Brands have been experimenting with branded entertainment for decades, but few have managed to cross over and become long-term international hits. That was 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 his success.
Lego Masters is the brand’s holy grail of entertainment. The show, which is jointly owned by production group Tuesday’s Child, Banijay and The Lego Group, first aired in 2017 on Channel 4. It has gone on to produce 18 international adaptations and is in its third season third in a primetime slot on syndicated Fox. by actor Will Arnett.
Lessons in branded content from Lego Masters
“[Lego Masters] it’s spread all over the world and taken on a new life of its own – in a fairly short space of time it’s become a global hit,” says Green.
The format originated with UK manufacturers Tuesday’s Child, who introduced it to toy manufacturers. Green says Lego has been inundated with requests, but the format convinced him it would be executed properly and in line with its brand values.
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“If you’re going to make a show about competitive brick-making, there’s only one market leader in that space – it’s Lego, there’s no doubt which brand you want to be associated with,” says Green.
A tricky aspect of running ad-funded shows is negotiating various territory-specific sponsorship regulations that prohibit the number of direct brand or logo references. In the case of Lego Masters, the manufacturers could not indicate any Lego sets that were for sale. To overcome this, Green says an ad-funded 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 Lego principles, 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 story. “That’s what helps create that long-term program beyond an advertising campaign.” In the case of Lego that is creating epic builds, risks and human stories, he says.
“Don’t underestimate the decades of experience TV producers have learned about building a story — it’s about narrative, how you keep your audience, how you get them to enjoy your show and how to integrate your brand, ” advises Green. .
As for the editorial process, Green says it involves the show’s producers in collaboration with Lego. “Without Lego’s involvement it wouldn’t have been possible,” he says. “It’s a perfect example of how manufacturers and brands can work together.”
Lego also has data on sponsors and brands that can advertise around the show to protect its brand safety. Banijay works with broadcasters on behalf of Lego to agree on suitable advertisers.
For agencies, brands and content creators, Green says there’s no set way to launch these types of projects. It varies from agencies pitching their clients to production companies pitching brands to broadcasters forging collaborations.
However, Green recommends entering early in the show’s development. “The sooner you have those conversations, the better—if you leave it until the last minute, you won’t be able to integrate it into the show,” he says.
Ad-funded content has had a checkered history. While there have been many good attempts, the shows have often struggled to break into terrestrial TV. “It’s been a long journey for anyone working in branded content. My career has been interrupted by trying to make this work,” says Green.
Green’s first foray into branded content was in 2007 with a music talent show on T4 called Orange Unsigned Acts in partnership with Orange Mobile. He says he struggled to break through as it was scheduled in a T4 Sunday morning slot, not a primetime slot on a major channel.
He was also responsible for 65 episodes of the Channel 4 show What’s Cooking, paid for by supermarket Sainsbury’s. While the show was considered a hit, Green recalls, it only lasted 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 lot of time,” he advises. “If at first you don’t succeed, you have to keep pushing.”
Green postulates how branded content will eventually become interactive and shoppable. He referenced an Amazon/Banijay brewing format, Beer Masters, which had a purchasable beer feature at the end of each episode.
Eager to have more shows like Lego Masters in Banijay’s portfolio, Green issues a call for brands to “pick up the phone and come to us. Our doors are always open and our phones are always on.”