Lego Friends Triples Sales Despite Feminist Critique

(Image credit: Amazon)

While toymaker LEGO was criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes with its LEGO Friends toy sets for girls earlier this year, the Danish company has said the controversy may have helped triple sales to girls.

Beginning late last year, the media picked up a maelstrom of criticism that LEGO Friends toy sets for girls - with shapely female figures and playsets like the Butterfly Beauty Shop - reinforced the idea that women should focus on their looks.

At the end of 2011, of the total number of LEGO sets purchased in the U.S., only 9 percent of them were for girls. The company now says its first half year of LEGO Friends availability "has been very successful in recruiting more girls to the LEGO building experience, dramatically increasing that number." Now, 27 percent of LEGO sets purchased in the U.S. are for girls.

"Our goal with LEGO Friends is to engage more girls in the positive benefits of construction play," said Michael McNally, brand relations director, LEGO Systems, Inc. in a statement to ABC News.

The LEGO Group is a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark.

In criticizing LEGO Friends, one U.S. organization, SPARK, which stands for Sexualization Protest, Action, Resistance, Knowledge, started a petition on in December 2011, asking the company to return its marketing strategy to focus on both boys and girls.

Members of SPARK met with McNally and other Lego executives in April to present a report and provide suggestions to LEGO.

"SPARK has approached our critique of LEGO from a place of long-time admiration and disappointment, rather than one of anger," the group said. "Despite that, the media loves a good brawl and has portrayed SPARK as an angry feminist group out to get the LEGO Friends banned because we hate pink. This has not been the case, however, and we made sure that the LEGO representatives were aware that our criticism is based on wanting the best for girls, as well as the LEGO company."

McNally called it a "very productive meeting, and both parties walked away feeling good about the LEGO Group commitment to creative play options for all children."

Among the suggestions were to include more girls in LEGO advertising and LEGO characters, only 13 percent of which are females, according to SPARK. The group suggested the company incorporate more boys in advertising for LEGO friends.

"Many of the things that we discussed are things that we already had in progress or were planning to do, such as more female minifigures in other LEGO themes, a broader variety of interests and hobbies reflected in LEGO Friends sets and the addition of male characters to the collection," McNally told ABC News.

He said the company's 2013 products "will reflect how much of this was already in progress."

Bailey Shoemaker Richard, SPARKteam coordinator, said she is "thrilled" the company is "heading in a direction that doesn't limit girls to traditionally or strictly gendered roles," like homemaking and baking, "and giving girls a broader range of options."

"I'd still love to see better integration of these lines with the LEGO lines as a whole, for example by having more girls in all of their ads and showing boys playing with the Friends line, but as a first step, this seems positive," she said.

McNally said, "LEGO Friends is one of the most extensively tested concepts in our company history, with four years of research done with thousands of girls and their moms around the world. We learned a lot about why more girls were not finding LEGO building to be more compelling and exciting, and we infused those insights to the line to create the collection that we heard very clearly would be more interesting for girls."

He added, "The reaction from families who have tried LEGO Friends has been fantastic," receiving "hundreds of thousands of emails and phone calls from parents, grandparents and children sharing their thanks and enthusiasm for the collection."

The company has heard feedback describing how children using LEGO Friends have a "new-found interest in building" and go on to explore with other LEGO toy sets.