A few months ago, the LEGO Group announced their intention to eliminate gender bias from their marketing materials, ensuring that no set was going to be explicitly sold as a boy’s set or a girl’s set, but rather as toys for children. At that time we looked at the way that the marketing images in a number of LEGO® themes presented a degree of bias in their lifestyle ‘hero images.’
However, following this announcement, some people were concerned that it might spell the end of LEGO Friends. The theme was introduced back in 2012, as a result of focus groups suggesting that there was a large group of girls not engaging with LEGO Bricks. The theme is now enjoyed by boys and girls alike: embracing the everyday adventures in ‘real world’ settings.
The sets have primarily centred around a core group of 5 girls. Over the years, we have typically seen around 1:4 sets available on the shelves containing a male minidoll, and a similar proportion of the CHARACTERS presented are male.
How was the company going to respond to the challenge presented by this theme of eliminating gender bias? How would a play theme that relies on a callout featuring 5 girls on a purple box respond? Were the LEGO Friends going to be axed? Would they reboot the theme, as they did in 2018 when many of the girls got new looks? Would they add some boys to the core group of friends? On the LEGO Ambassadors’ Network, we were reassured that Friends will continue, and with a greater number of male Minidolls represented than before.
The Strategy revealed:
The 2022 LEGO Friends sets have now been revealed on LEGO.com, as has the packaging: First I wonder, what has happened to the character call out on the box – the bright depiction of the cast in the top right corner of the box. It has existed in LEGO City too, showing a mixture of minifigures over the years. Let’s take a quick look at how they have been presented over the years.
Initially, we were given rendered versions of our friends, followed later by a more stylised version. In these early days, the cast appear to be late teens, early twenties in age, although certainly, the storylines incorporate life as an older school student. Is this in part the John Hughes Effect, where actors cast in older movies set in American High Schools are all played by actors over the age of 20?
2018-2021 Our characters underwent a redesign: we have changes in hair colour as well as eyes and skin tone. The cast were represented in a more diverse manner, and seemed to be shown a little younger than in previous years. The look is more coherent between waves. Each year, the graphics in the callout have become more and more realistically rendered, greater resembling the characters as they appear in the animated series.
2022: in the next wave, we see that the callout with the girls has been removed, but the boxes retain a deeper purple colour (Technically, it is probably Medium Lilac).
The packaging of LEGO sets has undergone a refresh across the range this year, with larger set images, and fewer character callouts – in many themes. As such, this refresh is in keeping with the rest of the brand. By removing the heart-shaped motif, with our core cast, the boxes certainly appear less ‘girly’ – and this was seen as an impediment to some boys being happy to play with the theme as well.
We also have a new typeface for the set information: name, part count – the font appears more like futura than helvetica.
I suspect this company-wide refresh is probably associated with the 90th anniversary of the company which we will be celebrating in 2022.
41695: Pet Clinic
A few points here: several small animals, and a new double door element. There had been rumors that Virant Coral had an expiry date of 2021 – based on images seen in some of the DOTS designer videos a few years ago: it is, however, very much still here.
41697: Turtle Protection Vehicle
41700: Beach Glamping
Nature Glamping was a sleeper hit in the theme in 2020, and has been frequently out of stock: a new environment and a new tent gives our team somewhere new to hang out. Stephanie gets a new hairpice, with a beanie incorporated.
41701: Street Food Market
Wow! The first reversible minidoll head! Edit: Okay…Not a dual sided head, but an alternative head is actually provided in the head – thanks to Megan L from the Women’s Brick Initiative for the >ahem< heads up. Otherwise a great looking set with a taco truck, juice bar and Asian food stall. Emma gets a new hairstyle.
41702: Canal Houseboat
Mia gets a hat, and Sebastian reappears.
41703: Friendship Tree House
This is the anniversary set, celebrating 10 years of LEGO Friends. Olivia has taken up beekeeping, and Jackson is in a new wheelchair design, suited for minidolls. I haven’t seen the 3 wheeled cargo bike before, but I may not have been looking in the right places. I get the feeling that this set will be extremely popular: it’s bright and colourful, and gives us a great selection of minidolls.
41704: Mainstreet Building
With 1682 pieces, this is the largest LEGO Friends set to date, bringing us 8 minidolls, including another wheelchair, 2 men and a younger child. Savannah, who is blind, makes her third appearance. This set has a wide variety of ages, genders and skin tones.
41707: Tree Planting Vehicle
Finally, another vehicle/nature-based set, has Olivia and Daniel beautifying their environment with a tree-planting program.
Some Quick Stats:
8 sets: 6 feature male minidolls. Only 2 of the smallest sets have 2 girls only.
Of 28 minidolls, 9 are male – which is only a little less than 1in3. 12 figures are people of colour.
We have 19 characters, of which 7 are male.
These sets will be on the shelves in parallel with some of the sets from 2020 and 2021, so it will take a while for the ‘who’s on the shelves’ metric to take effect. Our old characters have had some redesigned hairpieces, as well as a wardrobe refresh – some new hats and more.
This is certainly a great looking wave of sets, bringing the core cast and their friends back into urban life. Coupled with an increased number of male characters, people of colour, varying abilities as well as a variety of age groups, this is certainly one of the most diverse ranges that we have seen for some time.
We have seen the callout with the group of girls removed from the box, with the packaging imagery focussing on the set content. this certainly removes some of the gender bias from the packaging. The box colour is now more like a block of chocolate, rather than a bunch of flowers.
What do you think about the changes in Friends this year? Why not comment below, and until next time,