In an attempt to close a gender gap in its sales, The LEGO Group has widened the gap in the toy aisles. The toymaker is set to launch LEGO Friends, the day after Christmas. According to a press release, LEGO Friends is, “a new play theme that tailors the iconic LEGO construction experience especially to girls ages five and up. LEGO Friends delivers on a girl’s desire for realistic role-play, creativity, and a highly-detailed, character-based world with the core values of LEGO building.”
It sounds good in theory – a line of toys that has practically ignored the fact girls exist finally acknowledges 51 percent of the population. Just look at the existing product catalog. With the exception of the Statue of Liberty, there are no girls. But in execution, it is very, very flawed.
LEGO Group embarked on “four years of research, design, and exhaustive testing,” according to this article in Businessweek, and determined girls hate the little LEGO figures. Perhaps that’s because those figures are mainly men and girls want to see themselves reflected in their toys? But the LEGO team concluded it was about looks. Hanne Groth, Lego’s market research manager, told Businessweek, “The greatest concern for girls really was beauty.” So LEGO Friends includes six new colors – light blues, shades of pink and purple – and new “lady figures” that are taller and curvier than the existing line.
To be fair, the research also revealed girls enjoy “realistic role-play, creativity, and a highly-detailed, character-based world,” and LEGO Friends aims to address that requirement. How they do that however, is disturbing.
LEGO claims that with the new line it wants to stay true to its values – to develop children’s creative and imaginative abilities through high-quality, creatively educational play materials – and to not shy away from the fact that LEGOs are first and foremost a building toy. However, LEGO seems to think girls can’t imagine beyond stereotypical female roles. The Friend sets include a bakery, a splash pool, a stage, a puppy house, a butterfly beauty shop and a house. Not included: a city, a race car, an airport, superheroes.
Twenty years in marketing has taught me never to trust a focus group of one. But when I read in the Businessweek article that LEGO group CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s enthusiasm for the new Friends line, “comes partly, he says, ‘from casual observation: I have two wonderful daughters next to my two sons, and they are in a very narrow age range, 4 to 10, so I have a little home study,’” I did my own home research.
I asked my seven year-old daughter, “Do you like those little LEGO people?”
“Yes,” she says. (I already knew that.)
“This article I’m reading says girls hate them.”
Her mouth opens in disbelief.
“The article says girls don’t like them because they’re not pretty.”
Her jaw falls open a little more. After a pause she says, “Yes they are. They might not be wearing girl suits but they’re wearing their job suits.”
And that makes sense to her. Now Knudstorp has two master’s degrees, and a doctorate, completed coursework at both MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard, and has a Y chromosome. My daughter does not.
We know there is a major gender gap in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. And research asserts that negative stereotypes – the idea that boys are better at math and science- can affect girls’ test performance. It is frustrating, that in a cheap attempt to market its toys to girls and create a much-needed new revenue stream for the company, LEGO Group is feeding into the stereotype.
My daughter snuggled up to me as I was finishing this post. “Why are you writing about LEGOS?” she asked me.
“Remember I told you the company thinks girls don’t like LEGOS because they are ugly? Well I don’t like the new product line they’re launching. The company seems to think girls just want to do their hair and chat.”
She makes her little OMG-I-totally-know what-you-mean-mom face designed to show me she’s smart and our thought processes are aligned. To underscore my point, I show her the promotional video for Friends. I watch her as she watches it and I see the look on her face morph.
[hana-code-insert name='Lego Friends Commercial' /]
Like most little girls, my daughter has consumed a steady diet of media messages telling her a girl’s value comes from her looks. And despite her mom’s best efforts to teach her otherwise, she believes. Her eyes light up at the pretty little lady figures and she says almost breathless, “I want that.”
Damn you LEGO! Thanks for nothing.
For more on the new LEGO line:
Sign the petition and tell LEGO to stop selling out girls.
Tell LEGO to “bring back beautiful.”
Read how the Girl Scouts are using LEGOS to address the gap in the STEM fields.