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When LEGOs first arrived on the toy market in 1958, they were designed to appeal to all children, with their original technology of stud and tube bricks that snap together and come apart easily. But while LEGOs remain the top toy chosen by boys, they have fallen off the wish lists of many little girls.

Part of the reason may have to do with the company’s relatively recent attempts to improve its positioning, ironically. In 2005, faced with some poor performance data, LEGO determined that the popularity of video games and automated games meant it needed to refocus on these areas. It developed LEGO-branded video games to match its Star Wars line of building sets. It also pushed its website and interactive opportunities.

But at the same time, LEGO worried about the effects on its long-standing traditions. All LEGOs are made in a small town in Denmark, populated by just over 6,500 people, and the goal of the toys has always been to provide educational opportunities for children.

Additional market research that involved in-depth observations of just how children play revealed some notable insights. Rather than appealing to children by simplifying its toys, LEGO had made its sets too easy to construct, without room for careful thought or creativity needed. The observational research showed that children wanted a sense of mastery and accomplishment, not just instant gratification.

In addition, its research with girls revealed that they were not uninterested in building. They just wanted to tell stories to go along with their construction—an effort that was undermined by the pre-set stories in LEGO video games. Thus arrived the LEGO Friends, 29 mini-doll figures whose names, back stories, and adventures are up to girls to develop and include in their own narratives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did different phases of research affect LEGO’s strategic choices?
  2. What is the purpose of LEGO Friends?

Source: Brad Wieners, “Lego Is for Girls,” BusinessWeek, December 14, 2011.