Lego Targets Young Girls

Europe’s most admired brand, Lego, revealed a new line of products this year for girls in the so called “princess phase” according to the cover article in Bloomberg Business Week 12/19/11-12/25/11.  Although Lego has more than 500 variations of its building block kits, until now, none were made or marketed for girls. “They might as well have a No Girls Allowed sign,” says Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a funny, hard look at the toy industry’s exploitation of 3-4 year old girls and their fascination with princesses.

Noted in the article, “Lego play develops spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills, and lets kids build almost anything they can imagine, often leading to hours of quiet, independent play. Which is why Lego’s focus on boys has left many parents—especially moms like Orenstein—frustrated that their daughters are missing out.”

In recent years, Lego had other strategic initiatives aimed at girls, but some failed because they misunderstood gender differences in how kids play. Now, after more years of research, design, and exhaustive testing, the Denmark company realized a breakthrough and will bring out 23 brand new products aimed at girls 5 and up. The line is dubbed Lego Friends, and is accompanied by a $40 million international marketing campaign. Strategically, they waited until after the holidays so that retailers could provide dedicated shelf space to the new toys. The line went out on 12/26/11 in the UK and 1/1/12 in the U.S.  According to one source, department stores will first introduce Lego Friends at the end of an aisle for visibility, before shelving the kits with other girl toys. Notably, that means the girl-friendly items will not be with the rest of the Lego collection, which is, of course, in the boys section.

How Do Girls Play with Legos?

Girls love to build, as confirmed by the research, just not the same way as boys. Boys prefer a “linear” approach which involves rapid completion of the kit to match the instructions exactly, while girls prefer “stops along the way,” to rearrange pieces and add storytelling to the process. Lego will bag the pieces in Lego Friends boxes so that girls can explore varied scenarios without building the whole kit.  And the introduction will bring six new colors including azure and lavender. Bright pink is already in their mix.

As Bloomberg notes: “The Lego Friends team is aware of the paradox at the heart of its work: To break down old stereotypes about how girls play, it risks reinforcing others. “If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains,” says Lise Eliot. A neuroscientist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, Eliot is the author of Pink Brain Blue Brain, a 2009 survey of hundreds of scientific papers on gender differences in children.

For the Business Week article visit http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/11_52.html

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