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LEGO Friends – LEGO’s billion dollar girl

Thought you might like to see the cover-story of the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, “LEGO Is For Girls” – an inside look at LEGO Friends, which LEGO will publicly unveil next Monday. The full cover-story by Brad Wieners is available online (links below), while magazines hit stands today! I’m pretty sure every LEGO-fan will get a copy just for having LEGO on the front page of a major magazine. But the article itself is excellent, really interesting, and worth reading. Highlights below. ;)

Bloomberg Businessweek cover with a new LEGO Friends figure (click on image for larger view)


Focusing on boys saved the toymaker in 2005. Now the company is launching LEGO Friends for “the other 50 percent of the world’s children”. Will girls buy in?

Walk into one of LEGO’s 74 red-and-yellow retail stores around the world, or even down the toy aisles of your local Target, and two things are immediately clear: LEGO, the Danish maker of plastic toy-bricks, is everywhere, and it’s not for everybody. Rows of classic building kits for police-helicopters, rockets, and trains soon give way to contemporary releases such as LEGO Alien Conquest, a daffy War of the Worlds scenario with spaceships and laser cannons, and LEGO NINJAGO, a “spinjitzu” warrior-themed product line heavy on martial arts and supernatural powers.

Linger for a few more minutes and you’ll notice not just the staggering array of LEGO offerings – 545 in the last year – but an absence. “They might as well have a No Girls Allowed sign”, says Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a fierce, funny investigation of the toy industry’s multibillion-dollar exploitation of the “princess phase”, which consumes girls at age 3 or 4.

There’s now arguably a “LEGO phase” for school-age boys that’s as consuming as the princess phase. But unlike tiaras and pink chiffon, LEGO-play develops spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills, and lets kids build almost anything they can imagine, often leading to hours of quiet, independent play. Which is why LEGO’s focus on boys has left many parents – especially moms like Orenstein – frustrated that their daughters are missing out. “The last time I was in a LEGO store, there was this little pink ghetto over in one corner,” Orenstein says, “and I thought; Really? This is the best you can do?”

Over the years, LEGO has had five strategic initiatives aimed at girls. Some failed because they misapprehended gender differences in how kids play. Others, while modestly profitable, didn’t integrate properly with LEGO’s core products. Now, after four years of research, design, and exhaustive testing, LEGO believes it has a breakthrough… “This is the most significant strategic launch we’ve done in a decade,” says LEGO Group Chief Executive Officer Jørgen Vig Knudstorp. “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.”

To develop LEGO Friends, Knudstorp relaunched the same extensive field research – more cultural anthropology than focus groups – that the company conducted in 2005 and 2006 to restore its brand. It recruited top product designers and sales strategists from within the company, had them join forces with outside consultants, and dispatched them in small teams to shadow girls and interview their families over a period of months in Germany, Korea, the U.K., and the U.S.

The research techniques and findings have been controversial at LEGO from the moment it became clear that if the company were serious about appealing to girls, it would have to do something about its boxy minifigure, its 4-centimeter plastic man with swiveling legs, a yellow jug-head, and a painted-on face. “Let’s be honest: girls hate him”, says Mads Nipper, the executive vice-president for products and markets – LEGO’s equivalent of a chief marketing officer.

LEGO confirmed that girls favor role-play, but they also love to build – just not the same way as boys. Whereas boys tend to be “linear” – building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box – girls prefer “stops along the way,” and to begin storytelling and rearranging. LEGO has bagged the pieces in LEGO Friends boxes so that girls can begin playing various scenarios without finishing the whole model. LEGO Friends also introduces six new LEGO colors—including Easter-egg-like shades of azure and lavender. (Bright pink was already in the LEGO palette.)

Then there are the lady figures. Twenty-nine mini-doll figures will be introduced in 2012, all 5 millimeters taller and curvier than the standard dwarf minifig. There are five main characters. Like American Girl Dolls, which are sold with their own book-length biographies, these five come with names and backstories. Their adventures have a backdrop: Heartlake City, which has a salon, a horse academy, a veterinary clinic, and a café. “We had nine nationalities on the team to make certain the underlying experience would work in many cultures”, says Nanna Ulrich Gudum, senior creative director.

The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig – she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. “The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them”, says Rosario Costa, a LEGO design director. The LEGO team knew they were on to something when girls told them, “I want to shrink down and be there”.

The LEGO Friends team is aware of the paradox at the heart of its work: To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others. “If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with LEGO, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains,” says Lise Eliot. A neuroscientist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, Eliot is the author of Pink Brain Blue Brain, a 2009 survey of hundreds of scientific papers on gender differences in children. “Especially on television, the advertising explicitly shows who should be playing with a toy, and kids pick up on those cues”, Eliot says. “There is no reason to think LEGO is more intrinsically appealing to boys.”

Grown-up LEGO hobbyists, who gather frequently for weekend conferences, have their own acronym, AFOL, for Adult Fans of LEGO. AFOLs will also factor in LEGO Friends’ performance. “Oh, we’re going to buy LEGO Friends,” says Joe Meno, “but we’re going to buy it for all the wrong reasons”. Meno is co-author of the new book The Cult of LEGO and editor of the BrickJournal, a glossy fanzine. “We want the sets for the new colors. One of the colors is ideal for a Perry the Platypus I want to build.” The lady minifig, he predicts, “I’ll probably toss aside.” Stupid boys…

To check out all the LEGO Friends sets and “ladyfigs” 😛 go here:

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Andy at smallplasticbricks.com December 16, 2011, 1:18 PM

    Joe Meno was right for us AFOLs. The new colors give us more realism and variety, but I think we adults are already hooked to the classic minifig. I just wish Lego would realease more non police/fire sets, but I think Friends is a step in the right direction as long as they don’t stray too far from the elements and have the right advertising.

