LEGO introduces its first LGBTQ set

“ID IS A brand message that fits into the moral confusion of our time, ”thundered Albert Mohler, high-profile president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in one of his daily podcasts at the end of May. Christian evangelical leaders and experts at Fox News, a conservative cable network, are in an uproar over the international rollout of LEGO’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asex and everyone else on June 1st, the first day of Pride month Who is not included (LGBTQIA +) set. Will Cain, a conservative Fox News host, joked that the color-coded separation of the new diversity toy may have been designed by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Marketing gay themed products can be a blessing – or a humiliating embarrassment – for consumer goods companies. In the early 1980s, Sweden’s Absolut Vodka was one of the first consumer brands to target gay consumers (who are considered trendsetters) through advertising on LGBTQ media, sponsoring events like the Pride Parade, and donating to charities. Danish LEGO waited another four decades to launch Everyone is Awesome, a 346-piece set of 11 monochrome minifigures in the colors of the Progress Pride flag. Brown and black figures represent ethnic diversity; Light blue, white and pink reflect the transgender banner. Everyone has an individual hairstyle, but no defined gender (except for the purple drag queen with a beehive).

“This is new territory for us,” admits Matthew Ashton, who designed the figures as a “display” or “statement” for people aged 18 and over. (Hundreds of thousands of LEGO customers are adults.) In the past, the company has made a few subtle references to gays, such as a small rainbow flag in a model of Trafalgar Square and a newlyweds that are sold separately. Mr. Ashton initially designed the set for his personal desk, but it soon caught the attention of colleagues. He hopes it will spark many of the conversations he would have liked to have had while growing up a gay man in the UK in the 1980s.

Ian Johnson, CEO of Out Now, a consultancy that advises companies on developing LGBTQ marketing strategies, says his initial reaction to the toy’s launch was negative. He thought LEGO was just another company looking to make a quick buck at the start of Pride Month; According to LGBT Capital, a research firm, the global purchasing power of gay consumers is around $ 3.9 trillion annually. He changed his mind when he saw LEGO make its new product very visible, for example by posting a five-minute video of Mr Ashton on his website telling the story of his teenage struggles with his sexuality at the height of AIDS Epidemic told.

Corporate rainbow washing can backfire on occasion. The launch of an LGBTQ (lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato) sandwich by Marks & Spencer, a UK retailer, in 2019 sparked a backlash among gays angry at being equated with a Sarnie. Burger King, an American fast food restaurant chain, sparked a similar reaction when they wrapped their Whopper in rainbow-colored foil.

Last January, the executive director of Hallmark Channel, an American television broadcaster specializing in family movies, was forced to resign after running ads showing a same-sex couple getting married and kissing – and then reversing the decision after an outcry from consumers. This year, Mondelez, a food giant, had to defend a UK advertising campaign for its Cadbury Creme Egg in which a male gay couple hands a chocolate egg from mouth to mouth.

LEGO recognizes the need to be careful with cultural sensitivities and religious customs. The new set will not be sold in Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, where showing an identity other than heterosexual may be unsafe (although despite widespread homophobia in Russia next month, the company will Market). There). Ultimately, it is up to the local toy stores to decide which LEGO sets to sell. Few are likely to boycott the popular blocks altogether. And the toy store in Pastor Mohler’s parish can simply sell out the new set.

This article appeared in the business section of the print edition under the heading “When to take care of your business”

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