Monday, February 2, 2015

Some more about Lego and girls

For years Lego commercials looked like this:

The title of the commercial is "House".  The series the commercials comes from is called, "Build together".  There's nothing that suggests gender.  In the first sentence you learn who Legos are for.  "Man" "father" and "son" hit you rapid fire in that compound sentence from the male narrator.

There is nothing for woman, mother, or daughter.  Nor sister, but that can be left out because Lego doesn't seem too keen on brothers either.

Well, maybe mom and daughter can come along on a road trip?

Nope.  Apparently not.  The family unit is a father and son.  If they added a grandfather it would be like the invisibling of non-divine women in the Roman conception of the family.  (An exception was made for women in the imperial family once it existed, but they were considered semi-divine anyway.)

Well, maybe if we look at Star Wars.

They could have at least thrown in Leia.

I know what you're thinking.  Those all have the same accent.  I'm cherry picking.

No, these are just the things that I've seen on TV.  But there are other TVs in places with other accents.  What did people see on those TVs?

Even in other accents, Lego is for fathers and sons.  Women simply didn't exist.  Youtube says that that has changed (mind you I've never seen those commercials on TV) but it's changed with respect to the Lego Friends line.

A couple of days ago I wrote a post after a little girl said, "They have Lego Friends for girls and regular Legos for boys."  Lego Friends is what Lego did to try to help its failing sales with girls.

Lego didn't consider that maybe advertising to girls the way they advertised to boys (none of the above couldn't be gender flipped) they instead embarked upon their biggest market research campaign ever.

For four years they researched and the results, by their own admission, were mostly that girls wanted the same things they were offering to the boys.  Instead of making commercials with mother-daughter building teams (or, gasp, father-daughter, mother-son, and brother-sister) they delved deeper, looking for the difference between girls and boys.

Already they've fucked up.  They went looking for the difference.  They set out to find the things that girls wanted but boys didn't.  They were looking for the lack of common ground so they could find the most gendered possible way to make a Lego-set and the ratchet it up to 11.

There's nothing wrong with creating products to cater to the most girly girls out there, they have just as much right to have toys as everyone else.  But this was Lego's attempt at attracting all girls.

Find out what girls like.  Find out what boys like.  Throw out the common ground and whatever remains in the "what girls like" pool is what you keep.

Um... what the fuck?

Also, while Lego is very willing to give the statistics for the mothers and daughters (did none of the girls they researched have male parents?  do no boys have female parents?) they researched --"3500 girls and their mothers"-- they're not as willing to give information on the boys they researched in spite of the fact that their conclusions are all comparisons.  Boys like X, girls like Y.

You can only make those conclusions if you also researched boys extensively.  So why has their research of boys not created a new "Lego for Boys" line?

And why did they restrict their research to girls with no initial interest in Legos instead of finding out what their female customers, who were --by their own figures-- responsible for 100 million in revenue in 2010 alone, did like about Legos and how to make more girls aware of those things?

Why was everything they did based on the assumption that there was something odd and different about girls, and nothing that they did based on the assumption that maybe they, Lego, had been doing something wrong.

Lego Friends isn't bad.  Lego Disney isn't bad.  Hell, Star Wars belongs to Disney now so there's been a pretty damned successful Lego Disney line for quite some time now.  Also belonging to Disney: Marvel.  And you know what?  It would be nice if Spiderman and the Black Widow had figures as human-resembling as the Friends line.

I very much doubt that Lego Elves will be bad.

What is bad is treating girls as some strange and different subspecies of humanity divorced from the normal and default setting that is, conveniently, the same gender as the people in charge of Lego.

What's worst of all about the bullshit that has been going down on the Lego front is that Lego knows girls aren't strange, different, or bizarre.  Lego has been seeing its sales figures among girls dropping for ages even though girls haven't changed.  All they really needed to do is look at how the company changed.  The company stopped marketing to girls.  They made themselves the company of fathers and sons.  Girls, for the most part, stopped buying.

Lego Friends had something that Lego's previous sexist girly-stereotypes lines of toys didn't have.  Even though they haven't advertised enough for me to see them, they actually put out ads with girls playing with Legos again.  Lego Friends rather than the ordinary "system bricks" that you'll see featured prominently in the father and son ads above, but they made ads where girls played with Legos.  You know what happened?  Girls played with fucking Legos.

It blew Lego away and surpassed their expectations twofold, but the fact of the matter is I could have told you that would happen without the 4 years of extensive market research of "3500 girls and their mothers."

They took down the, "No girls allowed," sign and girls came in.  What a big fucking surprise.

Of course, the old, "No girls allowed," sign has been replaced with an implicit, "Girls allowed in these sections only," sign.

Which leaves us with many of the same problems.

