More Correspondence Between Kids and Lego

*the formatting on the blog is acting up today, please just ignore and enjoy the content!*

Lily and Noah’s mom emailed the following correspondence to me. The kids had asked her if she was going to write a letter to Lego regarding the new Friends line that their family was unhappy with. She suggested they do it. And so they did.

?To Lego,
  
I’m writing about the Friends sets. Can you add powerful girls? I would like you to make the girls go in outer space and meet aliens, or be fire fighters, or architects.  I also think you should have a set where girls make cars.  Please make real mini-figs and not all girly clothes.  I like to wear a Duke t-shirt and my brother’s old sweatpants. Also, could there be more real building in the Friends sets?
  
Here’s what I’ve made recently out of Legos: a robot, a deserted island, and a log cabin.
I think the inventor’s lab and treehouse look cool.
  
From,
Lily H.
7 Year Old Lego Builder and Powerful Girl
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
?Dear LEGO Fan,
  
Thanks for your interest in our products.
  

I think your More Powerful Friends Themes idea would make a brilliant LEGO® set, but for legal reasons we can’t use it! We have a team of experts in Denmark whose job it is to dream up new LEGO sets, themes and toys. They tell me it actually takes years to plan everything. They need to test all the new ideas, talk to the factory about how to make them, work out what sort of box is needed and then deliver the new sets to all the shops in 130 countries! This means that there’s a good chance they’re already working on something similar to your idea.
?
We are working on lots of other themes for the Friends line. I think that you will be very please where this story goes and what happens to the friends.  We are very aware that girls are very powerful and need to be represented as such.
?
We’re really sorry but since you’re under 13 years of age we’re going to have to delete your email address and comments from our LEGO database after we’ve sent you this email.
We’re not being mean, there’s a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and it’s been set up to keep you safe when you’re on the Internet. One of COPPA’s rules is that it’s against the law for us to save your emails.
Remember you can still find out all about our cool events and new LEGO products at www.LEGO.com

 

Thank you again for contacting us.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to call one of our friendly Customer Care Advisors at 1-800-835-4386 (from within the US or Canada) or 1-860-749-0706 (from outside the US or Canada). We are available Monday through Friday from 8AM – 10PM EST and Saturday through Sunday from 10AM to 6PM EST.

Cheryl
LEGO Direct Consumer Services
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

And then the letter from Lily’s big brother, Noah.
 Dear Lego,
I am writing to you about the new Friends sets. Let’s have some REAL mini-figs. And all the girls should be more POWERFUL. Not all, ‘Mom, I’m going to get a makeover. Dad, I’m going to the mall.’  NO WAY. I know a lot of girls who would think of that as TORTURE. My friend, Grace, plays music and loves history. My friend, Kate, is great at basketball. My sister, Lily, is really creative and is the best tree climber in the neighborhood.

 I would like the girls going to the moon and making friends with aliens, or crawling through creepy underground tunnels, or exploring ancient Mayan temples, or traveling the world.

 Thanks,

Noah H.  (Brother of Lily H.)

9 Year Old Lego Builder

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear,

Thanks for your interest in our products.

We’re really sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with your new LEGO Friends line. We try really hard to give LEGO fans what they want an we are glad you let us know when you feel we are not getting it right.

We have a team of experts in Denmark whose job it is to invent and test new LEGO sets, themes and toys. They tell me it takes years to check everything. They need to test all the new ideas, talk to the factory about how to make them, work out what sort of box it needs to go in and then deliver the new sets to all the shops in 130 countries!

As you can see, a lot of thought goes into your toys and although LEGO toys aren’t the cheapest in the shop, I hope you understand we invent and make LEGO sets to last a lifetime, or even longer!

We’re really sorry but since you’re under 13 years of age we’re going to have to delete your email address and comments from our LEGO database after we’ve sent you this email.

We’re not being mean, there’s a law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and it’s been set up to keep you safe when you’re on the Internet. One of COPPA’s rules is that it’s against the law for us to save your emails.

Remember you can still find out all about our cool events and new LEGO products at www.LEGO.com

Thank you again for contacting us.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to reply to this email or call one of our friendly Customer Care Advisors at 1-800-835-4386 (from within the US or Canada) or 1-860-749-0706 (from outside the US or Canada). We are available Monday through Friday from 8AM – 10PM EST and Saturday through Sunday from 10AM to 6PM EST.  Please have your reference number handy if you need to get in touch with us: 030232427A

Shawn
LEGO Direct Consumer Services

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 I am again left with several questions for Lego:

1) Why do you not address the specific concerns expressed by children and consumers when they take the time to communicate with your company?
2) Is it too much to ask that you address children by their name when you reply to them? Respect their personhood.
3) It took a team in Denmark years to dream up a beauty shop and outdoor cupcake bakery and a puppy washing station? Why does the team in Denmark have such a stereotyped image of American girls? Why is the sexist Friends line not sold to Danish girls?
4) If you are “very aware girls are very powerful and need to be represented as such”….why does the Friends line, completely dedicated to girls, show none of the five new characters doing anything powerful? With the exception of Olivia’s invention lab, why is the majority of the line and marketing focused on aesthetic appel and chilling with friends and not positions of power? You don’t seem to have a problem representing power for the boys.
5) May I suggest you come up with a couple different versions of canned form letters with which you respond to your customers? That way, when you send a nearly identical email to members of the same household, you don’t make the childen feel like they’ve been brushed off.
 

