Gendered marketing from Lego and other retailers

Lego may provide some interesting architectural models but the company, along with other retailers, is being charged with having gendered marketing campaigns:

Debate over gender-based toy marketing has reached a fever pitch. In December, LEGO — a brand that previously could do no wrong — came out with a girlified version of their beloved blocks called LEGO Friends, and the marketers behind this switch were greeted with a bellowing, albeit virtual, “Why?” Now, a pair of 22-year-old activists for girls, Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole, have launched a petition to get LEGO to commit to gender equity in marketing…

Bradley Wieners, executive editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, investigated why LEGO was trying to attract more girls at all. On the surface, he discovered they were responding directly to parents like Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and poster-mom for equal-opportunity play. He quoted Orenstein saying, “The last time I was in a Lego store, there was this little pink ghetto over in one corner. And I thought, really? This is the best you can do?” The goal was to give little girls another option when they reach the “princess phase,” at around four-years-old, the time when boys their age enter their “LEGO-phase.” Because, as BusinessWeek reported, “Unlike tiaras and pink chiffon, Lego play develops spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills, and lets kids build almost anything they can imagine, often leading to hours of quiet, independent play.”…

“It would be easy to assume that this is just about LEGO, but [it] is part of a much larger marketing environment that puts the interests of girls and boys into … limiting boxes,” said Cole, one of the women behind the new petition agains LEGO Friends. Indeed, other classic brands including Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony — and even Troll dolls — have been transformed. The characters are much more slender, many look like they’ve gotten hair extensions, the Trolls carry purses. Sociological Images found nine examples which can be seen below.

Still, LEGO Friends touched a nerve that these other brands didn’t. More than 45,000 people have signed Cole and Richards’ petition, and parents are taking to Twitter, helping to spread word about the campaign with their hashtag #LiberateLEGOs.

Lego has been doing this for years: as a kid, I had Lego castles and pirates while my sister had a Lego ranch with horses and pink fences.

It would be interesting to see how successful Lego has been in selling “girl Legos.” If this petition is any indication, there are plenty of girls who are playing with and buying regular Legos, not Legos specifically aimed at girls.

Why not have a campaign about “boy Legos” as well? Lego has tended to sell boys a lot more violent kits where pirates, medieval characters, and Ninjas wield weapons.

Perhaps lost in all of this are City Legos. These are typically street scenes full of workers, shops, and government facilities (police, fire, etc.). Which gender do these appeal to most?

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