Lego and gender marketing: a strategy under construction

After several years of research on behavioral differences in boys and girls, in January 2012, the Lego brand launched a new range for girls; Lego Friends. How does this strategy work? What affinity has Lego established with girls since its origins? Let’s look back at the brand campaigns that marked great years for the brand.

Lego Friends: a new world for girls

« Heartlake City » is the name given to the imaginary city of toys created by Lego for girls. In this fun and colorful landscape, five friends do their favorite activities: decorating their homes, going to the hairdresser’s, preparing food, and working as vets or karate instructors…

Stephen Knapp, Marketing Director for Lego France explains how design varies in the range: « We interviewed girls and found that for them, the experience starts before the construction itself, they have different needs to boys. They want to make their own world, create models all by themselves (…). The figurines are slightly larger, closer to reality, still to construct, but designed to appeal to girls, who didn’t identify with the boy figurines. The figures are characters whose stories girls are invited to discover, their personalities, their worlds, and of course the friendship that brings them together. «  (2)

The brand created a collection specifically for girls partly because it needs to adapt in order to the meet the needs of its consumers. « The company is very sensitive to sexualisation, » says Elisabeth Tissier – Desbordes, a marketing professor at ESCP Europe. « Parents and grandparents who buy toys are steeped in conflict and often like to perpetuate stereotypes, » she adds. In her opinion, children ask for a wide range of toys and games; « The toy is rarely individual, it is often used in group situations, children tend to go in stereotypes together. » ( 3 )

Lego friends therefore reflects the reality of behaviour. This was stressed by the General Director of Lego; « We Focused on Creating a play experience on the joy of creation while heading the way girls naturally build and play . »

With this range of toys, the brand’s slogan clearly shows that it is exclusively for girls; « 100 % lego 100% for girls,” but it is possible that boys may also want these toys. The divide in tastes among children should always be treated with caution.

However, the toy manufacturers have made a real effort to distinguish these figurines from « Barbies. » The figurines aren’t skinny and they symbolize social diversity, all with different skin colours. « Their figures are « gendered » but not overly. They aren’t pink! » says Elisabeth Tissier, Professor ESCP Europe.

The brand strategy seems to have paid off, the range already represents 12% of Lego France sales in 2013. « This is great news as we had a strong demand for girls, but it wasn’t an easy strategy! » adds Stéphane Knapp, director of marketing for Lego France. ( 4 )

Lego, a long established “mixed” brand

Originally, Lego did not have « gender. » The brand however, highlighted the diversity of its range through advertisements featuring girls and boys playing together happily. Their stance was focused on the enjoyment of building, creating landscapes or items. In 1950, when the brand was created, its selling point was its innovation, a far cry from the gender relations of the time.


Lego’s 80’s masculine marketing strategy

Following this first “mixed” design, Lego then focused on a decidedly masculine strategy. By 1980, the brand’s range was masculinised, traditionally masculine characteristics were everywhere: the theme of war, protecting « damsels in distress, » machines, dark colors, etc. What’s more, at that time, the father/ son duo was born in their advertising, replacing scenes of diverse groups of children. ( 5 )

Adressing girls proves a risky strategy for Lego

Abandoning the focus on the diversity of its range, Lego then chose to take gender marketing to the extreme. In 1970, the brand launched a Lego range based on the « home, » which did not realise the success anticipated. Then in 1979, Scala, a make your own jewelry range by Lego was launched.



Too far away from the brand values (construction, invention, imagination, diversity), these ranges failed to appeal to young consumers. Other initiatives have attempted to succeed with the gender marketing  experience: Paradisa in 1992 (imitating a resort), Belville in 1994 (about Prince Charming), which all ended in the same inconclusive result.

