Defending LEGO Friends

LEGO friends is the latest attempt by LEGO to attract young girls to the brand.  Business Week covered the launch extensively and well in a cover story at the end of 2011.

The line was an immediate hit with “astonishing” sales, selling twice as many sets as expected and leading to a 35% jump in profits in the first half of 2012 (according to this article).

But the product brought a swift, negative reaction from some.  A petition on change.org by psychologist Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown charged that:

“Narrow stereotypes associated with pink and blue simply box kids in from an early age….  This is why LEGO’s latest marketing campaign has parents so angry. The rainbow of colors and a range of options for young children to create the scenes they are most interested in is much better for them than feeding them a narrow set of stereotypes.”

On NPR’s Tell Me More, Bailey Shoemaker Richards said: “it’s very focused on hanging out, on appearance, on beauty shops, and it’s a very narrow and limiting sort of idea of what [a] girlhood Lego experience should be.”

The petition quickly got 50,000 signatures.  Someone posted the following photoshopped version of the LEGO Friends house set:

LEGO Friends on Fire

How did LEGO respond?  Mads Nipper, then head of Product and Market Development, said in a prepared statement “We want to correct any misinterpretation that LEGO Friends is our only offering for girls. This is by no means the case. We know that many girls love to build and play with the wide variety of LEGO products already available. LEGO Friends joins this global collection of products as yet another theme option from which parents may choose the best building experience for their child’s skill and interest.”  Michael McNally, a LEGO Brand Relations Director, agreed to meet with the protest group on February 5th.

But LEGO was also supported by its fans.  One fan started a second petition on Change.org to stop the petition against LEGO.  Another started a petition asking LEGO to keep making pink and lavender bricks.

But my favorite response came from LEGO designer Mark Stafford.  Mark took the pieces from a few different LEGO Friends sets and created this , which he called Ultra Violet.  My favorite detail:  the claws for the hands are the lipsticks from the LEGO Friends Beauty Parlor.

Ultra Violet

My take:  LEGO Friends is very girly.  So are some girls (including my daughter).  If the sets make girls want to play with LEGO, isn’t that a good thing?  Helping girls develop 3D coordination, spatial reasoning, and creative construction skills is good, isn’t it?  Maybe I’m a bad father for having raised a daughter that likes pink, sparkly things.  But maybe I never had a chance – maybe there’s a combination of natural inclinations and societal pressures that led to my daughter’s preferences.  If you believe that LEGO is a good toy for kids, then we should be glad that LEGO has made a toy that appeals to a large subsegment of girls.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Sarah

    Lego used to be attractive for both boys and girls (or was at least aimed at both genders). Why are there no pink firefighters in Friends? Or pink police? It’s mostly cupcakes and shopping. It’s not just that everything is pink and sparkly. It’s that your girl is learning she can be anything she wants to be – as long as it’s pink (translate that into she can never be a doctor, only a nurse). And playing with boys? Well, no, impossible. They have different (more agressive) toys. That will get interesting when she grows up. How will boys and girls from the pink and blue generation ever talk to or understand each other? She only knows that girls love pink, sparkly and baking, and can maybe by exception build pink labs or treehouses. Oh, by the way, since you’re a dad… do you know the pinkification of girls will lead to them growing older younger and taking more risks (yes, sexually) at an earlier age? Please ask yourself again if you should be glad. I can tell you for one thing biology has nothing to do with it. Societal pressure unfortunately does, and sure, it’s not just Lego Friends, it’s everything else too. It should stop by parents being brave enough to not buy pinkified (or overly agressive) toys.

    • Karen

      Sarah really?? Girls playing with girly type stuff is showing they can be only a nurse not a doctor? You sound ridiculous! Every child is unique and surprise some girls still like playing dress up, with dolls, and pink stuff!

      • anne

        Karen I totally agree

      • Silv

        So true. My daughter loves Friends and Disney yet goes about asking daddy to take out his Schleich castle and all of the medieval soldiers so they can stage a war. My girlfriend has a boy who loves lego of any sort. His mum bought the Cinderella castle that sits amongst all the other non Friends or Disney sets. He doesn’t care. His imagination is larger than any stereotyping that only adults come up with.

    • Joe Tooch

      Yeah, you are what’s wrong with this world. If police and fire actually wore pink in real life, then maybe lego would follow. Maybe you and your cult of people who want to control everyone’s lives, should bring your grievance to your local govt agency, and have them change.

    • Skewed_View

      Wow, this post is unbelievable. I hope you realize that these sets are not taking any shelf space away from the regular Lego sets. The same sets that have boy and girl characters. Lego has expanded into more themes (both licensed and original) than they ever had when I was growing up. If you take the time to look at these sets, and their minifigure series, you’ll notice that they have plenty of girls in them. These Friends sets are not made for girls who already like lego, these are made for the girls who like pretty pink things, and otherwise would not be interested in a construction set.

