I read your article about Lego (MW last week) with some interest. It’s an old principle, but if you want to know what could be done better, ask your customers.
As mother of a bright, beautiful, ten-month-old boy, a toy’s brand matters to me only as an issue of trust, and if The Early Learning Centre is selling something, it has a reputation to protect and that’s good enough for me.
Lego may be good for our children, but so are brussels sprouts – a hard sell for any parent. My little boy’s Duplo bricks compete for attention with a whistling wooden train, musical instruments and a chewy frog with legs that rattle when you bash it. His main Duplo interest is in knocking down towers rather than building Roman replicas.
Many parents don’t have huge amounts of time to spend with their children – and Duplo only becomes attractive to a small child when interacting with a parent or sibling: you build it, I’ll break it; you put all the red ones together and I’ll put all the blue ones together. They require time. And if you’re in the kitchen making supper, you can’t be sat on the floor playing Lego.
And tie-ins don’t work? I beg to differ. One of baby’s first few words is Pooh. And characters such as Tigger, Pooh and Mickey are likely to last a generation or two longer.
The brand ends up as little more than the latest craze? Latest crazes are money-spinners, and they’re what children want. The little Mickey and Minnie Mouse that came with the Duplo set are my son’s favourites. Why? He can get his pudgy little fingers around them with ease, poke the brussels sprouts that he wants to hide from me into the cavity, bang them to make noises, carry them around whilst he’s being carried, and, best of all, float them in the bath. I love them – they wipe clean.
It’s a sad fact that children are bombarded with flashing lights and noises at every turn, even from books. They expect everything to do something, and when it doesn’t, they move on. We may not like it as parents, but the computer, the TV, the stereo are all, hellishly, infinitely more alluring than a coloured plastic brick. My little one’s non-branded Lego-type set, which makes rattling noises, has found far more favour than the Duplo itself.
Parental elitism may dictate that we want to take our children away from toys that bombard them with light, sound and colour – and commercialism. I hate to say it, but those special moments that I use to interact with my little one are often spent with things other than Lego. Am I failing as a parent? Probably. Am I a normal parent? Almost certainly.
Sorry Lego. Brand positioning as the alternative to TV? I’m not convinced – on its own, Lego cannot compete with the rest of the toy box. The emotional and practical imperatives are far more likely to switch parents on to the merits of Lego than selling us a lie: “The way to get mummy to play with you” touches a greater nerve with many time-pressed parents. “Human interaction rather than electronic bombardment” strikes a chord with those of us concerned that our offspring will grow up able to programme the video and computer, but unable to make lasting friendships.
LegoLand is a great brand extension. It brings to life for a child what they could do – excitement, interaction and company to boot. These, for me, express what Lego’s brand position should be to survive. Brand values? Quality should be one, but the Duplo shirt that my little one was given faded after a few washes. I shan’t rush out and buy a new one. His Tazmanian Devil dungarees, by contrast, have been washed twice a week for several months, still look as cute as new, and I often buy “Granny Bait” clothing from Warner Bros and Disney stores as a treat for us both.
Other parents may have a different take, but Lego is known, loved, trusted. I would like to see it around for years to come. Please, Lego, ask parents how our children are using your toys. The interaction could give you something really strong to build on.
Freelance PR consultant