Over the past several years, the LEGO Group has been more rigorously seeking to cater to a market of older builders. The newest push of ads, which began in early 2021, has even gotten its own official moniker: Adults Welcome. The expanding “grown-up” LEGO lineup includes sets ranging from vehicle models to architecturally detailed modular buildings, to ornamental décor to icons from films and entertainment. And the range seems only set to grow!
But what is this? Isn’t LEGO for kids?
The marketing slogan “Adults Welcome” implies that adults were unwelcome – or insufficiently welcomed – previously. Were they? AFOLs (“adult fans of LEGO”) have made themselves at home building, creating fan pages and online resources, and local in-person LUGs (LEGO User Groups) far before and with or without an officially sanctioned seal of approval from the LEGO Group. What changed?
We’ll take a look at that here.
Is Lego for Adults?
I wonder how many grown-ups silently ask this question as they eye a LEGO set and consider the possibility of getting one. Is this justified? Is this silly? What would I do with it? I need approval! And then the furtive internet search occurs where they sweat beads in frantic anticipation of finding the answer to such an existential question.
If you’re here, and seriously asking “is lego for adults”, let me clear that up for you once and for all:
No, not really, they’re not.
LEGO obviously, absolutely can be a valuable and fun experience for grown-ups, even if adults do not exactly play with the models.
Additionally, the hugely complex recent sets create an added challenge and “me-time” factor for adults looking for an activity to share or unwind with, solo.
Of course, the current marketing and PR statements and advertisements attached to every Adults Welcome set would tell you how LEGO is now suitable for the “mindfulness and wellness” for adults. The new ads seem to target stressed out and weary adults specifically. Oh, brother.
Does anyone believe that though? Really, LEGO is (or has been) built to reach kids, and by extension, everyone who has a like-mind to build and play. That includes adults by default, though not necessarily. But apparently LEGO thinks more grown-ups need more convincing nowadays.
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The LEGO Botanical Collection, LEGO incarnations of retro videogame hardware like the Nintendo Entertainment System, desk-friendly (and not-so-desk-friendly) LEGO Architecture sets, Ultimate Star Wars Collector’s Series all are now wrapped in the minimalistic, carefully curated, sophisticated branding seen above. How effective will this prove to be, and for how long?
So now grownups can feel “safe” and “justified” buying huge and expensive LEGO toys for themselves. Right, reader? Adults can finally now identify with LEGO. Is that the point? Or am I missing something else?
Are Demographics Changing from Kids to LEGO Adults?
Maybe I have been missing something.
Well, what is it already? asks the impatient reader.
Perhaps it is this demographic trend that the LEGO Group may be taking into account: population decline which includes the U.S. On top of the fertility rate decline worldwide, there is also the fact that children are simply getting more expensive to have. With an incrementally shrinking core audience of kids going into the future, LEGO is trying to expand the market so that more people become builders. It could very well be that LEGO is now positioning the company to also cater to a generation (specifically in the United States) of adults that is about to leave the workforce en masse and go into retirement… i.e. the older folks presumably with “extra” disposable income.
Will it be successful?
Likely for a while – in a faddish way – but I have doubts long-term. If LEGO continues to constantly chase the next thing (especially so much pop cultural fluff) to toss out to the adult market, what will be left of the company as an imaginative idealistic visionary in play? I think there is danger in constantly chasing the next adult fan niche of whatever movie, game, or TV series dominates the day, instead of strengthening what the LEGO Group offers from their own group.
LEGO needs to create or recreate a new phenomenon (see: BIONICLE).
We need less conveyer-belt engineered LEGO and more organic family-touch LEGO, more themed experiences.
Is Value Found in LEGO Appealing to Adults?
Presently, adults are likely the ones who are predominantly gravitating toward established and existing “safe and familiar” franchises, and giving those to their children without much after-thought. Today, established series and movies and pop culture icons presently dominate the landscape of youth entertainment, rather than any new phenomena of the magnitude of yesterday’s Super Mario Bros., or Pokémon, or BIONICLE. When it comes to offering a new thematic experience or reviving an original one, there is no courage on the part of LEGO today.
And quite frankly, adults tend to be boring. They don’t have time or energy to spend learning new imaginative wonderlands. They may entertain something that they’re already familiar with that doesn’t require a significant investment of resources, but… The magic still lies in enchanting the hearts of kids, creating memories through original play, which will last a lifetime.
