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How Warner Bros used the Lego Movie marketing playbook to launch Detective Pikachu


By John McCarthy | Opinion editor

May 14, 2019 | 6 min read

The release of Warner Bros' Pokémon: Detective Pikachu this week marked the big screen, live-action debut for the series. Its VP of media, digital and marketing partnerships speaks to The Drum about drawing inspiration from the Lego Movie’s marketing strategy to launch the film.

Detective Pikachu marketing campaign

Furry billboards to flashy filters: inside Warner Bros UK's Detective Pikachu marketing

The Pokémon: Detective Pikachu movie set video game movie adaptation box office records, earning $58m on its opening weekend.

Globally, lead actor Ryan Reynolds threw his comedic weight behind the Pikachu marketing machine as he has previously with Deadpool and Aviator Gin. The campaign reached critical mass after Warner Bros teased Pokemon fans with a deceptive upload of Detective Pikachu to YouTube purporting to be a leak of the film. This bait and switch replaced the ‘movie’ with a full hour and forty-two minutes of Pikachu dancing, accumulating more than 3 million views.

But with the hype, it also drew in a stable of brands keen to leverage the marketing potential. Danni Murray, vice president of media, digital and marketing partnerships at Warner Bros Entertainment UK said the franchise was activated for brand partners including Burger King, Zipcar, LG, Kiss FM and Nintendo UK.

"There was a great appetite for the movie. The heritage and scale of the Pokemon brand combined with the power of Hollywood funny-man Ryan Reynolds made for some really positive brand conversations," he said, adding that Warner Bros UK drew inspiration from those it had successfully created for the Lego Movie and its sequels.

For half a decade, Warner Bros delivered bespoke partnerships for the Lego franchise. In the UK, this has covered everything from TV ad takeovers made of Lego (featuring brand partners), to voiceovers featuring Will Arnett's Lego Batman. The Lego ad takeover aired during The Voice on ITV (2 February 2019). Emmet, the movie's lead character, opened the spot before introducing partners DFS and McDonalds. This new approach leveraged the creative power of the franchise in a unique manner and stood out during the prime-time show. It is worth remembering the Lego franchise itself was a content marketing play to sell more toys.

Murray said: "The creative thinking behind the media and brand partnerships we have developed around the Lego franchise movies, has been instrumental in attracting great brands who want to work with us. Warner Bros has a fantastic reputation for producing and distributing world-class entertainment content and with the award-winning work we have produced for the Lego movies and many others, brands are naturally curious to see how we can work together."

Pokemon, like Lego, has an established global audience and an appealing visual palette in which brands can activation. Murray summed this up.

"Best in class creative is absolutely key for execution, but our philosophy always starts with a deep understanding of the brand partners business and their objectives - this is the key to a partnership being successful for all parties."

The partnerships were particularly present in the retail space. Detective Pikachu took over retailers like Harrods, Hamley’s, Smyths Toy Stores, Tesco, and Game.

Furthermore, in Burger King, it ran kid’s meal promotions along with six Pokemon toys to collect or 'catch' that have captured the imaginations of collectors and unboxers on YouTube. The last time the franchise partnered with Burger King was back in in 1999 when gold-plated Pokemon cards were available in shiny PokeBalls.

Burger King

"The fun and interesting themes of the film (collectability, electricity, power, humour, friendship, adventure) allowed us to reach out to an interesting pool of potential brand partners with unique creative hooks and ideas," explained Murray.

Radio station Kiss FM also ran a two-floor pop-up event in central London to celebrate the release of the film.

It featured a themed lounge and coffee bar with interactive photo opportunities, yellow furry walls (modelled after Pikachu) and a space inspired by Ryme City, the movie's locale. This was flanked with karaoke booths and a nail art station. Influencers and VIPs attended the space.

Meanwhile, car-sharing company Zipcar wrapped three e-golfs in yellow to establish a ‘Pika-fleet’. These cars are available to the public after transporting VIPs and influencers to Kiss FM's London pop-up event. In the digital space, Pikachu Snapchat filters were created to spread the series' mascot.

Other major partners also included 7-Eleven which ran Pikachu photo filters and an in-store AR-experience and Google which created a Detective Pikachu Playmoji pack on its AR Playground app. Casetify, created Pokemon-themed smartphone cases and Pillsbury delivered limited edition Pokemon cakes.

Niantic's augmented gaming sensation Pokemon Go helped prove how the brand can integrate with the likes of McDonald's and the real world, steps the movie appears to have forged forward with.

The studio was tasked with similarly unlocking the inherent value of Pokemon on a new scale after more than two decades of video game, TV and merchandising success. Nintendo will be hoping the performance of Detective Pikachu enables it to launch a successful movie franchise leveraging decades of lore and rich characters to draw from.

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