Toymaker to set its sights on girls

The world’s second best family-owned business is launching a range aimed at females, but not everyone is happy with it

Danish toy manufacturer Lego has finished second in a poll of the best family-owned businesses, as voted for by the readers of CamdenFB, a British business magazine. It won 20 percent of the vote, a long way behind winner Coopers Brewery (38 percent) while Kenyan Nakumatt came third.

2011 was another good year for Lego, which has seen profits rise 68 percent since 2008 and is switching its focus over to young girls – a market that it has traditionally struggled in. For four years it worked on developing a new range of toys entitled Lego Friends. Using data obtained through interviews with women and their daughters, the company has discovered that girls aged five to 13 want more role-playing possibilities.

The new collection will be in stores in March and the storyline centres on five girls in the make-believe town of Heartlake City. The five characters have unique personalities and interests ranging from art to animals.

According to Karen Owen, the Lego brand manager for Australia and New Zealand, this new emphasis has been something that has been on parents’ wish lists for quite a while.

“Parents have been asking us to come up with an offering for their daughters for a long time,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The girl-orientated line, however, has come under fire by many for pandering to stereotypes. A petition on the website was created to request that Lego “stop selling out girls”. Calling the new line “Barbielicious”, the petition criticises the company for giving the Lego girls sexist activities including “lounging at the beach, brushing their hair in front of a vanity mirror, or shopping with their girlfriends”. The petition, which also asks Lego to include girls in advertising for all Lego sets and to market regular Legos to girls, had amassed over 3,000 signatures as of Monday.

For the company’s part, Lego is still considering how to launch the new marketing drive – an area of business in which it is well known for not holding back. In London, in the build-up to Christmas, it unveiled a 12.2 metre Christmas tree at St. Pancras train station. It consisted of 600,000 pieces and 172 branches and took a total of two months to put together. It goes without saying that this was the largest Lego tree ever constructed.

Meanwhile, in other Lego news, Warsaw’s museum of Modern Art in Poland has just purchased a Lego model of a concentration camp built in the 1990s for €55,000. The museum paid one-third of the total price, with the rest coming from a donation by the Society of Friends of Modern Art.