They may be pitched as art, but some feature films are the most expensive – and successful – content marketing campaigns money can buy.
“The Lego Movie” may be the greatest content marketing vehicle ever. It’s the goofball saga, in animated 3-D, of an ordinary schmoe chosen to save the world from an evil tyrant in an alternate universe where everything is made of Legos. In case you just blew in after a long voyage on a space ship, Legos are those surprisingly versatile toy plastic blocks used to recreate almost any structure imaginable.
The movie took the nation by storm in 2014, raking in $400 million in box office receipts in its first two months in theaters (currently, the total stands at about $469 million, according to boxofficemojo.com). While the plot is predictable, the movie is funny and engaging for both adults and kids. It is, said the San Francisco Chronicle, “a wonderful surprise, cleverly written and executed brick by brick with a visual panache.”
Critical acclaim, box office success, prospects for a sequel-producing franchise – all of this for what’s essentially a 100-minute commercial for a toy.
“This movie is a stunning piece of content marketing dressed up in a silver screen ball gown,” said the British newspaper The Guardian at the time. Box office gold, sure, the newspaper notes, “but the more fascinating stats will be the sales figures of Lego in the coming years.”
Others have gone this route, too, notably the “Transformers” franchise based on toy robots created by Hasbro and Tomy. The franchise’s four films have drawn billions in box office, but they’ve been mostly panned by critics and received little of the product euphoria Lego has reaped.
“Joy,” released last Christmas, is a different kind of content marketing film, an oddball tale about a woman who aspires to entrepreneurial success while battling a stubbornly unsupportive family and a crassly indifferent product marketing system. The main character, Joy, who has a genius for solving household problems, is based loosely on Joy Mangano, the television marketing genius who achieved fame with self-invented home products such as the Miracle Mop that she pitches on QVC and the Home Shopping Network.
While aimed at an adult audience, “Joy,” like “Lego,” is another commercial enveloped in a feel-good story. The spunky protagonist triumphs over financial travails and insidious obstructions thrown up by family members to become, like Mangano, an executive at a successful television sales network. She is also the owner of patents on hugely popular items she invented.
In future decades, people may be talking about “Joy,” in the same way marketers laud “The Lego Movie.” Box office is approaching $100 million so far, and, with Jennifer Lawrence playing Joy and nominated for an Oscar for the role, the full revenue story has yet to be told.
Expect more of these films that subtly glorify products, bathing them in the warm light that emanates from engaging characters and feel-good narratives. If there’s one thing Hollywood knows how to do well, it’s replicating prior ventures that generate vast amounts of profit.