Two years ago, in 2011, 90 percent of Lego's consumers
were boys. A tough statistic to swallow for those of us who grew up
playing with Lego's gender-neutral buckets of bricks. But the statistic
came straight from Lego, which was then focused on boys with franchised
sets based on properties like Star Wars and The Avengers after weathering a disastrous period in the 1990s that left the company on the brink of collapse.
had never worked for girls, for whatever reason," says Garrick Johnson,
a toy analyst for BMO Capitol Markets. "It took [Lego] four years of
research to figure out how to address the girls' market, how to attack
it the right way."
Lego Friends turned out to be one of the
biggest successes in Lego's history. They're five adorable little dolls
with distinctive names and storylines and sets that encourage girls to
build karate studios, beauty parlors and veterinary offices. The line
doubled sales expectations in 2012, the year it launched. Sales to girls
tripled in just that year.
Johnson says the company carefully
studied differences between how girls and boys play. "When boys build a
construction set, they'll build a castle, let's say, and they'll play
with the finished product on the outside. When girls build construction sets, they tend to play on the inside."
research showed that girls loved little details, says Lego brand
relations manager Amanda Santoro. "When we were testing this, we asked
girls what would you like to see in a Lego school?" she said, as she
showed off the line at Toy Fair, the massive industry event held each
year in New York City. "Of course, they said an art studio. So we see a
lot of detail here with the different paint canisters and the canvas
here [a Friend] is creating."
David Pickett blogs about Legos at ,
where he's criticized the Lego Friends' gender implications. "Their
legs can't move independently, so they move as one big block," he points
That's not the case with "minifigs" — the classic Lego
minifigures with stocky little torsos, snap-off heads, and feet designed
to click onto Lego blocks. Additionally, Lego Friends cannot turn their
"That sort of sends a message about what we expect women being able to do physically," Pickett notes.
Friends triggered the ire of Joy Pochatila, a scientist and mother of
two small girls. Her first reaction to the line was dismissive. "Why
can't they just play with regular Legos? Why does it have to be
girl-driven?" she wondered.
But Pochatila also was dismayed by
how many of the regular sets revolve around male superheroes. "You don't
see a Wonder Woman set," she points out.
Her husband, Davis
Evans, is a staunch Lego defender. When presented with the minifigs'
skewed gender numbers, he argued that the androgynous figures could be
read as female. Pochatila said she'd prefer a few more specifically
female figures, ones that reflect a real-life ratio. And it's hard, she
admitted, to argue with Lego Friends' appeal, the complexity of their
sets and their overall message of empowerment.
The success of
the girl-centric Lego Friends has led to little girl dolls popping up in
construction sets all over the place, including pink ones from Mega
Blocks and Mattel's Barbie. That's great, say fans, for developing STEM
(science, technology, engineering and math) skills for girls. But
critics wonder, would it be so hard for Lego to develop — even market —
toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?
*NOTE FROM OP* While in the past girls played with dolls and boys played with cap guns, there were things that were more gender neutral, like legos USED to be. It seems that this has shifted and become more divided along gender lines. The strict gender rules that have been imposed children's toys is something that I find frustrating. Walking into Target or Walmart when the toy isles are literally colored blue or pink actually makes me a little ill. I grew up in a time when this toy was not centered on gender at all. I even read somewhere recently that art supplies were for girls. REALLY?!?!
Thought I would throw this 1970s advertisement in to aid in this discussion....Heck, not only is this girl playing with "plain legos"...You wouldn't see her dressed this way now in an advertisement. It isn't "girly" enough.