Green Book Sexism

LEGO, we need to talk! Yes, I’m talking about that male-oriented marketing campaign on Facebook and Instagram that is causing quite a fracas here in Germany. Apparently it was a botched attempt at promoting a specific landing page on the website that already has existed for a while.

Now here’s the thing: I’m apparently a male and I like myself a bit of subtle, subversive, intellectual humor just as I like the occasional lewd, offensive, sexually infused joke when the situation just feels like it. However, referencing the Rough Terrain Crane (42082) and using phrases like “As complicated as women, just with instructions” and “4057 parts – that’s what we call well-endowed” is perhaps not really appropriate.

As a gay man I don’t even need to defend women by proxy even though this is apparently as misogynistic as it gets, but to a degree I’m taking it personal. A certain line has been overstepped here. I could accept those stereotypes (though they’d still be offensive) if LEGO was a home improvement store chain or sell shaving stuff, but clearly they are neither. Just the opposite – they usually go out of their way to present themselves as gender neutral toy company (though we could of course debate if that’s truly the case with series like Friends).

Aside from trivial things like kids possible getting to see the campaign and its distasteful bad jokes, it’s a marketing disaster for another reason: In times of financial struggle and dropping sales LEGO can’t possibly afford bad publicity. Now the old trope of “any publicity is good publicity” may apply, as without the uproar some people might not even have been aware of these things, but regardless, the damage is done.

Speaking of publicity – the LEGO world is abuzz with excitement about the latest Ideas set, the Pop-Up Book (21315), but I don’t quite feel like joining the chorus. Don’t get me wrong, I like the overall concept, but its execution in my view leaves a lot to be desired. Back then when the first news of this came out I made a remark on a forum or blog that it would all depend on how much “story” stuff comes with it for people to create their own little scenes and as far as that’s concerned, I think LEGO just got it wrong.

There’s only two tales – Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood – and while the scenes and minifigures look nice, I simply don’t consider it enough. It reminds me of the many overpriced Elves sets that mostly consist of simplistic, small medieval-looking tree houses that are just facades and then the rest of the set’s “value” is generated by the umpteenth big dragon in yet a different color and a ton of useless minifig accessories.

I feel it’s quite similar here – two-thirds of the parts go into the book/ box, and the rest seems like cheap dressing or an afterthought. If I had my way instead it would be the other way around. I might have settled for a simpler way to build the book and instead would have thrown in a huge “build your own story” bag with tons of parts. In fact I made a similar point already with the Creative Storybook (40291). They could just have re-used that idea. I could perfectly live without the pop-up mechanism.

Instead we now have two quite similar sets that both feel somehow incomplete and unfinished. In the end this could be an expensive proposition if you really plan on pimping this stuff as you might need to buy extra sets or do quite a bit of shopping for parts on Bricklink. I’m decidedly undecided whether I should even consider getting it eventually…

Plastic Book – 40291

LEGO‘s promotional sets are a weird thing. It’s difficult to keep up where to get what at any given time. Some are only sold at LEGOLand parks, others in their stores (including the online shop) and some you get free when you make purchases of a specific minimum value in their outlets. The ones you have to pay for also tend to be way overpriced.

To make matters even worse, these items are often rolled out at different times in different regions, making it a nightmare to keep up with what is the latest plus when they actually become available, you only have a short window of opportunity and the clock is ticking. Either the eligibility period is very short or there are limited numbers of sets or both.

Lucky for me, most of the time the subjects chosen in the sets is not really relevant to me – What would I do with strange minifigure pods for instance? – so I tend to sit things out and pass over them, but I admit, this time LEGO got me and pushed the right buttons. After the announcement made the rounds on respective news sites, I took a note in my calendar to not miss the date.

With the help of the best mom in the world I scraped together enough Euros to put in an order in the LEGO online store on Monday morning. After much delay (apparently too many people ordering Bugatti Chirons) I was getting worried, but thankfully my package finally arrived and included the Creative Storybook: Hans Christian Andersen (40291) as I had hoped (amongst a few other things you will get to see here soon-ish).

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Box

Was it worth spending way too much money and paying LEGO‘s full MSRP on their sets just to get this? I can definitely say yes! With around 300 pieces this a full set that on its own would easily cost around 15 Euros, so you get a good bang for your buck, or in this case free, which, depending on what other sets you bought, balances the bill nicely.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Front View

The build consists to around 70% of building the actual book itself, which is made up of a ton of Tan and Reddish Brown plates and tiles. The yellow parts are actually Bright Light Orange, which takes a bit getting used to. It’s okay, but clearly it shouldn’t have been too difficult to include at least the corner reinforcements in Pearl Gold or something like that, as in reality they would often be made of brass.

Building the book spine and the two halves is straightforward, but a bit repetitive, since in the latter case you of course have to do it twice. Everything is connected with simple clamp-on hinges and for the most part things are stable enough. You have to be careful, though, when handling the model as the pages can act like levers and things can easily come off.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Rear View

The inserts in the pages are simple and quick to build, as you basically only throw on the tiles and a few decorative items. Ironically the instruction booklet shows little vignettes from several of Andersen‘s stories built onto equally sized plates, so it would have been easy to replace the inserts, but none of the parts to re-create ideas are actually included.

That is a bit of a bummer since it would have been super cool and lifted the product to an almost commercially viable one. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not asking that they should have included another ten minifigures, but it should have been easy to e.g. throw in some white and transparent blue parts to recreate that Snow Queen scene or a few golden bits and bobs for the various other royally-themed fairytales. It would certainly have helped people to get creative.

Am I complaining about a free lunch? I hope not, but I still always regret if a cool idea isn’t carried through the way I would imagine it. That is also still true for some more of the color choices. As far as those go, the fluorescent transparent green lamp bulb also sticks out and for the smallness of the simulated pond the bright turquoise pops out a bit too much until you get used to it.

LEGO Promotional, H.C. Andersen (40291), Better Colors, simulated

Getting to a point, I’m also not the biggest fan of those intense brown colors and would have preferred something else. In the above photoshopped image I used Dark Blue, but Dark Red or Dark Green would have been just as fine. In fact even Dark Tan would have worked to pose as plain, uncoated leather as it was often used in the olden days.

I also totally intentionally dialed down the Tan color of the pages. I understand that they were selling this as gilded paper, but say what you will, it’s a bit strong, especially since old paper tends to change color a lot less than most people think. In my youth I was part of an archival project at school and many books printed 200 years ago looked much better than modern ones printed on cheap acidic pulp. In any case, this makes also a good point that LEGO needs to introduce a off-white/ beige/ ivory color, which incidentally would be super useful for buildings as well.

Despite all my complaints making it perhaps sound otherwise, I totally love this little set. If all of LEGO‘s bonus sets had this kind of design effort and level of detail, it would almost be worth to order stuff from their online store more often (assuming it actually worked better and wasn’t such a cramp in the rear). If you hurry up and order something this week you still have a chance to get it as well. Personally I’m hoping we’ll see more like this and perhaps LEGO will even listen and give us that alternate vignettes set for the book I’m dreaming of. The development work has apparently be done already, they only need to produce and package it in sufficient numbers, if you get my drift…