LEGO Movie Another Example of the Power of Promotion

The LEGO Movie's main protagonist

The LEGO Movie’s main protagonist

When is a movie not a movie? When it’s a commercial conceived, constructed and distributed to sell a product. Case in point, the new LEGO Movie is the latest example of a movie being more than just that. The LEGO Movie debuted to a handsome $69 million box office opening, as well as to critical success (Sava, 2014). But the real coupe is not for what this movie means for the motion picture industry, but what it will do to sell the little plastic bricks.

The Danish LEGO group was foundering in the early 2000s (Greene, 2010). The company had invested in areas where they lacked expertise, such as in co-producing Galidor: Defenders of the Outer Dimension, an original TV show that strayed far from their core success (Greene, 2010). They also suffered decreases in demand for many of their mainstay toy kits. A change in strategy, moving away from traditional toy designers, toward the finest art school graduates resulted in the ballooning of the number of custom LEGO parts from 7,000 to 12,000 in just seven years (Greene, 2010). This also meant that supply costs increased and made it nearly impossible to determine the profit margins from each kit sold. But since about 2005, LEGO has done a masterful job bringing the company back from the brink. While much of the heavy construction (pun intended) was completed by refocusing on the design of their products, their most recent resurgence is largely due to the company’s perfected art of blending advertising and entertainment (Sava, 2014).

Licenses have helped LEGO regain form

Licenses have helped LEGO regain form

Licensing agreements with merchandising juggernauts like Star Wars, Marvel and DC, have led to new product placement entities including TV shows, video games and now movies, where instead costing the company money, the commercials become an actual profit center for LEGO. Imagine, LEGO customers were shelling out $50-$60 to buy a video game that inspired them to go out and spend more money on the toys the games were based on.

Product placements in movies is certainly not a new idea, but the movie as the product placement is a growing phenomenon. The previously mentioned Star Wars is probably the pinnacle case of a movie as the source material for creating demand for a product. Over the years, more than $20 billion worth of Star Wars merchandising has been sold (Block, 2012). To date, totals for all six Star Wars movies, including their multiple re-releases, have only reached a paltry $4.5 billion (Box Office Mojo, 2014). It’s no wonder why Disney paid over $4 billion dollars last year for the license to make more of these movies.

The success of Star Wars has led to a number of motion picture imitators, from Hasbro’s Transformers, G.I. Joe and Battleship, to Disney’s Toy Story and Cars. Each of these movie franchises, whether hit or miss, were created for the express purpose of reviving merchandising sales in products. What do they all have in common? They are all based on toys, and for the majority of them, they were critically successful, but there’s more to it than just making a good movie. Each of these properties come with a built in nostalgia factor (Sava, 2014). Whether LEGO’s bricks, or Toy Story’s Barbie dolls, they tap into the notion of parents passing on elements of what brought them joy as kids, to their own children.


Transformers and Battleship are modern examples of movies as product placement

Transformers and Battleship are modern examples of movies as product placement

The LEGO Movie tells this story quite literally. Without spoilers for those of you who still plan to see it, the plot of the movie ties directly into a father-son relationship, much the way Toy Story has tugged at our heartstrings over the years.

With the LEGO Movie, LEGO’s resurgence is all but complete. The box office success of the movie has already resulted in the announcement of a sequel in 2017, and increased market share for the toys are likely to follow. After all, who could resist running out to the toy store to buy a set after spending 100 minutes watching a commercial on all the cool stuff you can create with them.

Who can resist movie stars and toys?

Who can resist movie stars and toys?

For companies, the idea of getting your customers to pay for your commercials, and then pay for your “real” products has to be enticing. It takes the idea of efficiency to a whole new level. For entertainment’s sake, let’s just hope that the resulting copycats fall more in line with critical success of Toy Story and the LEGO Movie, than they do with Battleship.


Block, A. B. (2012, February 9). The Real Force Behind ‘Star Wars’: How George Lucas Built an Empire – The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 21, 2014, from

Greene, J. (2007, July 23). How LEGO Revived Its Brand – Businessweek. Retrieved February 21, 2014, from

Sava, O. (2014, February 11). Why The Lego Movie is the perfect piece of product placement · For Our Consideration · The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 21, 2014, from

Star Wars Movies at the Box Office – Box Office Mojo. (2014). Retrieved February 21, 2014, from



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5 Responses to LEGO Movie Another Example of the Power of Promotion

  1. Erika White says:

    Hi Dante – This is an interesting post! I haven’t seen the LEGO movie, but I can certainly relate to instances where I’ve been watching television or a movie and felt like it was a commercial. That said, in a world where both advertisers and consumers expect more relevance and resonance with advertising, I wonder if strong product placement outweighs poor product placement. When done well, I hardly mind seeing products placed among creative stories (e.g. Cisco’s promotions in the office), but there are obviously many instances where the commercial push diminishes enjoyment of creative content. Still, I’m not sure if like actual commercials product placements actually require us to tune out or turn off!

  2. Kelly Schwager says:

    Hi Dante,
    Lego definitely appears to be taking a page out of the Disney playbook with cross promotion bringing together movies, theme parks, retail stores and products. While this strategy has become somewhat mainstream in kid and “family” oriented brands, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to see more of this “extreme” product placement in other areas? I was intrigued, for example, when the “The Intern” – a movie about working at Google – came out a few years ago ( While the Lego Movie was clearly produced by and for Lego, it isn’t entirely clear how involved Google was in the production of The Intern. Whether an intentional marketing ploy or not, The Intern turned out to be a marketing coup for Google…essentially serving as a brilliant recruiting and awareness builder for the company. It will be interesting to watch if other brand categories adopt a big screen play as part of their marketing strategy.

  3. Misty Brown says:

    Dante, really smart angle to take on this blog. The line that resonated with me most was:

    < >

    Absolutely 100% true! And it’s a brilliant concept that can be replicated a million times over. The formula: Start with an existing product, enliven it via dimension and storytelling and viola! You have a living, breathing product that ignites in the theatrical world and still flies off the shelves.

    Interestingly, my favorite movie of all time (don’t hold it against me) is “Clue.” In a very *small* way, it was one of the original films to do what LEGO is now doing. Granted, the board game Clue (the beneficiary) did not have anywhere near the sales or following of LEGO, and that showed at the box office. However, it did drive up a cult demand for the board game, which is essentially the same formula.

    Vary, A. B. (2013, September 2). “Something terrible has happened here”: The crazy story of how “Clue” went from forgotten flop to cult triumph. Retrieved from

  4. Misty Brown says:

    It looks like my “brackets” were construed as HTML tags, lol. This is the quote from your original post that resonated with me:

    “Product placements in movies is certainly not a new idea, but the movie as the product placement is a growing phenomenon. “

  5. Nick Dempsey says:

    Great post Dante. When I think about this lego movie, and all of the many Hasbro games that movies were based on, not to mention other games that turned into movies like Clue or even Dungeons and Dragons, I cannot help but think that this is all just really an elaborate form of content marketing. It seems to be working quite well, the Transformers movies seem to be making quite a bit of money as well as the lego movie. Others have not fared as well. Still, I think this is the future of advertising. The advertisers are going to skip the middleman and just make their own television and movie content to sell their products.