I recently tweeted about a Lego Duplo set, which allowed the child to build their own cakes and treats using the colourful, shaped blocks. It was the kind of product that my 2-year-old son would spend hours playing with.
However, Lego Group have made the marketing decision to target young girls for this product. The box is pink and has a picture of two girls playing with the product and the pieces are pink and pastel colours. Even the product description says “young girls will love building and serving cakes of all shapes and sizes…” (source: Amazon UK).
Lego have long battled against the “boys toys” labels put on it by the UK’s toy industry (this does not happen in much of mainland Europe). Their product development teams have gone to great lengths to introduce and promote Lego “for girls” as well as boys, as a strategy to grow sales in market segments in which they were losing out.
This, as a strategy, is generally a good one: business growth through the development of new product ranges targeted to the needs and wants of new market segments (or segments that are underperforming).
However, does it work when you alienate effectively another part of your market place? We also need to listen to customers and understand their perceptions of these segments before we commit to using them to shape our marketing strategy, particularly when we are at risk of stereotyping.
Since it was founded in 1932, Lego has undeniably seen vast changes in the toy marketplace. In 2013, the public are aware of the reasons behind marketing decisions and are losing patience with lazy stereotyping, based on outdated beliefs. Gender, in particular, is an increasingly contentious factor on which to base a market segment.
Last Christmas, Asdafaced censure after their advert, with the strapline “Behind every great Christmas there’s Mum”, was criticised for reinforcing old-fashioned stereotypes of men and women in the home. An Asda spokesperson defended the advert by saying that their research showed shoppers liked the advert because it was “so true”, and the ASA ruled in Asda’s favour. If it is true, then, is there anything wrong with using this piece of research as a segmentation factor?
Where is the line drawn between segmenting because it is based on data (ASDA’s advert) and upsetting the rest of the market place because you are actually reinforcing a stereotype they are trying to get away from? How do you know which way to go?
The answer is simple yet complex.
First, segment based on a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. Starting with a stereotype and developing your product to meet the guessed need of that stereotype is not about putting the customer first.
Then, do some market place analysis. It’s not good having a stall that attracts your customers if others (e.g. different target groups) in the market place are “legitimately” attacking it. Your business won’t last long, as others will jump on the band wagon of discontent if there is an acceptable reason behind it.
Let’s get back to those pink, Duplo cupcakes that little girls love playing with. This lazy segmentation has left me, a mother of a toddler and therefore in their target group, alienated. While I applaud Lego for their attempts to encourage more girls to benefit from the creativity that construction play fosters, with a bit more thought this product could easily have been designed to appeal to girls without excluding boys.
Lego’s market research undoubtedly told them that girls like baking, but did they ask boys the same question? Or did they just ask boys if they like train sets?
In my childhood, baking was left to the girls. That has moved on, but it would appear that Lego’s segmentation strategy hasn’t.
Unfortunately Lego Group never replied to my tweet so I am left wondering what marketing information led them to think that excluding 50% of the potential market was a good idea. Their lack of response to my query, and how it has alienated me even further, is another blog post…
Ros Conkie, Marketing and PR Manager, KMS Marketing and mother to a son who loves baking
 21 February 2013, “LEGO® Friends doubled expectations for sales in 2012”, Lego Group,
 6 November 2012, “Asda Xmas ad sparks ‘sexist’ complaints “, Marketing Week, http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/news/asda-xmas-ad-sparks-sexist-complaints/4004647.article