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Our letter to LEGO

We told you yesterday that we were taking this LEGO business to the next level–and here it is. Yesterday afternoon, LEGO received this letter from us along with a printout of all 47,000 signatures on our petition at the time of the writing. We’re proud of the conversation that we’ve started, and now we want to talk to LEGO directly. We’re looking forward to hearing from them, and we’ll keep you posted.

Dear Jorgen Vig Knudstorp (Chief Executive Officer, The Lego Group), Michael  McNally (Brand Relations Director), Charlotte Simonsen (Head of Corporate Communications) and Mads Nipper (Executive Vice President):

We represent the girls, the parents, the children, the fans, the hobbyists, the collectors, the friends, the big sisters and brothers, the grandparents, and your future. And we are very  disappointed. We used to believe in you. You used to create and market toys in line with your published mission to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.” We bought  your blocks to build magical fortresses, castles, space ships and fantasylands. We trusted you. Until last month, when you sold out our girls and started to blow away their future  with little yellow, plastic hair dryers.

Your new Friends marketing campaign is not only insulting and condescending, but it is dangerous. As members of the SPARKTeam, girl activists (ages 13-22) from throughout North America fighting to end the sexualization of girls, we request a meeting between ourselves, representatives of SPARK partner organizations, and your marketing and executive team so that we can share the abundant scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed journals (not “market research,” designed to best target little girls and their moms as consumers) that demonstrates the negative impact sexist marketing campaigns like yours have on girls as they grow up and become young women. SPARK is a coalition of more than 70 orgs and reaches tens of thousands of girls and those who support their healthy development.

On December 22, we initiated a petition demanding that you include more girls in your marketing for all LEGO products. Over 47,000 people have signed, and more are signing every hour. Our concerns have been published and discussed to date in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Toronto Star, Today Show, NPR, The Huffington Post and dozens of other radio shows, newspapers, and TV newscasts as well as in hundreds of blog posts. Millions of parents, girls and boys, are listening to us and demanding that you reconsider your marketing approach. We fully understand that the trend in marketing is to sell a narrow, commercialized version of gender to younger and younger children. The pink and blue aisles of toy stores are testament to the success of this approach, as is the volume of toys with a teen edge marketed to very young girls. But we were surprised and dismayed when LEGO went this same route. Toys like LEGO have and should continue to open up creative options and give children a wide range of experiences, not shut these options down or channel them along the same narrow pathways other toy lines have done so effectively (Bratz dolls, for example). We expected more from you. We thought, given your mission and vision, that you actually gave girls more credit than that.

This is not about the color of your building blocks or your Friends’ line, it’s about the lack of faith you have in girls’ skills and interests. It’s about your distorted notion that, in order to buy LEGO, girls need messages about the value of shopping, clubbing, baking,and tanning. In your press release, you state that you have tried unsuccessfully to market to girls. This claim is not supported by your actions. In fact, you have offered relatively few female characters in your traditional LEGO sets, and there are rarely any girls in your commercials for those sets.  You do not even showcase a girl playing with blocks on the cover of your Facebook page.  The message, then, is very clear.  To LEGO, there are boys and regular LEGOs.  And then there are the “others”:  the girls.  This was never an effective marketing strategy for selling LEGOs to girls, and it is disingenuous to suggest that it was. That only 9% of regular LEGO users before the Friends line were girls is thus not surprising.  You had stopped selling to girls.

You defend the new Friends line by saying girls “will enjoy the exact same building experience and developmental benefits as children who choose any other LEGO theme,” and yet you do not offer building instructions in your Friends catalog, as you do in the“regular” LEGO catalog. Instead you offer personalities and stories of Friends’ characters with overwhelmingly stereotypical interests. We are disappointed that in reaching out to girls with “story lines that they would find interesting,” you went for cafes, karaoke, makeovers and lost puppies. There can be a time and place for more mundane story lines in imaginative play, but when you offer them as the “girl” alternative to active adventure stories, you are sending girls the message that they stay home, hang with friends, and make themselves pretty and nice, while boys go out and have fun and adventures.  There is no evidence, of course, that this line will have “developmental benefits” and no mention of the negative developmental impact to girls of consuming a high volume of stereotypical messages you reinforce in your Friends’ line sets, for which there is substantial scientific evidence.

We think you can do better.  We want you to remember that there are lots of girls not interested in sets that invite them to lounge poolside with drinks and sing in clubs.  Take a look at the ones in our petition video –those are real girls.  And thousands of parents, both moms and dads, who support their real girls agree. We are asking you to include more girls in your regular sets, more girls in your commercials, and we want your blocks marketed to girls and sold in the “girls aisles” of stores.  We know LEGO can be that one company that offers girls the message that they have choices and we know LEGO has the will and creativity to encourage girls to start making their own choices.