  • Sarah December 16, 2011, 8:50 PM

    I don’t like how it’s reinforcing stereotypes, but there are stereotypes for a reason – most girls are attracted to bright colors like pink and purple.

    I can’t say I was like that as girl. I loved the normal minifigure and I think that while these Friends sets will sell, they won’t create life-long female fans of LEGO. But that’s obviously not their goal with these sets. Their goal is to sell right now to young girls. LEGO doesn’t seem to care about the future of these girls or what current adults think or want.

    Anyway, I wanted to share a Yahoo News video about the outcry against the new Friends sets that has been happening on Twitter:

    Only time will tell whether LEGO’s years or research will pay off or just be another flop.

    As for me, I may buy the sets, but I’ll also be tossing the figures aside. I guess I’m just another one of the “stupid boys.”

    • admin December 16, 2011, 9:19 PM

      Sarah, wow! That is very interesting! I don’t remember such major out-cry over Belville or Scalas, and those were much more sexist. I guess announcing this new line to major news channels may not have been such a good idea. Anyhow, we will see how this drama will unfold. 😉
      I know I like the sets; I like the colors, the accessories, and I also like the figures. I’m planning to get a few. They are very cute. 😛

      • Sarah December 16, 2011, 10:40 PM

        I think it’s tough for LEGO because there is a movement to get away from gender-specific toys; yet the prevailing mindset of parents is very gender-specific.

        And yes, being more aggressive on their advertising has probably brought this backlash. I just hope it works out for LEGO so that they move towards integrating girls toys into the normal lines.

        Don’t get me wrong – the figures are really cute! I loved Polly Pocket as a kid. But these lady figs just don’t look like LEGO to me. I want female minifigures in the normal lines. End of story. 🙂

        • admin December 17, 2011, 10:33 AM

          Well said! I think it may be gradually happening. For example in the Ninjago line, which is very boy-oriented, one of the coolest main characters is Nia, a girl. In fact in the 2012 sets she will be the only one in a Samurai outfit! I was really happy to see this LEGO giving such a prominent and exclusive position to a girl. 🙂

  • Will December 16, 2011, 10:36 PM

    I also think these sets will sell. Primarily, they will probably be sold, as Joe pointed out in the editorial, for all the wrong reasons.

    If LEGO was serious about focusing them towards girls, they’d probably do better in an aisle filled with girl toys. Of course, I believe a lot this is unnecessary since one of the original founding principles was that LEGO was for boys and girls. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that they are easier to sell to boys. Hence you’ve got the current problem of them not selling well in girl markets.

    I think if they wanted to fix this issue, LEGO should have created an all-female design team and let them work on some of the normal toy lines. I think seeing their take on lines like Castle, City, Pirates, etc. would have given a nice blend of what may interest girls and boys at the same time.

    This idea of separatism just seem to be the underlying factor that’s disrupting their sales to both genders. With that said, I’d hope they take the research that they found and find ways to apply it to all of their lines of toys. Because I feel that LEGO should be a gender-neutral option for developing minds instead of a gender-specific mindset.

    Well that’s my two cents.

    • admin December 17, 2011, 10:28 AM

      Will, unfortunately the Friends line will be in fact in the girls isle at department stores, not the regular LEGO isle. This will separate girls and boys even more. I’m not sure what will Toys’R’Us do, but the full article mentions that Walmart and Target plan to put these sets in the girls’ pink isle, completely separate from the rest of LEGO sets. 🙁

  • toy December 17, 2011, 8:50 AM

  • admin December 19, 2011, 9:54 AM

    UPDATE: New post on LEGO Friends! Share your thoughts & opinions!: Dear LEGO…

  • Aim December 29, 2011, 3:11 PM

    I’m not sure who is more excited about Legos Friends, my girls or myself…I grew up with Legos, and loved playing with them as a girl, but was disappointed to see the line was still so boy oriented after more than 30 years. I was able to find one pink box of Legos. Our girls are the perfect age for Legos Friends and were excited when they saw the commercial for them. We spent hours putting together the Legos set they got for Christmas and look forward to more building with Legos Friends.

  • admin January 5, 2012, 11:41 AM

    UPDATE: LEGO Friends are now available! See here: LEGO Friends Available Now! Enjoy! 😉

  • liztoys August 26, 2013, 1:55 AM

    Here is the link for teddy bear stuffed animal :http://www.liztoys.com/teddy-bear-toys/ca-33.html Enjoy…..

  • Adele Ingram December 4, 2013, 1:54 AM

    I am desperate to purchase all the mini-figures of the Friends Lego sets – please advise me as to how I can obtain all 26 of the Friends mini-figures from a safe website. Thank you, Adele Ingram

    • admin December 4, 2013, 9:38 AM

      Adele, you can get all the Friends minifigures on BrickLink.com. Please note that BrickLink is like eBay with many shops and sellers, but it is only for buying and selling LEGO.

      Here are all the LEGO Friends minifigures listed (there are actually 55, not 26, if you consider all the variations): http://www.bricklink.com/catalogList.asp?catType=M&catString=771

      Open up an account on BrickLink, and add each of the minifigures to your Wanted List (you can easily do this from clicking on each of the minifigures and there will be a list to add them to your list). Once you have done that, you can Query by Shop, which will tell you which seller has all or most of the minifigures you want. This way you can pick the sellers you would like to order from and also save on shipping. 😉

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