You really don’t need me to tell you that there’s a LEGO movie out right now. It’s impossible to ignore.
Heck, even as I write this there’s a Culture Show special on BBC2 right now about how LEGO has influenced architecture. Funnily enough, when constructing our house, the builders ran out of red bricks halfway up and had to finish with yellows and greens.
Warner Bros. began the marketing push seven months ago in June 2013 with a rapturously received teaser trailer and continued with a solid social marketing strategy, which saw very close engagement on social channels that continues through to this week of release.
ITV even turned over an entire advert break during its Sunday night edition of Dancing on Ice to LEGO, during which adverts from BT, Confused.com and Premier Inn were remade with LEGO models.
Of course, amateur and professional animators alike have been remaking existing films, TV shows, music videos, pop culture moments and historical events in LEGO for years now.
LEGO fans don’t need the excuse of a movie to get their old buckets of bricks out from the loft, in fact they never got stored away in the first place.
As LEGO’s brand relations director Michael McNally recently explained in The Verge:
I think what we’ve really found is that Lego is a medium… it’s not a toy, it’s a medium for other people to tell their own stories and create their own adventures.
On a surprisingly low budget for a major Hollywood movie ($60m) The Lego Movie has exceeded its cost in its first weekend, making $69m in the US alone and also looks set to do what every blockbuster dreams of doing by becoming a ‘four-quadrant’ smash.
This is a film which appeals to all four major demographic groups: male, female, and the over & under 25 year-olds.
Marketing definitely has a lot do with it, the examples I’ve mentioned above are just a smattering of promotional material available, but what’s more interesting is how little Warner Bros. really had to do in order to market the film. The LEGO Movie will become a ‘four-quadrant’ success purely because of our affection for the product.
The point when LEGO got its marketing strategy dead-on is when it started treating adult and child one and the same.
From its social channels where it keeps a constant eye on the feeds and is super quick to engage and remain personal to its audience. To its CUUSOO page where it’s built a supportive and consistently imaginative community, LEGO’s invitation to its audience is a catch-all policy: "hey come on in, we’re all the same here, we’re just a bunch of people who love LEGO".
Almost every media outlet going, including us (this my third article in a row about LEGO), has produced content around The LEGO Movie, not just because it’s topical, but because there is so much love for the brand. Almost every article written about it radiates with positivity and nostalgia.
However there are grumbles. I have a friend who laughed in mine and my other friend's faces because we were excited about seeing The Lego Movie. Four childless, over thirty-year-olds excited about the prospect of a LEGO movie.
“Have fun watching 25 minutes of adverts and trailers followed by another 100 minute long advert” I remember him saying witheringly.
In his hilarious and affectionately spiteful review of The Lego Movie, film critic Neil Alcock states:
This particular ad is for a brand of plastic bricks called LEGO, and the genius of this marketing campaign for the popular kids' toy is that you actually pay money to watch it. And people will. And then they will pay more money for LEGO, because the ad is so bloody good. Genius.
There may have been a point in all this marketing for the film where we forgot that LEGO is a product. A product being sold to us through fairly exceptional piece of content marketing.
Does that make it less valid?
All we need to do in order to answer that question, is to understand why we love LEGO the product.
LEGO appeals to two completely opposing personality types. Those that crave rules and order, and those that wish to remain as creatively free as their imaginations.
That sounded far more glib than I intended, but the point is that LEGO is timeless because it’s utterly adaptable to the user’s whim. LEGO has rules, if you wish to follow them, and the result – building this working thing exactly how it looks on the box - is a deeply satisfying experience.
Or you can treat the bricks just like a blank paper and pencil and make whatever your creativity allows.
David Beckham recently stated his love for the toy:
The last big thing I made was Tower Bridge... It had about 1,000 pieces. I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down.
The Guardian's Rupert Myers also makes an excellent point about the appeal of collecting LEGO as an adult:
Perhaps the novelty of returning to a much-loved toy in adulthood is that you can finally spend the sort of money that as a child you rarely got to blow on plastic figures; the realisation of long-held desires to build bigger, better, and to fulfil boyhood aspirations.
So why a movie?
The market’s desire to see a LEGO movie was at its highest point. US sales of LEGO increased to 26% in 2012, and this growth is largely attributed to its licensing deals with major film properties (and The Lone Ranger).
Lego is striking right now when it knows its stock is at its highest, and tactically using the strength of its partnerships to appeal to the largest audience possible.
That's the other fascinating point about the movie: how it ties in all kinds of other franchise properties, from Batman to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars. It sounds like a ground-breaking prospect, although it is possible that Who Framed Roger Rabbit may have stole the march on that one.
LEGO has a far deeper emotional connection with its worldwide fans than other attempts at toy-based movie franchises. Transformers are a fondly regarded toy and the film was a novel experiment in marketing that nostalgia to a grown up audience, however those grown-ups didn’t carry on buying those toys into their adulthood.
Whereas I often sneak in a packet of LEGO minifigs into our shopping basket when we visit the supermarket.
In plain terms, we care about LEGO. Who on Earth really cares about Battleships? Or a Transformers franchise that has outstayed its welcome by three movies?
But then, quite objectively, those films just weren’t very good. The LEGO Movie is excellent, therefore it perhaps transcends criticism of whether it’s just an overlong advert for LEGO or not.
It’s a thoroughly entertaining, expertly crafted hour-and-a-half of superior escapist fun that happens to be based on a product we’ve loved for 65 years.
Would it have gotten made if it wasn’t set in a LEGO world? Probably not. Would it still be any good if it wasn’t set in a LEGO world? No.
I’ll leave the final word to McNally, who reveals this justification for making the movie.
It wasn’t like we needed a movie to help us sell more stuff.