We have included our petition and a printed list of the 47,427 people who stand with us. You have the opportunity to make a difference–to fulfill your mission. You wrote recently that, “We have a long history of listening very carefully to the opinions and requests of our consumers.” We look forward to our conversation. Please contact Dana Edell, SPARK’s Executive Director, at dana@SPARKsummit.com with potential dates and times for our meeting.
Respectfully,
Stephanie Cole and Bailey Shoemaker Richards, SPARKTeam representatives, with
Dana Edell, Ph.D., SPARK Director
Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., SPARK Co-Founder
Deborah Tolman, Ed.D., SPARK Co-Founder

SPARK partners:
Audrey Brashich, Author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity
Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty
Nancy Gruver, New Moon Girls
Amy Harmon, Becoming a Better Woman
Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth
Margot Magowan, Reel Girl
Jennifer Shewmaker, PhD, LSSP, Operation Transformation
Robyn Silverman, Child/Teen Development Specialist
Melissa Wardy, Pigtail Pals
Megan Williams, Hardy Girls Healthy Women and Powered By Girl
Jamia Wilson & Julie Burton, Women’s Media Center
Michele Yulo, Princess-Free Zone
Amy Zucherro, Miss Representation



															
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7 Responses to “Our letter to LEGO”

  1. [...] The fine folks at SPARK have a great letter to the people at LEGO about what’s wrong with the problems they (and we) see with LEGO marketing. I encourage you to go sign their petition, before or after you hear Bailey Shoemaker Richards talk to NPR about the issue. [...]

  2. [...] and thank you to SPARKsummit for sending this astoundingly articulate letter along with 47,000 signatures on their petition asking LEGO to stop relegating girl toys to the pink [...]

  3. [...] With children returning to school, Goldman”s book lands at a time when bullying is front and center in parents” minds. It also comes in an era when the connection between gender norms and bullying is getting increased scrutiny from parents, educators and activists, prompting more direct action instead of just talk. When Lego announced plans to sell a new line of sets packaged in pink boxes and containing busty characters, salons and spas, girl-led activist movement SPARK launched a petition to quash the toys. [...]

  4. Fritha Ohlson says:

    Thank you for this letter. I’m late to the game here, but I was so disappointed when I saw these LEGO Friends sets in the toy aisle. Here’s a little bit about me:
    * I am a 30-something woman. I loved playing with LEGOs as a child, although they were my brothers’ sets, I was the one that put the sets together and played with them endlessly.
    * Lo and behold, I went on to complete my bachelors and masters degrees in industrial engineering and am now an engineer in the hydropower industry.
    * I am also now a mom to 7 year-old twins — a boy and a girl — and have enjoyed sharing my love of LEGOs with them. We have visited Legoland California multiple times on vacation. Both of my children love Legoland and it does a much better job of appealing to both girls and boys than the actual LEGO products.
    * My boy & girl twins play very well together and play across gender lines frequently, moving between dolls, stuffed animals, trains, and cars very easily. HOWEVER, with LEGOs, they have become more attractive to my son, mainly because of the LACK of girl minifigs. My daughter loves the castles, but we have had to pay premium dollar online to get the few girl castle minifigs we have (princesses).
    * As much as I love LEGOs, and as much as I have longed for more girl minifigs and perhaps some LEGO sets that were a bit more feminine or even just neutral, I would NEVER buy the new Friends sets — they are absolutely atrocious for all the same reasons SPARKS already mentioned (very sexualized and one-dimensional). I’m just SHOCKED that the people at LEGO put something like the Friends set out, when all it would take is slightly altering the Kingdoms series to have a princess-like castle and additional female minifigs: Queens, princesses, maidens, fairies, good witches and bad witches, archers, etc. The kids’ grandparents have bought many of the Schleich figures series, and there are many female/male figures as well as knights & princesses castles.
    * Overall, I’m so torn about LEGOs. I love them and I really feel they did have a piece in guiding me towards the engineering field. But I’m so disappointed that LEGO does not seem able to take even small steps in the direction that would attract more girls to their great product. I really hope they listen to the SPARKS letter.

  5. [...] like fashion and princess toys while boys play with blocks, LEGOs and tools? SPARK recently protested LEGO’s new “Friends” line because of its pink saturated, gender stereotyping [...]

  6. [...] in pink boxes and containing busty characters, salons and spas, girl-led activist movement SPARK launched a petition to quash the toys. Restricting train sets to boys and dress-up to girls not only reinforces outdated gender roles [...]

  7. [...] (Girls literally changing the world and calling out huge companies like Seventeen Magazine and Lego for sexism, [...]

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