by Michele Yulo
Have you seen the new Lego Friends ad that has been making its way around social media?
It seems really nice, right? A smiling girl with her creation. The text that says, "She's an explorer, a builder, a designer, a creator, and an inventor." In this ad, Lego puts a new twist on the now famous ad (below) from 1981 that went viral last year when Lego Friends was first introduced in which a little redheaded girl in braids, dressed in all blue against a brown background, holds her Legos proudly without any pink or purple in sight. What many pointed out about what made this particular ad so great was the obvious non-gendered way Lego marketed to kids back then. It seems that once-upon-a-time there was no need to appeal to girls' sense of color or to even address the audience by gender. The copy appeals to all children and addresses them as such without ever using the words girl or boy. This is also evident in the name of the sets: Universal Building Sets. Clearly, these sets are for everyone--boys and girls alike.
Conversely, the latest ad for Lego Friends targets "she" only. Yes, the girl pictured is in blue (yay!) and is proudly holding her Lego invention (that is loaded with pink and purple, of course), but the ad is all about girls as is Lego Friends. In a conversation on Facebook that asked for thoughts about it, I said: The thing for me is that I can see Lego trying to hearken back to the 1981 ad that shows a little girl in blue jeans and blue tee proudly holding her Legos (by the way--this girl appears to be much older here). But the 1981 ad doesn't identify which gender the Legos are actually for; instead, it allows for all children to be included in imaginary play. [Whereas the new] ad continues to perpetuate the marketing scheme that there are toys for girls and toys for boys. I know that there are boys who like Lego Friends as well--this ad excludes them. Yes, it appears to be lovely and sweet. It appears to tell girls they are unique, they can do anything. But this ad is sneaky. And if you place this ad side by side with the 1981 ad--it still lacks the 'what it is is beautiful' sentiment that tells ALL children they are capable of anything. Just putting a girl in blue doesn't make that happen.
In addition, an article in Britain's The Telegraph questions (as have others) whether "pinkifying" toys, specifically Legos which are supposed to encourage girls in areas of building and science, is helping or hurting. When we separate girls and boys in this way, we are telling both sexes that girls can't be interested in things like science unless they are color-coded or include things like puppies and cupcakes. The article quotes a Lego "spokesperson" who says, “'We’ve always had Lego bricks that are pink and we’ve got a wide variety of different sets," adding, "'We don’t say ‘this is for girls’. It’s up to the child or the parent to make the choice.'” That is a completely false statement. First of all, take a look at the 1981 ad and you'll see that Lego has not always had pink bricks. I'd also ask them to review their own advertising for Lego Friends which does not include a single boy (and no male minifigs), as well as the initial announcement that was made when Lego Friends was first introduced in which they admit omitting girls from their product marketing and advertising until last year while specifically saying that the new sets are aimed at "girls five and up" and not "kids five and up." [What an easy fix!]
What continues to boggle my mind is why Lego never once, over the past ten to fifteen years, thought to simply open up their existing product lines to girls--or never once thought girls might actually love the Harry Potter sets, or might be into constructing a helicopter or a police station. Yes, the new ad is nice, but it does indeed address girls only and, even though it attempts to look like the 1981 ad, unfortunately it completely misses the beauty and simplicity of their past message that all Legos are for all kids. What happened?
Last year, I did my own homemade version of the ad to show that it is not that kids have changed forcing companies to adopt "separate but equal" and "pink marketing" strategies--in fact, it is the other way around. I didn't change the tagline except to say that "What it is is still beautiful." Because it is.
I will say that the newest ad is a step in the right direction and I recognize that Lego seems to be trying to broaden their gender horizons, however, the message is the same: girls and boys can't possibly play with the same toys. We must continue to deconstruct media that continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes--even when it seems to be sweet and harmless. With that in mind, here is what I'd like to say to Lego: I know you are capable of making advertising that appeals to ALL children because you've done it before. I have the proof and so do you. It's not that difficult, so just do it.