Take a Glimpse into the Anthropology of Lego

Lego is revolutionizing their products to attract that other half of the market: the girls! Photo by Flickr user mia3mom via Creative Commons.

The other morning, while getting my sons ready for school, I heard an interview on NPR between Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and Business Week’s Brad Weiner.  The two journalists were discussing a new line of Lego brick sets hitting the market right after Christmas in the U.K. and U.S. The line is called “Lego Friends” and is not to be confused with the “Lego Friends” CD-ROM video game from 1999. During the interview, the two men discussed Mr. Weiner’s recent Business Week article, and all of the research that went into Lego’s latest attempt to corner the female market.  The details about the research captured my attention–they were fascinating!

According to the Business Week article, as part of Lego’s corporate reboot in 2005, Lego “anthros” (a play on “anthropologists”) were dispatched, spending time in homes around the world and learning about the differences between how girls and boys play.  These anthros also learned about cultural differences in play. For instance, that Japanese children seem to develop a sharp distinction between “play time” and “learning time,” while Western cultures better embrace “learning through play.”  It was through this first set of “anthros” that Lego masterfully rebuilt their company — expressly targeting boys and their love of building creations from start to finish.

This same anthros program recently spent time expressly analyzing how girls play. After all, Lego is no stranger to gathering demographic data, they invest a lot of time and money on research.

During the NPR interview, I kept hearing Mr. Inskeep qualify the discussion with statements that began, “I know this sounds stereotypical, but…” regarding some of the things Lego plans to do with their “Friends” line.  He was right, he certainly did sound stereotypical, but statistically speaking, Lego has statistical proof to back up what they say girls want. According to the data:

  • Girls want to role-play with their toys.  Their figures need names and back-stories.
  • Girls want to be able to partially assemble a set, stop for a while to role-play, then opt to continue building.
  • Girls want to be able to accessorize their minifigures.  Lego discovered that purses and hairbrushes didn’t work well on the current size of minifigure, so the new “Friends” will be larger, and will have accessories.
  • Girls want their minifigures to be veterinarians, hairdressers, and coffee shop baristas.  Sorry.  Statistically speaking, while we adults probably want our girls to be video game designers, Nobel-prize-winning physicists, and Supreme Court justices, this simply isn’t how most little girls prefer to play.  And Lego is a business: they want to sell toys that kids will play with (and ask their parents for more of).

So, for those Geek Parents with little girls who enjoy the Lego Castle line of bricks, or Ninjagq sets: great!  But for these “Friends” sets, Lego is aiming at the demographic already successfully cornered by “American Girl.”  To this end: each friend will come with a name, a back-story, a career, and a group of other friends and pets in order to help foster imaginative play.

Lego “Friends” sets are currently available in France, and will be available in the U.K. on December 26th, and in the U.S. on January 1st.  Look for them wherever your favorite Lego toys are found.

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