Monday, January 2, 2012

Legos for Girls

Lego has just introduced its Lego Friends for girls, following a lengthy period of marketing research and testing. BusinessWeek has an indepth article about the company's new product development process here.

As anybody who knows 8-year-old boys knows, Lego is the go-to toy for birthdays and all other occasions. Its block sets featuring licensed brands such as Harry Potter and Star Wars are immensely popular with boys and with the people who buy for their sons, nephews, and grandsons. Not to mention AFOLs--Adult Fans of Lego, a large and lucrative segment of hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of building intricate creations from Lego blocks.

Now, with a $40 million campaign backing the intro of Lego Friends, will the product line become a favorite of girls worldwide?

Maybe, but I have my doubts. The "Friends" are mini-doll figures, not minifigures, with much more detailed faces and outfits than the minifigures in "boy" sets...in other words, they're small dolls. The "Friends" habitats seem to be the usual stuff of girl toys (beauty shop, house) with the usual girl accessories (cute dogs, cosmetics). And there's a lot of lavender and aqua, not to mention pink, leading me to believe that these are aimed at younger girls in particular.

By comparison with the boy sets featuring Star Wars, Ninjago, etc., the "Friends" sets seem, well, very safe, very tame, and nowhere near as compelling. The Star Wars and Harry Potter sets have aspirational aspects to them: Boys have to be able to follow directions to assemble the pieces, and the storylines are complex and multidimensional. The appeal is also multigenerational, because so many parents were Star Wars fans when they were young.

However, "Friends" have no outside associations or backstory that would be recognized by girls or their parents, an important difference. Also, they seem to have a "little girl" quality that limits the appeal, IMHO. Tweens and preteens want to be like teens, and that means more sophisticated toy themes. "Friends" are cute, not sophisticated.

Lego has been criticized recently for reinforcing gender stereotypes with this new "Friends" product line. A recent Time opinion piece says:
There are no men in Heartlake City, except for the father of Olivia, one of the five core “friends” who are not minifigs at all but redesigned mini-dolls that come with the following accessories: a purse, a hair brush, a hair drier, four lipsticks and two barrettes; a spatula, an electric mixer and two cupcakes; and for when they’re not primping or baking, a puppy dog and a pink book with butterflies on it. Is this message — with its emphasis on physical appearance and limited career choices — really any different from that of Disney’s princesses?
Good question. The market will deliver its answer very soon.

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