Why ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ Is More Than an Ad

'The Lego Batman Movie'

Is ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ more than a long commercial?

“The Lego Batman Movie” seems simple enough for most kids and parents. It’s a cartoon about a bunch of toy superheroes.

But for adults in communications, is it something else? A two-hour commercial? An epic, elegant example of content marketing and brand storytelling?

Or, as my comics-loving pal said, is it simply the best “Batman” movie in years?

I’m going with “all of the above.” Here’s why it matters to business communicators, brand journalists and marketing storytellers.

If it weren’t successful as entertainment, then no one would care about the product at its center.

If it came on strong with the hard sell, “The Lego Batman Movie” would have as much impact as the “Smurfs” sequel at the box office and in the toy stores:

None.

‘Everything Is Awesome’

“The Lego Batman Movie” is the follow-up to the wildly successful “The Lego Movie” of three years ago. That burst of color, invention, and whip-smart humor was a box-office smash. It won an Oscar nomination for its song, “Everything Is Awesome.” And it drew thoughtful commentary about its value as a piece of brand storytelling and as a Hollywood mega-investment.

'The Lego Movie'

‘The Lego Movie’ caught everyone by surprise.

At the time, I wrote:

As for the idea of a brand being turned into a feature? Well, it struck me as awfully cynical and made me think “The Lego Movie” would be a cheap, tacky stunt – not the actual, full-blooded (and pretty good) flick that it is.

Throughout are many little bits of funny business, eye candy, wit and heart – verbal and visual – that no one could have expected out of such a huge commercial undertaking.

In short, there’s a lot of individuality and expression throughout “The Lego Movie,” and that’s the lesson for corporate storytellers and brand marketers. Even when every computer-generated frame is meticulously planned and hermetically created, you still can delight audiences with unexpected flourishes that break through the machinery and, yes, serve the brand.

‘Content Marketing Genius’

Countless think-pieces elaborated on some of the same points.

One headline read: “The Content Marketing Genius of The Lego Movie.” The author writes, “Bravo, Lego, for creating a quality film about your product.” And she praises “how it uses the storyline to get past the modern audience’s defenses against advertising.”

Another headline read, “How Lego’s Content Marketing Saved the Company.”

And a British site asked, “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?”

What about going even bigger?

About a year later, Tom Gerace, founder and CEO of Boston-based Skyword agency, suggested content marketing should go even bigger. What if Coca-Cola had bid to broadcast the Olympics?

In a world where marketers want to connect with people through stories worthy of binge watching, why wouldn’t Coke want to share some of the world’s best stories every two years?

Why wouldn’t Princess Cruises produce the modern equivalent of “The Love Boat?” Consider what an extraordinary storytelling experience that show was and how it served as a showcase for Princess cruises.

“The Love Boat” ran for a decade, becoming a top-five show in prime time. It was dubbed or subtitled for 26 countries. It has been watched by tens of millions of people, all of whom saw strangers meet, drink, and dance under the moon and fall in love on the Pacific Princess. It remains in syndication to this day.

‘What’s Not to Like?’

I liked the first Lego movie a lot, and the second one’s pretty good. It will be a big hit, too – and the quality of the films is important.

Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times:

As in the first movie, the character design does much of the most meaningful work because it conveys part of what’s enjoyable about Legos, including their smooth-to-the touch plastic surfaces and knobby bits (studs in Lego lingo), which you can almost feel in your hands as you watch. One of the satisfactions of Legos is their touch sensation, a sense memory that’s imprinted on brains, too.

It feels almost churlishly old-school raising even modest objections to the fact that — in addition to being, you know, fun — the “Lego” movies are also commercials. It’s not new or news that movies have long sold stuff, including studio tie-ins and toys, as Walt Disney explained by example decades ago… Certainly there are worse things in life and definitely worse movies, including the “Transformers” blockbusters, which sell both toys and war.

‘Lego Batman’ lessons on a smaller scale

What about communicators who aren’t dealing with famous brands that bring generations of built-in love and loyalty with them?  What can they gather from the Lego movies?

Maybe just this: Quality matters. The level of your storytelling matters. In this case, entertainment value matters. Avoid the hard sell, like these movies do, because your audience doesn’t want it.

When I saw “The Lego Batman Movie,” the kids in the theater were laughing and well-behaved. The adults seemed to be enjoying it more than enough.

Those two groups in the audience had different needs and expectations.

So did my comics-geek friend and I. After the movie, she asked my opinion.

“Not bad,” I said. “Not as interesting as the first – you know, with a brand starring in its own movie…You?”

Still sore from Ben Affleck’s recent live-action turkey based on the caped crusader, she couldn’t have been happier.

“It was a hundred times better than the last real ‘Batman’ movie, that’s for sure!”