Last year, I wrote an article Lego for girls about a 1981 Lego advert, and the stark difference it showed between the company’s marketing strategy and gendering of its products, then and now.
(Apparently another blogger call “HuffPost” just got round to doing this last month as well, but we can’t all be on the cutting edge in this fast-paced new media landscape.)
It’s worth a read, not least for the insights from now-grown-up child model, Rachel Giordano, into the process of shooting that 1981 advert. There was no careful style management: those clothes are Giordano’s own that she was wearing when she rocked up for the shoot. And Lego weren’t trying to sell any particular product range or franchise kit. They just let Giordano play with some universal building blocks for an hour, then took a photo of what she’d made. It may seem an absurdly naive and idealistic way to produce marketing images, in today’s airbrushed world, but how else would you capture that unmistakable, unfakable grin of joy and pride on Giordano’s 6-year-old face? That’s what the Lego of 1981 cared about: empowering children to build their own masterpieces.
It’s also interesting for the then-and-now photo shoot with Giordano, in which she’s holding a model from Lego’s current “Friends” product line, aimed at girls, and for her thoughts on that model. It’s a news van used by the Friends character Emma, and no doubt Lego will defend it on the basis that it’s encouraging girls to aspire to a career in TV journalism. However, their own advertising blurb makes it clear exactly what patronisingly low heights that means for a girl: the story they suggest Emma is reporting on is “the world’s best cake”, and most of the inside of the van is taken up with her make-up table. Cakes and make-up. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
Giordano herself sums it up best: “In 1981, Legos were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message. In 2014, it’s the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.”