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:
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.
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.