Thoughts on the girl-friendly “LEGO Friends” controversy

Cool: new "Ladyfig" stands up in the electrical truck
Not cool: She's too long to sit in the truck cab or the cab of any standard vehicle

Readers of this blog know how much I LOVE LEGOs. Cooper had a LEGO birthday party for which I laboriously made LEGO minifigure cake pops. I typically give LEGO building sets solid reviews. With that said, LEGO’s new effort to appeal to girls has ignited controversy. After an initial negative reaction, here’s a letter I wrote to the LEGO Corporation with my two cents on the new play sets. NOTE: I did actually buy, build and play with one of these sets before offering my final analysis, and I let the boys play with it too. The boys are currently fighting over the Olivia minifigure.

Dear Mr. Jorgen Vig Knudstorp,

Let me begin by saying I love LEGOs. As a mother to two boys, ages 3 and 5, my living room floor is littered with bricks and minifigures. My boys spend hours poring over the LEGO catalog and reenacting scenes from building sets. I think your products are a good value and offer opportunities for imaginative play, spatial awareness and development of fine motor skills.

Still, I am one of 45,000+ people who hastily signed a petition on Change.org against your new LEGO Friends line. I say “hastily” because I’ve decided I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. I want you to succeed because I think you are the best toy maker out there, and I think it’s important the LEGOs appeal to both boys and girls. I know some sets, like the Harry Potter series and Duplos, already appeal to both genders.

Before you dismiss my letter because I’m a mom of boys, let me tell you that I buy lots of birthday and Christmas gifts for girls. I would love to be able to buy a LEGO Friends set for my nieces in good conscience in lieu of Polly Pockets or My Little Ponies. Your Friends sets may appeal to girls, but if they don’t appeal to parents too, they may not sell as well.

As a parent, here’s what appeals to me about your Friends sets: the minifigures represent the diversity of our world in terms of hair and eye color (though not a diversity of body types); the minifigures have back stories encouraging imaginative play (though I find the back stories themselves awfully stereotypical except for token “geek” Olivia); you’ve introduced new, feminine colors; you’ve integrated some themes that appeal to girls: playing house, playing with animals (vet hospital), etc. You’ve gone beyond traditional “girl” themes to include an invention workshop and a design school.

With that said, here are my key complaints:

  1. A few offensive themes: Why do girl’s sets always have to depict girls getting their hair done, lounging by the pool (with a boat drink?), shopping and singing on stage a-la Hannah Montana? Can’t girls be interested in other things?
  2. Too much pink, purple and pastels. Yes, the pastels will appeal to girls, but must EVERYTHING be pastel? Let’s mix in some other colors that might serve as a bridge to other, gender neutral or, dare I say, “boy” sets. Honestly, many boys would love the design studio and invention workshop. My boys are playing with the latter as I write. However, the overabundance of pink and purple might be off-putting for older boys who have realized that pink and purple are girl colors. And did you really have to put heart and flower doodles on the chalkboard in the lab? That might limit it to “girl-only.”
  3. Lack of integration: I bought Olivia’s Invention Workshop so I could test how well the new “ladyfigs” would integrate with existing sets. Olivia can stand in the bucket of our electrical truck. Cool! However, her legs are too long for her to sit in the cab or the cab of any other LEGO vehicle. Plus she lacks holes in the back of her legs to lock her into place. Finally, because her legs aren’t fully moveable, she can’t ride our police motorcycle or the bikes.

As a girl growing up in the 1970s, I played with my doll house, my Barbies (controversial herself), paper dolls and Cabbage Patch kids. My sister and I played dress up and Wonder Woman. Based on my own experience as a girl, and watching my nieces and friends’ daughters play, here are some thoughts.

  1. You’ve designed Olivia’s house. What if you created a doll house with modular components that could be put together like your LEGO Creator Grand Emporium, Pet Shop and Fire Brigade? Parents could buy the Kitchen set, the Bedroom set, the Living Room set, etc. individually and then the girls could put them all together. My sister and I spent hours playing with the multi-room doll house and doll furniture my father built. Olivia’s house is a little one-dimensional.
  2. Let’s add some themes that a child might reasonably encounter in a town:  a school (lots of kids play school), a bank (with a female loan officer) to teach girls about money, an airport (with a female pilot and male flight attendant), grocery store, etc. Or better yet, create a girl-friendly minifigure that provides full integration with LEGO City and other LEGO sets. Shorten their legs and make them fully moveable. Add some holes in the back of the legs so a child can attach them to a vehicle seat. It would be great if the Friends and girl LEGO lovers weren’t pigeonholed to pastel Heartlake City.

I wish you all the best with your LEGO Friends effort. I think with a few modifications, it will be a great gateway for girls into the wonderful world of LEGOs.

Kind regards,

Kirsten W. Larson, MBA

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3 Replies to “Thoughts on the girl-friendly “LEGO Friends” controversy”

  1. As a mom of 2 girls I have come to terms with the pink obsession (I thinks it’s in the DNA where the baldness gene is in some boys). The thing I HATE is the “girl-approved” careers. Cate has wanted to be a dentist, truck driver and artist (along with girl-approved veterinarian, fairy princess, and mom). If lego made a hot-pink trash truck we would be all over it.

    Everyone is bagging on lego, because we expect better out of them, but its just like politicians, the are all the same. Head for the “girl aisle” – you can find it by the pink glow and strawberry shortcake scent. For a laugh, check out Barbie’s “I can be” series. Yes, online you can find “Doctor” and “Architect” but that is NOT what they sell at target – they sell, “lifeguard” “Pet sitter” and yes, “Movie Star” Or my all time favorite “I can be a Bride” Cross your fingers little girls, if you study hard, some day you too can be a… bride.

    1. Liz, since we are both marketers, we know where LEGO is coming from. Since the early 2000s their strategy has been to focus on boys, and that pulled the company out of near bankruptcy. Now they have to continue to grow and make bucks by selling to girls. As you note, Target is a pretty good indicator of what really sells (or is sold) to girls. I don’t mind the pink, the purple or even the Polly Pocket-looking minifigure. The vet hospital and tree house are fine. But for girls like yours, who might want to put their ladyfig in a LEGO City Space Shuttle, I just wish she’d fit! Why must the “girl LEGOs” be banished to their own city apart from the rest of the LEGO collection? Girls like to drive garbage trucks, ride police motorcycles, etc.

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