How the Lego Movie raises the bar for brand storytelling

A Danish company that sells small plastic bricks is about to convince millions of people around the world to pay to see one giant advertisement. This speaks volumes about the power of brand storytelling.

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The Lego Movie opened in UK cinemas last week. Before it even made these shores, it had already broken its $60m budget, taking $69m in the first week of UK sales alone. Make no mistake, this will be one of the hit films of 2014.


There is, however, an elephant in the room that we must address. This is an advert for a children’s toy – a 100 minute long one at that. So what is compelling men and women, adults and children, to hand over their money to be subjected to a huge marketing push? If there is one thing that the Lego Movie will teach us, it is the true power of brand storytelling.

Ideas inspire, product’s don’t.

There is a phrase that often gets trotted out at sales training events; “You’re not selling a bed, you’re selling a good night’s sleep” (you may have heard similar variants). The principle is that the product isn’t the reason that people feel motivated to buy, probably because what you’re trying to sell is actually fairly uninspiring, but it is what the product enables them to do that is inspiring. This is the principle that Lego has worked on since it was founded in 1949.

Of course, they’re not the only brand doing this. BT is currently trying to convince me to switch broadband providers by telling me about the dating exploits of some socially awkward middle-class students. Whenever a pair of TOMS Shoes is bought, another pair is donated to a child suffering poverty in Africa, and we’re led to believe that our apple pies are loving baked by a Mr Kipling, who doesn’t actually exist.

Like a fast internet connection or a pair of shoes, small plastic bricks (on their own) aren’t particularly interesting. However, when you throw in 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, they suddenly become very interesting.

The point is that 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?

Understand who buys your product, and why.

Understanding the factors that motivate your customers to purchase is critical to getting your brand story right. When you know this, you know how to inspire them.

Lego’s entire brand message is about enabling young people to come up with amazing creations, to create their own stories and to let their imagination run free.

As a holiday company, are you selling a cheap holiday or two weeks of family relaxation in the sunshine, with clear blue seas lapping at your feet? Do electrical retailers sell big TV screens, or do they sell an immersive home cinema experience with a world of entertainment little more than a click away?

When you understand the real motivations for engaging with your brand, you can create a story that reflects them.


There is good reason why sportswear brands associate themselves with the most talented and most prominent sportsmen and women in the world. Those personalities inspire others to better themselves, to take up the challenge and to be the best that they can be.

If I want to improve my waning football skills, a recommendation for a new pair of boots from a leading footballer is a very compelling message.

Nike has been doing this for years. Its ‘Parklife’ ad put 90s football stars on the pitches at Hackney Marshes. Several years later, Guy Richie’s ‘Take It to the Next Level’ campaign shared the journey from Sunday league to international superstar – a journey that many will never stop dreaming of.

Lego achieves this aim by making its product so incredibly versatile. Whether it is the builders of tomorrow or future storytellers, Lego’s success is underpinned by how creative it allows its customers to be.

Use nostalgia to your advantage.

Many of the millions of people who see the Lego Movie in the coming weeks and months will do so through nostalgia. Lego is a product that has spanned generations.

Whether it is using the aforementioned Mr Kipling to take people back to the smells and the tastes of their mother’s home baking, or a US auto manufacturer playing on the hardworking, blue-collar image of Detroit or Microsoft reminding us how things used to be in the 90s, nostalgia is a huge selling point.

Keep your narrative consistent.

Keeping your story consistent is critical to get consumers to buy into your brand story. If you have a wide and diverse range of products, you need to think about how these individually connect with your story and you need to have that narrative at the forefront of every decision you make.

If you don’t, you’ll end up with a narrative that is confused, unclear and ultimately, uninspiring.

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