Brands have been experimenting with branded entertainment for decades, but few have managed to break through and become long-running international hits. That was until Lego Masters came along and rewrote the rule book. Lucas Green, global head of content at international distributor Banijay, tells brands how they can replicate his success.
Lego Masters is the holy grail of branded entertainment. The show, which is jointly owned by production company Tuesday’s Child, Banijay and The Lego Group, first aired in 2017 on Channel 4. It has since spawned 18 international adaptations and is in its third season in Fox’s primetime slot from the actor Will Arnett.
Branded content tutorials from Lego Masters
“[Lego Masters] spread around the world and took on a new life – it became a global hit in a very short time,” says Green.
The format originated with British producers Tuesday’s Child, who introduced it to toy manufacturers. Green says Lego has been inundated with requests, but the format has convinced him it will be done the right way and in line with the brand’s values.
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“If you’re going to do a competitive brick-making show, there’s only one market leader in that space – that’s Lego, there’s no question about which brand you want to be associated with,” Green says.
A difficult aspect of running ad-funded shows is negotiating the various territory-specific sponsorship regulations that prohibit the number of direct references to brands or logos. In the case of Lego Masters, the manufacturers could not show any Lego sets that were on sale. To overcome this, Green says the 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 the playfulness,” it’s all Lego, he says. “It’s about driving those core Lego principles, even if it’s not just a matter of how many seconds you can get Lego on screen.”
Green reminds brands and branded content agencies to remember to tell stories. “That’s what helps create long-term programming beyond an ad campaign.” In Lego’s case, that creates epic builds, dangers 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 keep the audience, how you get them to watch your show, and how you integrate your brand,” advises Green.
In terms of the editorial process, Green says it involves the show’s producers in collaboration with Lego. “Without Lego’s involvement, this would not have been possible,” he says. “This is a perfect example of how manufacturers and brands can work together.”
Lego also contributes to sponsors and brands that can advertise around the show to protect the safety of their brand. 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 such projects. It ranges from agencies representing their clients, to production companies approaching brands, to broadcasters creating collaborations.
However, Green recommends getting involved early in the show’s development. “The sooner you have those conversations, the better — if you leave it to the last minute, you won’t be able to integrate it into the show,” he says.
Ad-funded content has had a checkered history. Although there were many good attempts, the shows often struggled to break into broadcast television. “It’s been a long road for anyone working with branded content. My career was interrupted by trying to make it 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 he was scheduled for a Sunday morning T4 slot rather than a primetime slot on a flagship channel.
He is also responsible for 65 episodes of the Channel 4 show What’s Cooking, paid for by supermarket Sainsbury’s. Although the show was considered a success, Green recalls, it only managed one season as brands are always looking to move on to the next campaign.
“If you want to create content that has longevity and travels 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 have to keep pushing.”
Green postulates how branded content will eventually become interactive and shoppable. He mentioned the Amazon/Banijay Beer Masters brewing format, which had a beer shopping option at the end of each episode.
Keen to have more shows like Lego Masters in the Banijay portfolio, Green is appealing to brands to “pick up the phone and come to us. Our doors are always open and our phones are always on.”