This is confirmed by Stephen Knapp, marketing director of LEGO France: « For a while now Lego has been trying to understand the needs of girls and their their mums in order to come up with a range to suit them. In the past at Duplo, there was no real Lego range for girls. Previous examples, particularly Scala Belleville, were less successful in France than elsewhere, probably because it was more like a toy doll than bricks. It took four years to understand how to create a range for girls: be 100% LEGO and create a playing experience that appeals to girls. » ( 2 )

As a result of a brand history which focuses on boys to girls, the Lego « e-shop » shows how girls are still excluded from the Lego universe. On the homepage, male figures reign while the « girls » are only available in a sub-category of the range, in the same way as « Gift Box » or « Exclusive » (see below).

When brands encourage changing habits

Despite this pervasiveness of stereotypes in brand communication, Lego has listened to its customers by offering products and ads which are less marked by traditional gender stereotypes. On the brand‘s website, there are a lot of small cars, speedboats, and aircrafts in the Lego Friends range which target girls. On the 31 August 2013, the brand even released the first « shiny » female scientist figure, which « won the Nobrick Prize. »

« It’s the same playing experience and the same construction as all LEGO, says Stéphane Knapp, particularly the City range. We take the same approach to bags, which give girls the chance to start building while they wait for their mums to help them complete it, as we’re in the start up phase. We wanted to be 100% LEGO AND 100% for girls to say to mums: « we’ve made this for your daughters. » It was important for the brand to reconnect with mums. »( 2 )

Another sign of the changing brand morals is that other themes have been included in the « Heartlake City » world, such as karate or football.

In October 2012, for the first time in France, Lego even initiated a campaign called « LEGO Creativity » based on the slogan « We forgive anything for their creativity » and on gender diversity. They display children who are proud of their mistakes. (6)

Through this campaign, Lego revives its brand DNA, the gender diversity of its toys and the « play together » aspect. Here putting girls and boys on an equal footing through « creativity, » is a communication strategy in line with new consumer expectations of standards.

To find out more, here are two very informative videos of the feminist Anita Sarkeesian:

(5) ; Anita Sarkeesian
Visuals : ;

To find out more, we conducted a short interview with Stephan Knapp, Marketing Director of Lego France

Stéphane Knapp

I don’t think this was a deliberate choice by the Group. It was just that then we used themes typically associated with boys (Pirates, Castles …) that were a real success and therefore gradually masculinised our offer.

Womenology: Before Lego Friends was released, what lessons were taken from studies conducted on young consumers? What methods have you put in place to understand their needs?

Our methods are simple; meet children’s needs by testing prototypes on them and getting their opinion. We have realized that girls like building too, so LEGO gave them the chance to customise their world, until then their needs were not met. We also realised that girls wanted to be able to identify with the figures and we therefore had to develop figures closer to their expectations: more feminine, less « square » than our standard mini-figurines. Since friendship is a core value for little girls, we created a universe which centred around a story of friendship between our 5 heroines.

Womenology: Why did you choose to create a range « for girls, » rather than a mixed, non « gendered » range?

As explained above, it was consumer expectations which stopped us creating a range which was too masculine. The girls wanted to have “their own LEGO” and not their brother’s.

Womenology: What do you say to feminist activists who still complain about Lego Friends? How do you deal with their requests?

Our concern is to first and foremost meet girls’ needs of by offering them a suitable range of products. We are also very careful not to fall into stereotypes and we aim to provide a varied range that echoes the diverse needs of young girls: their varied interest such as sports, music, science…, their social diversity, very different heroines…

Womenology: Like Lego adapted its range to suit girls, will Lego Friends adapt for boys? Can you imagine male figures in the future of this game?

This year male figures have also been included in our LEGO Friends offer and, as you point out, our offer also appealed to some boys. It’s up to each girl or boy to choose which line best meets their needs.

Womenology: « Gender marketing » is a risky strategy for brands, what key advice would you give to brands hoping to tap into this venture?

To not ask the question of « gender marketing » but to listen to customer needs.

Womenology: What are Lego Friends’ new goals, ambitions and changes for the future?

Since its launch, our LEGO Friends range has been a great success. In the same way as we did for another of our flagship ranges, LEGO City, every year we renew our offer to continue to appeal to girls and keep up with their expectations.

  michael kors sac a dos

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