      My wife is one of those girls. I have tubs of all my old Legos, G.I. Joes, Transformers, and growing up she liked her paper dolls, my little ponies, and barbie. Somehow, against all odds, she developed into a normal functioning adult, who did not experiment or take sexual risks, has a well-paying and well-respected position within her company…and still likes all things that are pretty and pink. She told me that regular lego never appealed to her growing up, but when I showed her a picture of the Lego Friends castle she said she would have been all over that.
      We now have a daughter, and if she wants to play with the Space Lego, or Lord of the Rings, or Super Agents then that’s great and I’ll happily get them for her; but I’m not going to tell her that she is wrong if she takes after her mother and gravitates towards the Lego Friend sets all on her own.

  • Steve G

    There are no pink firefighter suits because they don’t show up in fires in real life. There are many women firefighters, but they wear the same color as the guys. What stop s girl from using a female head on her firefighter lego? Nothing. Like pink and sparkly is only one part of growing, and does not limit her from being a doctor. It is not pinkification, but the marketing that focuses on the male, which translates women into objects, that is a real problem. A child can play with anything if they are brought up with parents who interact and teach. Why go after Lego when you should be going after absent parents.

  • Clay McCrea

    My girls love Lego Friends. I didn’t force it. One walk past them on the shelf was all it took. Playing dolls, dress up, make-up parties, pink, purple, yellow… They love it.
    Emma, my 6yr old, also just took her first buck this year with a crossbow… We just finished cleaning a few broiler birds for the pot today and Emma gutted one of them herself.
    I bought Lego: Marvel Super Heroes on the ps3 for them and they
    love that, too.
    Bottom line: it’s ok for girls to be girly. So long as moms and dads are being moms and dads, there is nothing to worry about.

    • screwclay

      btw your little kids are getting fucked by a lego friends minifigure.

  • Karen

    Why can’t girls like pink??? Some girls like frilly stuff and some like trucks etc. Enough with this sexist crap!!! I applaud lego for coming out with the friends line!

    • fuckingkaren

      fuck you bitch

  • leanne

    Actually I like lego freinds but who ever is doing all this house on fire is plain weird dumb and stupid and I take that offencive because lego freinds are pretty fun SO FUCK THOSE BITCHES .

  • Read this:

    In the Lego movie, batman says: “I only work in black… And sometimes dark grey.”

    …..And yet nobody criticizes boys’ products for being very stereotypical and color-oriented.

  • MJP

    OK, I’ll bite… so why is there a picture of the Lego Friends House on fire?!? My youngest daughter who is 9 (about to be 10) is terrified! I’m trying to explain why someone would photoshop flames onto the picture of the Friends House. It seems like it’s copyright infringement or some other sort of product image tampering done by some kill-joy slack-jawed horses-ass whose trying to glorify a weak point with a shocking image. Can’t you be content that there are many different types of things that make young people happy? We should want our youth to have a wide variety of choices and LEGO Corp should be applauded for offering a wide variety of sets that are fun for kids of all ages. With that said, what’s up with the flames??? I think they are the sign of a distressed or demented mind.

  • Jessica

    Colors don’t matter you play with whatever you want they might as well start a petition against barbie monster high ever after high and much more im 11 and I love lego friends and normal old regular legos but this is an expansion for them to expand the variety so parents should zip their lips if they dont like it they shouldn’t take their kid down the isle………

  • david robertson innovationAbout |David Robertson

    David Robertson is a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School where he teaches Innovation and Product Development in Wharton’s undergraduate, MBA, and executive education programs. From 2002 through 2010, Robertson was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development (IMD), which received the #1 worldwide ranking by the Financial Times for its executive education programs. Robertson is the author of Brick by Brick: How LEGO Reinvented its Innovation System and Conquered the Toy Industry, and co-author of Enterprise Architecture as Strategy.
    read more


  • Radio Host |Innovation Navigation

    innovation navigationIn his latest quest to understand innovation, David is also host of Innovation Navigation, a Wharton Business School Business radio program offering live, unscripted access to world-renowned thought leaders, executives, and faculty. As a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School, Robertson brings brilliant minds worldwide to share their innovation knowledge and experience to the... read more

    Listen to Podcasts of Innovation Navigation


  • Book David |Speaking & Workshops

    "David’s keynote presentation at the PDMA AnnualGlobal Conference was truly a high point of the event.He literally woke everyone up to re-imagine how to apply the innovation dicta that we have heard before. Not only was his insight and content rich, he entertained the audience with one of the best-received presentations of the conference."

    — BRAD BARBERA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PDMA
    (The Product Development and Management Association)

    More Testimonials


  • Boost Your Companies Innovation Hear David Speak Contact David Take The Survey, Compare Yourself To Best Practices Read the Best Work on Innovation Management Interpret the Results Get the Innovation Techniques Toolkit