Oh boy! New LEGO.

Well, there certainly is a lot of fuss over LEGO for girls.

I’ll start with a full disclosure. I am a LEGO fan. I still build with it, and get excited when I get it for a gift. I take my LEGO hobby seriously, so when I heard that there were new sets apparently designed for girls—and the blogs are all a flutter over how nasty this new angle is—I had to look.

The sets are from a new series titled ‘Friends’. If you read deep into the supporting marketing it does claim to be designed for girls, but that isn’t the first message. However, with the brick colours and story elements, it’s easy to see how the product aims towards cliche girls. As a storyline, though, it all works nicely with the other ‘City’ sets in the mini-fig scale. (Please read the updates for more. My opinion has evolved since this was first posted.)

I am happy to debate the merits and failures of ‘pink marketing’, but we can’t deny that LEGO toys are not selling to girls in great numbers. Just as any company does, LEGO also wants to increase sales. It’s made an effort to grow the toy experience, and did some valid research to support market expansion. They created a theme, developed storylines, built a product with both construction and play experience built in, and developed pieces (colours and shapes) that support the theme. It’s what they have done for every other series.

A quote from LEGO: “In its research… LEGO discovered that girls value things like harmony, order, friendly colors, and details. LEGO also found that role playing is the style of play that little girls tend to favor, and that, while they do like to construct things, their methods are different from those of boys.

While boys will be happy to build LEGOs from kits, girls prefer their creations to be an enhancement to storytelling and they like having the option to redesign them.”

I have never considered LEGO to be just for boys, but I’ve also never met a girl/woman who was the least bit interested in my collection. There are some newer sets that do appeal to young girls I know (Harry Potter, some City and Farm sets, and the Castles), but those storylines aren’t proving to be enough to get the girls interested, at least not enough to show a significant increase toy sales.

LEGO Friends isn’t ‘pink marketing’, but here is where I think LEGO has seriously dropped the ball.

I am annoyed by the different design of the minifigs—those classic people figures of the LEGO worlds. I believe it’s this one factor that will keep the kits away from boys and men, and truly distinguish the sets as “LEGO for Girls”, instead of just being LEGO. Different figure shapes will break the consistency that we love about the different themes. Each character, from aliens to the police station to Harry Potter is based on this classic little figure. Introducing a new shape breaks the story illusion.

And the girl figures are thinner. Ugh.

I predict sales of the new sets will be limited only to girls (and a few men like me who want the buildings and colours) and that—along with the backlash for even trying—won’t likely be enough to keep the theme growing. Evolve the minifigs to fit with the rest, and the new sets add a fun new storyline to an amazing toy series. For boys and girls. And men.

UPDATE (March 15, 2012):
So far, every girl or women I’ve talked with likes the new figure shapes. They admit that the “stubby” minifigs are an important factor in why they didn’t relate to the LEGO play experience in the first place, and they like the new character shapes. But they also didn’t say they were going to buy any more LEGO as a result.

UPDATE (April 13th, 2012):
Toys ‘R Us and Lego have the worst LEGO Friends promotion. Upon entry to the story, large posters inform people that LEGO Friends is available in the “girl’s aisle”. That’s not bad, but the series is not also available in the 600+ sqft of the dedicated LEGO section. None. That is more than unfortunate; it’s insulting. When I first explored the series marketing there was no direct reference to this being a product targeted only to girls, but this is getting uncomfortably close to ‘pink marketing’ and all the insults such tactics bring.

Standing in the store, I saw a father and his daughter in the LEGO section, holding a Friends series house set, but trying to decide whether to buy the Apple Tree House set from the Creator series instead, or also. Both had accessories the young girl wanted. I asked her opinion; she loves the new series, but clearly wants the more traditional product, too. Why LEGO and/or Toys ‘R Us thinks the products should be separated is beyond me.

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