Hit show Lego Masters shares the building blocks of branded entertainment
Brands have been experimenting with branded entertainment for decades, but few have managed to cut through and become long-running international hits. That’s until Lego Masters came along and rewrote the rule book. Lucas Green, global head of content operations at international distributor Banijay, tells brands how they can replicate its success.
Lessons in branded content from Lego Masters / Banijay
Lego Masters is the holy grail of branded entertainment. The show, which is jointly owned by production outfit Tuesday’s Child, and The Lego Group, represented by Banijay, was first released in 2017 on Channel 4. It has gone on to spawn 18 international adaptations and is in its third season in a primetime slot on Fox hosted by the actor Will Arnett.
“[Lego Masters] has spread all over the world and taken on a new life of its own – in quite a short space of time it’s become a global hit,” Green says.
The format originated with UK producers Tuesday’s Child, which pitched it to the toymakers. Green says Lego is inundated with requests, but the format convinced it that it would be executed in the right way and in line with its brand values.
“If you are going to do a show about competitive brick-making there is only one market leader in that space – it’s Lego, there is no question about which brand you want to be associated with,” Green says.
A tricky aspect of executing brand-related content is negotiating the various territory-specific sponsorship regulations that prohibit the number of direct brand references or logos. In the case of Lego Masters, the producers couldn’t show any Lego sets that were on sale. To overcome this, Green says any show should be a “reaffirmation of your brand values.”
“All the creative beats of the show, the tone of the show and the sense of humor and playfulness,” it’s all Lego, he says. “It’s about driving home those core principles of Lego, even if it’s not just a matter of how many seconds you can get a Lego on the screen.”
Green reminds brands and agencies executing branded content not to forget the storytelling. “That is what helps create that long-form programming beyond an advertising campaign.” In the case of Lego that’s creating epic builds, jeopardy and human stories, he says.
“Don’t underestimate the decades of experience TV format producers have learned about building a story – it’s about the narrative, how you sustain an audience, how you get them to binge-watch your show and how to integrate your brand,” Green advises.
In terms of the editorial process, Green says it involves the producers of the show in collaboration with Lego. “Without Lego’s involvement it wouldn’t be possible,” he says. “It’s a perfect example of how producers and brands can work together.”
Lego also has input over sponsors and brands that can advertise around the show to protect its brand safety. Banijay works with the broadcasters on behalf of Lego to agree on suitable advertisers.
For agencies, brands and content creators, Green says there is no set way of kicking off these sorts of projects. It varies from agencies pitching their clients to production companies approaching brands to broadcasters forging collaborations.
Green recommends getting in early in the show’s development though. “The sooner you have those conversations the better – if you leave it till the last minute you won’t be able to integrate it into the show,” he says.
Ad-funded content has had a potted history. While there have been a lot of good attempts, shows have often struggled to break through on terrestrial TV. “It’s been a long journey for anyone who works in branded content. My career has been punctuated by attempts to make this work,” Green says.
Green’s first foray into branded content was in 2007 with a music talent show on T4 show called Orange Unsigned Acts in partnership with Orange Mobile. He says it struggled to break through as it was scheduled in a Sunday morning T4 slot, not a primetime slot on a flagship channel.
He was also responsible for 65 episodes of the Channel 4 show What’s Cooking, paid for by the supermarket Sainsbury’s. While the show was deemed a success, Green recalls, it managed just one season because brands are always keen to move on to the next campaign.
“If you want to create content that has longevity and travel to other markets, it’s a two or three-year process. It takes a long time,” he advises. “If at first you don’t succeed, you need to keep pushing.”
Green postulates how branded content will eventually become interactive and shoppable. He referenced an Amazon/Banijay beer-making format Beer Masters, which had a shoppable beer function at the end of each episode.
Keen to have more shows like Lego Masters in Banijay’s portfolio, Green issues a call to brands to “pick up the phone and come to us. Our doors are always open and our phones are always on.”