Lego mini-action figures do battle: Is it a guy thing?

Lego girl meets boy

Danish toymaker Lego is suing Best-Lock Construction Toys Inc., a Hong-Kong-based up-start in the mini-action figure business. Canadian IP lawyer Barry Sookman tweeted about the toy fight, linking to an article from Hartfordbusiness.com  (the suit was launched in Hartford, CT, Federal Court). It’s a fascinating read about the history of the iconic toy and the financial stakes that presumably drive Lego to hang tough against smaller competitors – including Montreal-based Mega.

Just last week, Mega Brands Inc., maker of Mega Bloks, withdrew “its legal action in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, against Lego Juris A/S and the Lego Group after receiving formal confirmation that U.S. Customs will not interfere with imports of any Mega products into the U.S.

The action, launched a week ago, was part of a longstanding dispute between the two toymakers over their look-alike stackable block products. Lego has claimed Mega Bloks violates its trademarks.

Earlier, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had told Mega Brands it would restrict imports of certain Mega Brands products sold in the U.S. over the past 20 years.” Click here to read more.

However, Lego’s toughest battle may be its attempt to win the hearts and minds of girls (and their toy-buying parents). Although Lego had been aimed at girls and boys since 1963; in 2005, Lego honed its focus on boys in order to turn around its then beleaguered fortunes. The strategy worked for awhile. Now, Lego has seen fit to swing its own pendulum. It wants girls back. (Girls and boys play equally with Duplo, Lego’s younger sibling).

Business Week tells the tale of “Lego Friends”, a suite of  girl-focused mini-action figures the company is releasing over the course of this year.

“Lego confirmed that girls favor role-play, but they also love to build—just not the same way as boys. Whereas boys tend to be ‘linear’—building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box—girls prefer ‘stops along the way,’ and to begin storytelling and rearranging. Lego has bagged the pieces in Lego Friends boxes so that girls can begin playing various scenarios without finishing the whole model. Lego Friends also introduces six new Lego colors—including Easter-egg-like shades of azure and lavender. (Bright pink was already in the Lego palette.)

Then there are the lady figures. Twenty-nine mini-doll figures will be introduced in 2012, all 5 millimeters taller and curvier than the standard dwarf minifig. There are five main characters… Their adventures have a backdrop: Heartlake City, which has a salon, a horse academy, a veterinary clinic, and a café.

The key difference between girls and the ladyfig and boys and the minifig was that many more girls projected themselves onto the ladyfig—she became an avatar. Boys tend to play with minifigs in the third person. ‘The girls needed a figure they could identify with, that looks like them,’ says Rosario Costa, a Lego design director. The Lego team knew they were on to something when girls told them, ‘I want to shrink down and be there.’”

Perhaps Lego should seek advice from Professor Sean Wise from the Ted Rogers School of Management. “For creativity, versatility and most of all fun, I love Lego,” says Wise and so he successfully introduced Lego mini-action figures to one woman. The woman became his wife. At their wedding they gave out bride and groom Legos as bomboniere to guests. “It seemed only normal to include our favorite toy in the affair.”

Jean Cumming

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