Few things are as important to a toy brand like Lego as consistency. No matter how many fancy licensing deals that brand has inked with the latest entertainment franchise (see feature), it all still comes down to those bricks—high-impact acrylonitrile butadiene styrene stamped out by precision, German-made machinery to factory tolerances of one-fiftieth of a millimeter. Consistency has been an imperative of Lego’s marketing, too, as the two ads here demonstrate. “In terms of composition and layout, the similarities are incredible, right down to the Chuck Taylors,” noted Ian Davidson, senior manager of brand insights for kids marketing consultancy Creative Consumer Concepts. “You have to think that Lego might have even looked at these ads side-by-side.”
Indeed, you would—even though these ads are actually 35 years apart. But look again and you’ll notice a telling difference. The 2013 ad features a girl, and she symbolizes the one attribute that’s as important to Lego as consistency—adaptability.
It’s not like this quintessential boy’s toy has been unaware of the girl demographic. Indeed, Lego tried (and largely failed) to woo them for decades. With the 2012 rollout of its Friends line, it finally succeeded. How? By making some subtle but significant tweaks on its time-tested marketing approach.
As Davidson sees it, both of these ads operate along the same basic question that all kids ask themselves, which is, more or less, Am I smart? While both ads answer that question affirmatively, the responses here are gender-specific. “With the 1978 ad, it’s parental pride that responds,” Davidson said. “The boy has a sense of accomplishment that he was able to look at instructions and build this thing—but he looks to adults [for affirmation]. With the girl, the question’s the same, but she has answered it herself in terms of self-expression.”
Too much analysis for a simple ad? Not really. Davidson’s analysis dovetails with what the brand itself discovered in studying the different ways boys and girls play with Lego. While males tend to build things in a “linear” fashion—rushing to replicate exactly what’s on the box—females prefer a more personal, less rigid approach. Girls create their own environments, develop personal stories around them and even imagine themselves living inside the things they build. That creation the girl is holding is, as the ad tells us, “exactly what she wants it to be.” Or, as Davidson puts it: “It’s less about building and more about lifestyle.”
And, of course, it’s all still Lego, which Davidson believes is the marvel of the brand itself. Retaining its essential consistencies, it has adapted enough to change with the times and broaden its market. “This is still a brand that empowers kids, but the invitation to make something has become more nuanced,” he said. “What had been a brand traditionally designed around replication is now about uniqueness of expression.”
You can thank the girls for that.