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Post, Post-Modern Branding and Lego

March 3, 2014

Heather Havrilesky over at the New York Times clearly has nothing but admiration for the new Lego movie for its branding artistry.

“In this way, “The Lego Movie” graduates to a new skill level in the game of branding, an approach that’s at once more grandiose and more pernicious than ever.”

Havrilesky recognizes the movie as part of a recent trend towards self-referential communication, whereby brands call out the BS of the branding business by letting the audience know that they know the audience thinks its BS.

“Branding may have finally reached its Mannerist phase. Where the old-fashioned brand earnestly embraced a core message that verged on religious doctrine (Apple’s “Think Different,” Nike’s “Just Do It”), the new brand is aggressively self-aware, exaggerated and self-referential to the point of collapsing in on itself; rather than imbuing the product with magical qualities, it embraces and undercuts those qualities in one swift gesture. The effect is to subvert consumer prejudices and preconceptions and make us forget that we’re caught in a commerce-focused undertow.

It’s a counterintuitive sleight of hand: By acknowledging that their central message is unbelievable or at least exaggerated, the branding masterminds gain our trust and bolster our faith in the brand. Will Ferrell, for example, promoted “Anchorman II” and Dodge at the same time by appearing on talk shows as Ron Burgundy and declaring that Dodge’s cars were “terrible.” Dodge sales spiked. (Ferrell also voices President Business.) In New Zealand, Burger King ran YouTube ads of two guys eating Burger King while complaining about YouTube ads. Nearly every Super Bowl ad this year referred to the fact that it was a Super Bowl ad. The brand — and the TV ad, the movie and the fictional spokesman — is hyperaware of its own fictionality and thus earns the right to simultaneously denigrate and elevate itself as divine.”

It’s basically about brands being in-touch and not being trapped in some 1950s rosy eyed view of the world.

In a new social marketing world, where it’s possible to converse, engage and have fun with the audience, accepting these new realities seems to be very much a requirement for success.

It’s going to be interesting to see if social media efforts end up having any influence over the rest of the communication mix- do they stay in their “box”, or do some of the more human qualities of the medium make the jump?

Maybe brands will recognize the need to have multiple voices and personalities- just like people they will have their serious business suit side and their party side.

What’s interesting about the Lego movie is that they manage to do both at the same time- they find a smart, entertaining way to slam the contemporary world of business, while selling the audience on Lego’s core brand message.

Who knew that a Lego movie had so much to teach us?

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