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June 6, 2014 — “I love Legos, but I don’t like that there are more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls … All the girls [in Lego Friends] did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs. But the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.”

“I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!”

That’s what 7-year-old Charlotte said to Lego on January 25 of this year. And it looks as if Lego listened. Which is why we here at Frank About Women are totally stoked about Lego’s announcement of the new “Research Institute” limited edition set, which will feature female scientist minifigures, like a paleontologist with a dinosaur skeleton and a chemist in her lab. The decision was reached as part of the Lego Ideas Review process, and it beat out other fan-supported contenders featuring Sherlock, Zelda and Back to the Future.

The past of couple years have been somewhat controversial for the beloved brand, as its 2012 launch of the “Friends” line sparked harsh criticism from girls’ advocates. Commentators like Anita Sarkeesian at saw exactly what Charlotte saw – a segregated, fluffy and superficial world for girls (Heartlake City), and an action-packed, exciting, challenging world for boys (Lego City). To be fair, we have no doubt that Lego invested countless time, resources and dollars into research before launching the Friends platform, and sales figures since its launch suggest that it has been a profitable venture. So, did Lego really get it “wrong”? Does Lego owe the world a duty to challenge gender stereotypes and champion the role of little girls in STEM? We’ll let others argue about that.

As marketers, though, we firmly believe that the company owes a duty to its brand. The Lego brand has long represented creative play, cooperation and imagination, with a stated mission to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.” And for decades, it did so in a positive, largely gender-neutral way. But by spending the past several years offering increasingly male-targeted toys and communications, and then launching a highly regressive and completely segregated platform for girls, Lego was strongly dissuading girls from joining those “builders of tomorrow.” In fact, its most recent Responsibility Report acknowledges this problem, announcing new Gender Marketing Guidelines that “underline how to strike a balance when creating communication and products that appeal to both boys and girls.”

So we’re eager to see how the Research Institute set fares when it launches at the end of summer. And while we can’t know whether it will outperform Friends at the cash register, we’re confident it will be a major boost for the Lego brand.

Contact Shaun Stripling, chief marketing officer for Frank About Women, at 336.774.9397, or email her to continue the conversation.



Kate Hanley About the Author
Kate Hanley Former VP, Associate Planning Director

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