Interestingly enough, Noah has had some practice corresponding with a company when he didn’t like something. Noah’s mom told me this story: “Noah wrote a letter to the publisher Usborne a few years ago about a mistake/oversimplification he found in a book about Egypt. It turned out to be a really wonderful letter exchange involving a publisher and one of their Egyptologists.  The whole thing was very gratifying experience and we are to this day big Usborne supporters and encourage all of our friends to check them out.  Lego seems very shortsighted in their responses to these kids.”

 

I’d now like to ask for ten minutes of your time to watch this incredible break down of Lego, the Friends line, and the marketing around it. The video is kid-friendly and from our friend Anita and Feminist Frequency.


Comments

  1. Usborne is about making the best products to assist in the development of children while making money. They respect the person that is the child.

    Lego is about making money and to hell with children. They respect their bank account.

  2. I remember Lego Paradisa… usually I made “stables” for the dragons from their medieval sets, which were the guardians of the complex forts of the ice and space sets… and then all the astronaut-ice-soldiers could have palm trees in their forts, and go to the beach. :)

  3. You know, I actually think that LEGO may have gotten their research correct. “…Girls’ desire for realistic role play, creativity, and a highly-detailed, character-based world.” I don’t think that’s gender-stereotyped, limiting, or anything else. (I also don’t know whether or not it’s *true*…just that it sounds plausible as a tendency of a female demographic.)

    But LEGO got the execution wrong. If you are looking for a world that spurs creativity, LEGO Friends falls short with its highly-specific bricks and highly-pre-determined uses; it’s very difficult to build anything other than what’s described on the box. If you are looking for realistic role play, LEGO Friends falls short by excluding the majority of endeavors that women and girls choose to participate in on a daily basis; it’s hard to show a female firefighter, an artist, or an astronaut in a world dominated by hair salons. If you are looking for a highly-detailed world, LEGO Friends falls short; not because of a lack of painted-on features, but because of a lack of user-defined choices or tweaks that might be available. If you are looking for character-based play…well, I suppose they’ve kind of gotten that part because there’s nothing else to do but manipulate the figures inside a pre-determined setting. (Nevermind that a big part of character-based play is allowing the characters to make significant and meaningful changes to their environment.)

    No matter how loud people shout, LEGO can go back to its empirical behavior studies and say, “Look! This is what girls wanted!” You’ll never change their minds that the majority of girls like “realistic role play, creativity, and a highly-detailed, character-based world.” And honestly, I think we can work within that framework.

    What needs to happen is to demonstrate to LEGO that their market research is right, but their execution is so very wrong. The products they’ve launched fail to meet the requirements of the research in a way that is meaningful and satisfactory to girls. All they have to do is change the execution. And, luckily, they have a whole team of experts in Denmark already sitting there, just ready to start working on those changes! (Get to work, LEGO!)

    • Josh, I think you have captured my ambivalence about this LEGO issue. I do believe that children tend to like role play… girls more than boys, I am not sure. But even so, they definitely got the execution of it wrong.

      Really, all they had to do was make some basic bricks sets with pastels, and they would be selling like hotcakes. So what if they are pink, and soft green, and purple, and sky blue, and butter yellow?

      I DO resent LEGO for getting it wrong b/c anyone who looks at Play Mobil will see execution done correctly. Their mini figs have women looking like women, but they aren’t malformed, or rather are as blocky and malformed as the men figs. Their vet clinic has tons of tools and boys and girls are equally attracted to it.

      LEGO should not be competing with Play Mobil. They should not be putting out boy/girl sets. They should be doing what they do best. Laying out a infinite world of dreams.

  4. If they wanted the girls to feel included, they should simply put girl figs in their current collections. My son loves the Lego City sets, but I am frustrated that there aren’t any female firefighters, police officers, astronauts, etc. How hard would it be to just give one or two of the figures long hair?

    I don’t think I’ll be buying him any of the Friends sets, because I don’t want him to think that all girls can do is to to the salon or make cupcakes. I would happily buy him pink Lego if the girl figures were empowered.

    • If that is the case why can’t the figures be considered females with short hair? I know lots of professional women who don’t have long hair!

