It’s Not Selling Out, It’s Co-Branding!

2014 is looking pretty impressive for the clever people at LEGO. First there was the box office smash The Lego Movie which has currently cleared over $460 million. Then there was the lucrative partnership with Twentieth Century Fox . . .


To celebrate the 550th episode of the iconic television show The Simpsons, the famous TV family became LEGO-fied for the milestone episode. The storyline involved Homer Simpson being trapped in a dream world where everything was made of LEGO which had been inspired by the fun that he had experienced while playing with the blocks alongside Lisa.

Of course the episode has a marketing influence. Twentieth Century Fox has recently teamed up with LEGO in order to allow the production of Simpsons-inspired brick sets and the creation of this LEGO themed episode. And to complement the episode, LEGO have conveniently released the Simpsons brick sets internationally during the month of May. But there is something more to this episode which is resulting in many ecstatic reviews.

Promotional episodes are a difficult line to meander. Take Modern Family’s recent Australian inspired episode for an example. The episode was essentially a 21-minute celebrity endorsement for Australia showing off all our major sights and tourist attractions and letting the storyline slide. While it would be a very effective tool for encouraging tourism from the American audiences, it let down Australian audiences who had built up the special episode for a significant period of time.

However, The Simpsons episode managed to avoid this issue.

By removing any branding with the LEGO logo and creating an alternate universe around the notion of bricks rather than branded LEGO, the show has been able to avoid any wear out of the brand which would make consumers frustrated and annoyed while hurting both brands. There has also been a concerted effort to build a storyline around the product meaning that the episode stands by itself even with the promotional aspect – and the fantasy world of The Simpsons certainly aids this construct.

But even more importantly, there is one aspect to this episode which makes the brand partnership successful . . . it is self-depreciating.

Everybody was aware of the brand partnership going into the episode and the show even managed to gain increased ratings as audiences wanted to see how The Simpsons would merge with the famous kids brand. So rather than take the alliance seriously, the potentially difficult issue was admitted right up front with Homer shouting ‘It’s not selling out, it’s co-branding’ as he is woken from a nightmare at the beginning of the episode.

This self-deprecating tone allows consumers to feel at ease with the partnership rather than feel that the next 21-minutes will consist of an elongated infomercial for LEGO.

However, if the marketing did work, I’m sure it wouldn’t be very hard to find the newly released The Simpsons­-themed LEGO packs in department stores!