“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.
The brilliance of “The Lego Movie” lies in providing every piece to the modern branding puzzle, including the surface-level subversion. Not only does the movie effectively celebrate its own enormous, diverse and endlessly seductive universe, not only does it rejoice in the importance of play and creativity, but it also mocks the faux-positivity of modern corporate schlock (“Everything is awesome!”). Eventually, Lego’s core brand message is threatened when President Business transforms into Lord Business, a manipulative mastermind who preaches the religion of Awesomeness to distract everyone from his dastardly plans to make creative play impossible.
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. … All of those sophisticated constructions and celebrity minifigures and universes within universes are nothing, we learn, compared to a simple box of (noncross-platform promotional) colorful plastic blocks in the hands of a child. That box of blocks proves that, even though you might feel average and empty-headed, in fact you are ‘the most important, most talented, most interesting, most extraordinary person in the universe.'”