hundreds if not thousands of years after their deaths that people started to take note. Neither would have survived in today’s world of social media marketing where people seem more comfortable stroking egos, than constructively expressing a dissenting point of view.

Also, does Dale Carnegie belong in a any list that includes Socrates and or Jesus, or for that matter, Ben Franklin?

With that, pass the Hemlock.

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Marcus Sheridan February 17, 2014 at

Vincent, I think you’ve got a very scarce point of view about what Lego did. With your apparent outlook, it’s almost as if you’re not giving them credit for creating some pretty powerful art.

Yes, they had a lot to do with the movie.

But my question for you is— Have you even seen the film yet?

Also, I think Jesus did a pretty solid job of creating a movement while he was alive, much of which was through story—stories that got passed down again and again. So your logic there doesn’t fit with me.

And finally, we were discussing “storytellers” that were very good at what they did. That was what the list was all about. Plus, it’s my list, and I really don’t care how other people view those 4 men. Each is a hero to me, and that’s what matters.

Take a half-full approach man.

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Vincent Messina February 17, 2014 at

I didn’t express it as a point of view. I asked a question. More importantly, in terms of what Lego did, what did they actually do beyond creating a great product that inspired someone to create an inspirational movie.

I have not seen the movie. But since I love animated and inspirational feature films, I am sure to see it soon. Whatever I ultimately feel about the movie, doesn’t change the question from a marketing perspective. What are we trying to learn from this example, not just from a concept perspective, but from a “take action” perspective.

Lego has great product. The movie is receiving great reviews. What I am asking is, does Lego deserve credit for a story or movie they didn’t create? Or do they deserve credit for creating a great product that inspired two dudes to create a great and inspirational movie, that indirectly sold stuff.

Fair point on Dale. Didn’t mean to insult your list. That wasn’t very nice.

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Vincent Messina February 17, 2014 at

I think there something useful in a closer examination of how this movie actually came to be. So I researched it and found an article in the WSJ that literally answered the question.

From an article in the Wall Street Journal Online, “Building ‘The Lego Movie,’ One Brick at a Time”:

“In 2009, Warner producer Dan Lin and writers Dan and Kevin Hageman traveled to Lego headquarters in Billund, Denmark, to pitch a movie set in a Lego-brick universe.”

“They really looked at me and said ‘what’s in it for us?’,” Mr. Lin recalls.

“Warner brought in co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who had made “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” to flesh out characters and a plot for the movie, which the studio is calling “family-friendly with an edge.”

“Our fear going into it,” Mr. Miller says, “was they were going to say, ‘We wanna sell this toy and this toy. Kids love race cars, so we need to have a race car in the movie.’ They never did anything like that. They said make the movie you want make. We’ll make toys based on that.”

So, to my original point, Lego backed the movie as any investor would. The story line, and the creative were left up to the writers, producers etc etc.

Lego was pitched the idea to make a movie using their product as the back drop. They knew this could result in massive product sales. So, they accepted the pitch, and then stepped out of the way, letting the movie dudes do their thing.

My outlook isn’t scarce, or dim or negative. I am giving credit where credit is earned. Lego, according to the actual producer of the film, said you do your thing and we will sell product based on that.

I believe Lego made a brilliant decision to accept the project, finance it, and reap the rewards both from a brand perspective and from a profit perspective. But they did not contribute creatively to anything else.

I also believe that there is something to be learned about the power of connecting with your audience using emotional story lines. I originally asked for examples of this, and still would like them, so that I can better understand where stories fit with smaller brands.

Maybe the lesson is to higher people who know how to tell great stories, let them tell the story, and sit back and sell stuff as a result of the story. Don’t really know for sure.

Here is the WSJ article if you want to read it beyond the quotes I presented here.
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303553204579347031590079364

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Kaloyan Banev February 17, 2014 at

Quite correct, well I have grown in communistic country where there was no Lego, just generic building blocks for kids that can do anything with it. I think that it is all about the product that is wanted and needed. It will be recognized even without much marketing.

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Mitch February 18, 2014 at

well if you have a budget to make a Hollywood movie for your brand then i don’t story-telling would matter that much,
with big budgets comes great branding and all of the cool stuff,
think McDonalds, everyone knows their food quality is terrible and yet they still sell in billions, because of the huge advertising budget, (movie themes, kids toys, etc … )
it doesn’t matter what you sell, it’s all about do you have enough budget to advertise big or not ??

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NANDA RUSMANA February 18, 2014 at

wow so far I only know a few techniques of promotion, but after reading this article I can add another very useful technique. I have to say very thank you to share this information.

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Asraffa February 18, 2014 at

I never imagined that marketing could reach this far. Thank you for this wonderful share of yours . I will be bringing up this insight to my coaching group at the end of this month.

And I totally agree with Davina too:
“If you think of some of the prestige brands like Coke, Disney, Apple.. they stopped selling ‘stuff’ years ago. No features, no specs and benefits – it’s all about the experience and lifestyle, the possibilities and opportunities, the memories and freedom. It comes understanding that WIIFM customer mindset, focus on ‘what we can do for you, how our X makes your world better’ and then it ‘sells’ itself. Hadn’t seen the movie Marcus, but you’ve got me tempted. ;-) FWIW.”

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Damien February 18, 2014 at

Thanks Marcus — this really makes me want to see the Lego movie!

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Trent Dyrsmid February 18, 2014 at

Hey Marcus,

Brilliant post, my friend. I’ve shared it with my tribe.

Trent

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Sundulbet February 19, 2014 at

hi

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Jordan February 20, 2014 at

The Lego Movie is really a superb one! It has a nice story which I think marketers like us should follow in our strategies. I like what you had mentioned here: “We can sell “things,” or we can sell so much more—something with meaning, depth, and purpose.” I like the song “Everything is awesome”…

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Tim Hughes February 24, 2014 at

Everything is awesome!

Love your post. I think I am cursed to have that song blazing in my brain for the next three months after watching it with my kids this weekend.

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Marcus Sheridan February 28, 2014 at

Trust me bro, the curse is real.I’m still singing it! :-)

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Kacee Erhard February 27, 2014 at

I thoroughly enjoy hearing your perspective on all things marketing, Marcus. You’re who opened my eyes to sharing the “family jewels!” I don’t mean to be “stroking your ego” here, yet I can’t resist saying that your list of storytellers rocks! I agree with you that, yes, Jesus got his stories rolling out like gangbusters once he had the audacity to appear as the dead man he was! ;-)
Thank you for everything you do. I love it.

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Marcus Sheridan February 28, 2014 at

Really appreciate your comment Kacee :-) Hope you’ll be back again!

Marcus

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Alessandra Esteves March 11, 2014 at

You are right! I saw the movie too, with my two boys and they still ask for these lego products.
The movie is great, and the story is real (at least for my husband which behaves just like the dad in the movie).
Anyway, thanks for the tips.
Cheers,

Alessandra Esteves
http://www.damadovinho.com.br

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Korah Morrison March 13, 2014 at

The LEGO movie is actually appreciated simply by just about all ages of groups. :)

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Camille April 22, 2014 at

Brilliant. Well written. And Brilliant.

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