I was really worked up when I first read of LEGO’s plans to launch a line of ‘girlie’ Legos aimed at increasing girls’ interest in their toys, thus boosting sales. LEGOs are a big part of my kids’ lives and the brand holds a coveted slot among my top ten favorite brands of all time. Admittedly my daughter didn’t play with them as much as my son–or as much as I’d like her to so that I could feel confident that she was improving her chances with a science or engineering curriculum. But, I was not happy to think that they were dumbing down their sets for the gentler sex. In fact, LEGO took a lot of heat from feminist groups like SPARK and even internally (BusinessWeek, 12/14/2011),
“In terms of LEGO iconography, the minifigure is…as hallowed as a 1 5/8th-inch piece of plastic can ever be.”
But, if anything, this is case where solid research really helped overcome those barriers.
My daughter’s well-intentioned Abuela didn’t get the memo regarding our informal boycott of LEGO Friends and they were a HUGE hit. I mean HUGE. Fast-forward twelve months and I’m adding LEGO Friends sets to my daughter’s Christmas list.
I have to hand it to LEGO. They knew what they were doing. Michael McNally, LEGO brand relations director told ABC News,
“LEGO Friends is one of the most extensively tested concepts in our company history, with four years of research done with thousands of girls and their moms around the world…and we infused those insights [in]to the line to create the collection that we heard would be more interesting for girls.”
Their extensive cultural anthropological research spanning Germany, Korea, the UK and the US revealed what I had witnessed firsthand: girls play with LEGOs differently than boys. At least my girl does. She doesn’t care about the act of building. She wants to get the set put together, add it to her LEGO Friends village–which occupies the top of our old train table–and begin interactive play between the characters.
LEGO’s research is paying off. Sales are up. They’ve tripled sales to girls in the US. As of late 2012, net income was up 24 percent. The company is bringing on 1,000 staff and reports selling twice as many sets as they projected in the first six-months the line was available. At the end of the day, I admire the brand even more for being confident enough in their findings to stay the course and go where the research led them.