  5. Those letters are just embarrassing.

    Answer to question 3, though: They will be sold to Danish girls. Well, at least, they will be sold to Norwegian girls, though they’re not available yet. You guys just got “lucky” and got them first. We picked up the 2012 catalogue last week and they have a launch date here in March.

  6. To be honest, I thought people were making too big of a deal out of the Lego Friends thing…until I saw that commercial. PAIN.

  7. Althogh I do have to point out that to a certain small extent, there may be a genetic predisposition for girls to like pink: the eyes of females tend to have more cone cells that detect red wavelengths than do males, so we probably see the color more vividly than they do. Though I don’t think that justifies the degree of color-gender segregation we have now.

  8. This entire conversation is so interesting, especially as I work in customer support. I’m so confused at the comment in the first response letter that states for legal reasons, they can’t create a More Powerful Friend Theme. Huh?? There’s a law against Lego sets that allow girls to go to the moon? And the statement in the response second letter addressing the fact that Legos aren’t the cheapest toy in the world… where did THAT come from?

    (10 minutes later….)

    Ok. Just got off from the phone with customer support. What a phone call. First of all, Wendy-my CSR, is passing along the second response as she agreeds that ‘not the cheapest toy’ remark was totally out of left field. I asked if they used a form letter and she wouldn’t directly answer. She did, however, tell me that line is not in any of their macros (pre-form e-mails). I asked why the first response letter would include a reference to legal issues, and she said Lily suggested a product idea. Well, yes, she did, but not a product NAME. I don’t see More Powerful Friends Themes in capitals until the response letter. It seems to me she was suggesting an adjective for future sets. I started to mention that I know they are probably receiving quite a few e-mails such as this and she interrupted and went on about how popular the line is and she has bought four packages and that if anything they are inundated with calls and e-mails thanking them for having a girls line and that they finally listened to the PARENTS (her emphasis) in creating this line.

    As a manager in a customer support department, I could only shake my head. We never talk over callers, we never tell them they are wrong, we never interrupt and we only address the issues in the e-mails. I’m not sure there’s any getting through to this company if this is how the employees are trained.

    Off to eat lunch and calm down. I take the lack of customer service almost as personally as the larger issue.

    • Ok. After even more thought (and a bowl of Mac and Cheese), I’m using these e-mails in our next training. No one should receive a letter like these, regardless of age or issue. And while I doubt there will be a letter writing campaign over our software anytime soon, we are going to do a ‘What’s wrong with this picture’ scavenger hunt on the e-mails and then examine our own responses to clients. Still sick about this.

    • It’s great that you called Lego about this, but their response on the phone was as disappointing as their email replies. I took their capitalising of “More Powerful Friends” as a way to legally cover themselves. The rest of their emails were just drivel. “We have a whole team of people working on these and it’s so hard for us to do our jobs, you don’t realise how tough it is to make things you don’t like, imagine how much harder it would be to make things you actually do like! It’s practically impossible! We totally hear what you’re saying, but lalalalalalaaa our fingers are in ears!!!”

  9. Fat talk free. Thank you for that. I wish more people recognized how toxic that kind of talk can be. Our household is fat talk free, and through the magic of DVR technology, it is also free of fat-shaming diet commercials. So far my nearly 6 year old child, who happens to be thin for her age and height, has not internalized any of the messages that were so damaging for me. I think the “no fat talk” rule is part of the reason why.

    This doesn’t mean we don’t teach her about nutrition and exercise. She knows all about fiber and vitamins and getting strong. These issues aren’t emotionally charged and she doesn’t receive them through an inherently sexist filter wherein her appearance defines who she is as a person. I really hope my child will continue to feel good about herself and also refrain from shaming and body-policing other people as she grows up.

  10. luckychrm says:

    WOW! This blog post with correspondence between children and Lego corp. and a video analysis of Lego’s new Friends set seriously knocks it out of the park on responding to gender-stereotyped products and advertising. I will share it with everyone- not to try and convince them that Lego Friends are ~teh evil*~ but to show what it looks like when people use their voice to say “No Thanks- I aint buyin’ what yer sellin!”

    I’m sure there are tons and tons and tons of people out there who just brush off the advertising and support their children in enjoying playing with toys the way they want and they do it silently- possibly even stifling a whole lotta discontent with our contemporary reality of less-than-perfect gender segregation and stereotyping in oh so many parts of a child’s world.

    But we don’t have to do it silently. It’s ok to be empowered and use or voices- even if it is to say, No Way- without offering alternatives because we don’t know what they are. How fabulous to take it even further and use social & digital media and produce conteroffensives that really might change something in the world.

    Thank you so much for this post!
    *I don’t think they are ~teh evil~, nor do I think that most upset with Lego Friends are saying that. I especially appreciate how this post shows staying on message- girls need powerful play just as much as boys: make marketing and devlopement of children’s equipment about gender inclusive powerful play!

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