by Josh Kimball
Girls looking for a new buddy can now say hello to Lego Friends, a line of Lego blocks aimed at females age 5+. What sets these toys apart from the traditional stackables? Mostly, a color palette that’s deemed more female-friendly and minifigs that are more doll-like.
Any direction change by a well-loved brand stirs tensions. But female-focused pitches, often bungled via mere “pinkifying,” are especially fraught. In fact, bloggers like Daniel Sinker have already started writing posts provocatively questioning Lego’s brand direction. That’s one reason Lego spent more than four years researching its Friends initiative, which rolled out at the tail end of 2011 in Europe and is just now hitting the US. Lego’s take on their data? Girls largely value beauty more than boys. And they are more likely to identify with more feminine minifigures.
Lego can afford to take risks now. The company’s revenues are up 105% since 2006, and they exceeded $1 billion in US sales for the first time in 2010 — successes built on the blocks’ boy appeal (Businessweek.com, 14 December 2011). Iconoculture has even noted Lego’s work to partner with retailers as something marketers can learn from.
The brand implications: For decades, the Lego brand has existed under a feel-good halo that has made it a parental favorite, while also pleasing kids. That halo, though, is now informed more by nostalgia than in-aisle perceptions, as parents still recall the gender-neutral creativity fostered by the bricks of their youth. More recently, Lego has leaned heavily on licensing deals (Star Wars, Harry Potter), and is now increasing its gender-specific offerings. Those strategies translate into immediate gains for Lego. What they cost is a chunk-by-chunk chipping away at the healthy-like-vitamins halo that Lego has enjoyed with all parents for decades, regardless of how sensitive they might be to gender politics.
In the longer term, an erosion of that feel-good halo means less brand differentiation for Lego, opening it up to coming years of increased block-buck battles with store brands and other competitors. For now, that’s a trade the company seems willing to make.