RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And the Danish building block copy Lego is enjoying double-digit growth, but its products are mostly geared towards boys. So the company's coming out with a new line of toys for girls.
Bradley Wieners writes about this in the latest edition of Bloomberg BusinessWeek Magazine. He told Steve Inskeep it's not the first time Lego has tried to woo girls.
BRADLEY WIENERS: They've tried now five times to launch sort of initiatives for girls in particular and have struggled every time. And the lesson they took from that was boys build. Girls role-play. But if you watch the way boys and girls play with Lego, in particular which they have, extensively, boys role-play too and girls like to build. But the themes they were offering have been conducive to boys playing rather than girls.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
I'm thinking of the Star Wars Lego sets, I suppose, which, you know, it's combat. They're little weapons that the storm troopers are holding and that sort of thing. That's boy-oriented or presumed to be?
WIENERS: It is. Yeah. The light sabers. I mean if you go into the kingdoms, you've got the Excalibur, you've got the daggers, you've got all of these mazes and cudgels. It's very much about battles and conflict.
INSKEEP: Now, if anybody's at home thinking that we're stereotyping people, let's be fair here. My daughter plays with Legos, so this is not about individuals. It's about percentages. Broadly speaking, you're saying in percentage terms more boys are playing with Legos than girls. So what has Lego now tried to do about this?
WIENERS: Well, they've come up with a whole new set of themes called Lego Friends. It borrows at least one theme from the American Girl dolls, which is that there are five friends who come with back stories who run businesses, cafes and so on, throw parties. They've also figured out that girls really didn't like the Lego mini figure. This is the sort of squat kind of robotic-looking guy; he's kind of goofy looking. He's ugly to them and they don't want to play him because they don't want to be him. So they've gone back and created a whole new lady mini figure.
INSKEEP: The lady mini-figure. She's a little taller.
WIENERS: Five millimeters taller, which is important because that gives you the skill you need for hair brushes and handbags.
INSKEEP: Okay. But is the hair comb-able, then?
WIENERS: The hair is not comb-able, but you can sort of use your imagination on that.
INSKEEP: I'm guessing that they went ahead and included a lot of pink?
WIENERS: There is, but the pink was already in the Lego palette. And the new colors are lavender and these sort of softer Easter egg colors. And there actually is a lot of research that girls are more sensitive to color at an early age, so they went softer. The other thing that they had discovered is that the girls wanted to quickly get to the role-play - start rearranging things, customizing things, as opposed to boys who like to make it look just the way it appeared on the box. So they've actually bagged the sets so you can begin to play different scenarios before you finish the build.
INSKEEP: And when you open a Lego box, you're going to get a biography of the little character?
WIENERS: Yeah. They're not - they're not, you know, book length, but you're going to get a paragraph and they're going to let you know that you could sort of pick up - one is the veterinarian, one is a hairdresser.
INSKEEP: Although when you named the occupations, I can already hear the complaints coming in. I mean veterinarian, hairdresser - perfectly legitimate occupations, but someone's going to ask, where's the CEO? Where is the secretary of State?
WIENERS: Absolutely. Well, they're definitely running a risk here of reinforcing some stereotypes, even as they try to break down the ones about girls building. So they know they're in that margin, they've talked to a lot of moms. They told me some stories of talking to moms that professed to hate pink, while they were wearing pink too. So they struggle to find that space where they can, you know, be original but also be a mass-market phenomenon.
INSKEEP: Bradley Wieners of Bloomberg BusinessWeek Magazine, thanks very much.
WIENERS: Thank you.