LEGO Isn’t Making the Pieces Fit

In 2012, LEGO launched the Friends line of products marketed specifically at girls¹. The pink and purple world containing doll-shaped figures that spend time on stereotypically female activities in a suburban setting devoid of male figures was apparently developed after four years of market research.

Heartlake Hair Salon by FriendsBricks

Two years and much criticism later, LEGO released the Research Institute set featuring three female scientists at work in their labs². This fan idea was so popular on LEGO’s crowd-sourced platform that the company created it as a limited edition set. The Research Institute sold out within days of its release, and LEGO has no plans to mass-produce it.

Meeting designed by vynsane
Research Institute by vynsane

Interestingly, many decades ago LEGO promoted their products (focused on creativity, role-playing, detail-orientation, and construction) to girls and boys equally³. The big idea behind this marketing campaign was pride: kids held up their inventions with big grins on their faces, delighted by their accomplishments.

Vintage LEGO ads from Sociological Images
Vintage LEGO ads from Sociological Images

You can look up many articles and blog posts that criticize LEGO’s marketing decisions, so I won’t repeat what’s already been said. Instead, I want to ask three questions:

  • Why did LEGO start by advertising their products to girls and boys alike, and then abandon this approach?
  • What made them think they could make more money by targeting only half of their previous audience?
  • Why did they choose to win girls over again with a new product line instead of simply re-imaging their current brand?

If LEGO is driven by the bottom line, I would expect they could have made more money by:

  • Keeping girls interested in their products all along
  • Speaking to the common interests of both genders
  • Taking all of the money that went into four years of research and development and directing it towards rebranding that appeals to girls and boys equally

Do you agree or disagree with my assertions? If you were part of LEGO’s marketing team, what would you recommend for 2015? I’ll revisit this topic again later, but I wanted to start getting people thinking about these sorts of decisions, and how they can impact both the perception of a company and its bottom line.


¹ http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/01/lego-gender-part-1-lego-friends/
² http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/business/short-lived-science-line-from-lego-for-girls.html?_r=0
³ http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/02/lego-gender-part-2-the-boys-club/

4 thoughts on “LEGO Isn’t Making the Pieces Fit

  1. I wish I could see the market research that went into the development of the “friends” lego line. Perhaps one of the problems of gender inequality is that we insist on dividing products between genders, which is what lego is doing here (razor blades are another example of a product that does this). “Gender generic products” (a term I think I just invented?) need not be split between genders. Lego is fun for boys and girls alike, and the messaging strategy to them doesn’t have to be divided (as is evident in older advertisements from lego).

    Assumptions about stereotypical gender roles and how they are propagated through marketing is (sadly) not always examined critically in academic, our class included. In reality, gender roles have in fact changed so drastically that marketing with this gender assumption in mind is at best ignorant marketing, and at worst bad business practice.

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    • All good points.

      I’d like to see the “research”, too. These days companies toss around that term to provide legitimacy, yet it’s as meaningless as saying a product is “natural” without explaining what that actually means. Who conducted the study? How many participants were included? How wide was the range of demographics, psychographics, and geographics that was sampled from? Which methods were used? How was bias reduced/eliminated? Was someone able to review the results with a critical eye? I could go on…

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  2. Just two random thoughts:

    – It seems that for every step forward, we move two backwards.

    – Did you know that traditionally blue used to be for girls (think Virgin Mary), and pink for boys (think red)?

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    • It does seem that way, doesn’t it? Although I would like to make a concerted effort to stop saying and thinking that, because I am worried that I am turning it into somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      And yes, I knew that about the colours being inverted once upon a time. What saddens me is the sheer number of people who never stop to consider how many things around us are artificial in their meaning. Wake up, everybody!

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