Want to know why girls aren't playing with other sets as much as boys are?  The ads Lego puts out tell them they're not supposed to.  The media they see tells them that those sets are for fathers and sons.  (The Lego movie is not immune to this.)  If you never see someone like you using X product, and if you're a girl looking at Lego ads you don't, you start to think that there's something strange about you, something wrong with you, if you want to use X.

A certain proportion won't be held back by that, of course.  How many?  $100,000,000 worth in 2010 alone.  Why did I look up 2010 instead of 2009 or 2011?  2010 is the mid way point for the four year study.  2010 is a year when Lego had no "For girls" offerings.  (The previous pastel product for girls was retired the year before, Lego Friends didn't come out until the end of the study in 2012.)

In 2010 Lego learned that even if they avoided advertising to girls the way that Edward Cullen avoids common decency they'd still get girls buying $100,000,000 worth of their product.  They learned this without spending a penny on market research.

One wonders what would have happened if they'd tried advertising to girls the way they advertised to boys.


All of the above said, I want Lego friends and derivative products to be successful and spread throughout the rest of Lego like a cancer.  You know why?  It would be nice to have, for example, a Bilbo Baggins that looks like Bilbo instead of some bizarre robot made by someone who doesn't understand human (or hobbit) proportions.  I want a Gamora that looks like Gamora instead of what would happen if someone put a wig and a fresh coat of paint on the Bilbo-bot.


  1. Lego wasn't always so bad. In the 1970s and early 1980s:

    But the late 1970s was when they started moving away from generic bricks and into specialised pieces. This was the spaceship line, that was the castles and knights line. (See Wikipedia, "list of lego themes".) Once they'd committed to that, a "for girls as opposed to normal people" line was probably inevitable.

    And now you can get a special Lego Movie themed Lego set. Everything really is Awesome. (I have a whole lot of separate rants about that.)

    1. Moving into specialized pieces wasn't the problem so much as the assumption, probably made without even realizing it, that boys would be the ones using them. Where is it written that girls don't like Atlantis?

      Since when do girls not have an interest in space?

      Elizabeth Swan wanted to be a pirate when she grew up. A quick check shows that Lego did indeed licence Pirates of the Caribbean so they could make themed sets based on Elizabeth's home movie. There was even a mini-figure of her. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that none of the ads the put out for those sets featured girls playing with them or, if by chance some ad did, it was still the case that the vast majority of ads showed boys playing with the sets.

      Sets based on a movie about a girl who wanted to be a pirate inadvertently setting into motion a series of events that would lead to an attack on Port Royal, battles with undead pirates, and the final end of the curse on Cortés. If one watches the commentary on the movie, the people who created it comment on how everything that happens in the plot is set off, directly or indirectly, by Elizabeth. My bet is that they were marketing more to "Will"s than "Elizabeth"s.

    2. The reason I see these as going together is that if you just have one product you have to sell it to everybody or you lose your market. Once you have multiple products, you can brand them for specific markets.

      (And as we still see in film marketing, there's an assumption that boys will be put off by the implication that girls might play with a toy they could be interested in. Which may have been true in the 1970s. May even be true now, though I hope not.)

    3. I see what you're saying, sorry if that wasn't clear.

      It's just that even though Lego's themes led to the "girls vs normal people" situation, it didn't have to do that. The fact that it didn't need to be that way is something I think should be pointed out.

      Also, I know that the assumption exists that boys won't want a toy if they see girls using it, but is there evidence to back that up?

      Did connect four take a serious hit in the male market after "Pretty sneaky, sis,"?

      That commercial didn't just show the girl playing with the toy, it showed her beating the boy. (I seem to remember a whole string of commercials like that for competitive products.) Granted it actually showed a tie (boy wins one, girl wins the rematch) but the last word was the girl wins. If boys are turned off by girls merely playing, that should have made them hate it, yet I never did hear about the great connect-4 boy exodus.

      Regardless, Lego would never have to show anyone winning or losing since building crap isn't a zero sum game.

  2. Just sent you a long letter regarding "boys are neutral, girls are special" stuff. Probably not suitable for the article. Though that's for you to judge.

    Be well, please.


  3. Yeah, you know what Lego has done successfully with their advertising methods? Ensure I will think long and hard before buying from them for boys OR girls. I wonder how much revenue they've lost that way. Or how much revenue they've lost from aiming their commercials primarily, if the ones I've seen are any indication, at white people.

    Probably not enough to make the slightest dent in their sexism and racism.

    Mind, it's really hard to find kid friendly multiplayer console games sometimes, and LEGO has quite a few titles in that corner, so I end up buying from them simply due to problems of lack of competition. Grr. Maybe that's why they don't care, they feel too secure in their market.