As an aspiring designer who grew up without cable, I loved playing with games and toys especially those that involved building and creating. So of course, the Legos (in all of their primary–colored glory) was a huge part of my childhood. My brother and I would spend hours building pirate ships and castles, putting together palm trees, positioning armor on miniature yellow men, and waiting to hear that tiny “click” that meant they were ready for battle. Sure, I might have been somewhat of a tomboy growing up on a street with almost all boys my age, and though I was not without love of Barbies, pinks and purples or painting my nails, I could still build a Lego airplane with the best of them.
Given my own childhood experiences, I’m more that annoyed by some of the marketing strategies aimed toward children’s toys today, an age with much less gender divide than even in the 80s. Are marketers still that concerned over which children’s group should use their products? Apparently so, because Lego made a huge misstep a month ago when it did just that : after decades of advertising gender-neutral products and advertising a toy to young creative minds, they threw out their business model and went to a dark, 1950s-era kind of place where girls play in the kitchen and boys play outside. Lego decided to make a pink/purple Lego line called “Friends” that builds a “Butterfly Beauty Shop,” “Olivia’s House,” and a “City Park Café,” among others. All of which are meant for sitting around – not swashbuckling like they do on the pirate ships or defending like they do in the castles.
I realize that many products aimed at children segment their market by gender – Barbie vs. GI Joe is one example– but they have been doing this since their toys came into being. Lego has been around for ages as creative fun for both boys and girls, no matter the color. Why then suddenly it market one new segment only to girls (they even list “Girls” as a product category on their website along with “books,” “games” and “vehicles”) and differentiate products with an obvious “female” color? Are they suggesting that their current line is only for boys and that these new “Friends” are now what girls should be buying? In this day and age do we really need to overtly market and colorize to just one gender? Shouldn’t a strong brand image negate the need for gender-specific marketing?
I want to hear from parents and female former Lego builders what you think about this new product line and marketing campaign. Has Lego given in? Do we need to gender-colorize toys in 2012? I know that although my nieces love their Disney Princesses (which makes me cry a little on the inside). But if I were to buy them Legos for their next birthdays, I’d walk right past the beauty parlors and head straight for the castles.