The risk also exists in that there is little-to-no brand loyalty among the adult audience. The LEGO Group is currently devoting significant resources in advertising to adults who may buy a set or two as a novelty, build it, display it somewhere, never touch it again, and who may or may not ever get another LEGO set.
Loyalty comes from providing children and youth with the materials and imaginative sparks that will serve as lifelong inspiration, and that is not to be taken lightly. The young at heart will follow suit, as they have been.
Why spend so much resources and retail shelf space and advertising on trying to “reach” an audience who has already been reached, at the expense of new and original LEGO themes that will actually build the company’s image?
The Value of Quality LEGO Building and Play Experience for Kids
Even with what appears to be the current strategic trajectory of LEGO toward adults, the company could do well with some reminders every now and then… Reminders such as:
For young minds, research has confirmed the value of play that also involves building. LEGO brick building is one of the ultimate construction toys and inherently promotes spatial cognition and mathematical abilities as discussed in the study. LEGO is firstly meant for kids through and through. LEGO must not forget the value of craftsmanship in this regard.
Why is LEGO Leaving Money on the Table?
In online circles, some folks to this day insist that there is simply no market space or interest or profit for BIONICLE and original LEGO themes anymore.
To that conclusion, I just shake my head in (not-at-all judgmental) disagreement. So you’re telling me that there is a market substantial enough to justify the release of such expensive sets as LEGO Seinfeld or LEGO Queer Eye or the LEGO Friends apartment or even a brickin’ LEGO Adidas sneaker (who on earth asked for this?)… But there is not enough market for BIONICLE and other original themes?
Some may say that those sets I mentioned are just that: sets. The defensive reader may insist: “But they are one-off kits that don’t require much resources from LEGO“! Highly doubtful, I say. With all the recent push to attract the attention of adults, it would seem that even more resources are being devoted to those “one-off” sets than is immediately apparent – and at least on par with other recent full-fledged original themes like Monkie Kid, or Friends, or Chima.
So in cultivating an audience who may not care enough to repeatedly return, is the risk-reward that much greater than the risk-reward of focusing on original LEGO themes and world building? This no longer appears to be solely about “LEGO doing what is most profitable”.
I’m sure there are many more people beyond nostalgic online niches that would eat up some high-caliber original LEGO themes that deliver a complete, cohesive experience. Just recall the recent and hugely positive response to the release of Pirates of Barracuda Bay or the recent Medieval Castle-themed LEGO Creator and Ideas sets. It’s not only kids that want or purchase those sets, and it is not only adults who want or purchase those sets for themselves. It is both demographics, organically! Having a strong, unified (and yet varied) thematic experience is far better for LEGO long-term than popping out random (and often licensed) sets shelved under the “Adults Welcome” moniker.
So, here and there nowadays, we get a “Pirates of Barracuda Bay”-type glory, or little nostalgic Easter eggs hidden in other big-ticket sets. But overall, it is increasingly left up to the consumer to not only complete the play and imaginative experience, but to create it in the first place! The LEGO chauffeur is MIA!
Now, it is true that the LEGO Group has had to compete against cheaper competitors ever since their building brick patent expired, and so they’ve turned to gobbling up all the popular licenses. But I miss the LEGO with a stronger aesthetic. Why confine the best of their past to little bursts of nostalgia here and there, like shadows of what once was? Bring the goods back!
I miss the LEGO that guided fans (and even casual onlookers) into idealized worlds of wonder and exploration, but I’m probably just bemoaning into the clouds of cyberspace at this point.
Today’s sets are selling well enough. But that is helped by the macro environment already being warmed up to our favorite building system. In other words, even the bad, unwanted sets/themes will still sell mostly “well enough” and seemingly better than earlier eras… for a little while.
But what would happen if LEGO started performing to their potential? Right now it seems that they are leaving money on the table. Why hasn’t the LEGO Group figured out what connects with consumers while also glorifying the inherent originality of the LEGO brand and more specifically, their brick? I keep asking why hasn’t the LEGO Group figured out how to deliver on the promise of their brand?
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What do you think? Is LEGO gearing up to release even more lineups geared toward adults? Or is the adult marketing push obnoxious or even detrimental to LEGO?