What it is ... is beautiful – LEGO ad from 1981

I’m not generally one to look to the past as somehow superior to the present or future. Nevertheless, seeing this LEGO ad from 1981 struck a nerve.

What it is is beautiful

Most LEGO ads today emphasize action and playability. Both wonderfully effective attributes to sell toys, I’m sure. It’s not so much that The LEGO Group has changed as much as LEGO has had to adapt to a different advertising climate. I get it, I really do.

Still, I miss the days when LEGO emphasized the basics: quality, creativity, and — as in this beautiful ad — pride in accomplishment. (There’s also something to be said about gender neutrality, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

Hat-tip to Moose Greebles for the scan from the back of Decorating and Craft Idea magazine.

18 comments on “What it is ... is beautiful – LEGO ad from 1981

  1. Clefspeare

    This is one of those things that makes what we do seem a little more worthwhile. That first paragraph is the reason that all those kids out there, all those potential TFOLs and AFOLs, build with Lego. Some of you remember being that child, slapping a bunch of bricks together, and being proud that you had built something yourself. That first paragraph tells the reason we are all here.

  2. Puddleglum

    This ad makes me happy, and I hope whoever wrote that copy got a raise or something. It is interesting that all three of those ads he found had girls in them!

  3. stephendsdude

    Seeing this old ad makes me happy. Knowing how much we love LEGO and how long LEGO’s been out there just blows me away.

  4. TJ Avery

    What a classic. Set 744 was my favorite as a young kid. I built and re-built those models countless times. I think I cut my LEGO “teeth” doing that, and then afterwards started building stuff on my own in confidence.

    I still have most of the pieces from that set :-)

  5. Grand Admiral

    Personally I think that LEGO trying to compete with action toys is a mistake and just their marketing department trying to overreach their core market.

    Maybe I’m wrong and all the shooty missiles and action gimmicks have worked to sell more sets, but every spring loaded shooty missile takes the place of several real LEGO bricks, and IMO the set is lesser for it.

    I also hate seeing Bionicle parts in System sets. It makes the set look like LEGO has been mixed with some other toy. Yuck.

  6. bruce n h

    I don’t know, Andrew. I think that LEGO has changed. Reposting a rant I made on CC 5 years ago:

    I think the whole problem is that there has been a sea change at TLC over the past 5-10 years, best summed up in the change of slogans a year or so ago from “Just imagine . . . “, to “Play on!”

    “Just Imagine … ” focuses on the building. “Play on!” focuses on ‘excitement’.

    “Just Imagine … ” gives us many figs and lets the child invent the story line. “Play on!” spoon feeds a story line to the kids, enforcing not just who is the good fig and who is the bad fig, but also their exact story line. Sometimes this is based on a license.

    “Just Imagine … ” can use basic bricks. “Play on!” means you need all sorts of overspeciallized parts.

    “Just Imagine …” involves lots of pieces and takes time to build the main model. “Play on!” only needs a few big molded parts, because the important part is to get past the building process to start “playing”.

    “Just Imagine …” would put pictures on the back of boxes of alternate models. “Play on!” often just has pictures of the main model in “action” shots.

    “Just Imagine …” brought us great themes. “Play on!” wastes TLC’s attention on things like video games, Galidor, the various Sports lines, etc.

    “Just Imagine …” encourages the child to grow and learn as they stretch themselves. “Play on!” merely attempts to grab market share from video games.

    “Just Imagine … ” = classic castle. “Play on!” = really colorful garbage.

    Okay, it’s not all bleak. There are movements at TLC that fit the “Just Imagine …” mindset–most notably the Designer line and some of the things that grew out of LEGO Direct (bulk bricks, MOC line, etc), that new house set that recently showed up in European catalogs (when will that hit the US?). Our main problem is that KK2 falls right in the middle of the “Play on!” part of TLC.

    In the more recent years we have seen both good and bad movements from LEGO in this regard. For the bad, let’s remember a while back when LEGO asked for ideas for Play Themes:
    The key line in that for me was: “Usually the stories are conflict-based (good vs. bad) and revolve around treasures or missions.” Completely the opposite of the “Just imageine…” mindset. Of course, as I noted 5 years ago, there are very positive things like LEGO Factory, the whole Cafe Corner line and the Creator series. However, aside from Creator, these are generally aimed at the adults, not the kids. For kids we get dreck that stifles the imagination (even when the sets themselves are good ones).


  7. Thanel

    I’m usually pretty cerebral and would engage in the more high-minded discussion, but the win for this is just the expression on the girl’s face. Love it! I was that child. It’s the why LEGO is so appealing.

  8. kunert

    Ginger kids and beautiful in the same sentence!?!

    But seriously, I too have reluctance accepting the action focus nowdays, and bruce n h said it well in his post. Still, with LEGO, I’ll take the overwhelming amount of good with the bad. I’d much rather be blowing my money on LEGO than anything else on the toy shelf when it comes to my kids, or myself. Other toy companies are far less insightful when it comes to advertising or product. I’m proud to see my kids make that pose too, when they make something original, usually from the cheap grab-bags of bricks from the LEGO store, because I’ll confess, we all like to keep our sets together in my family.

  9. Eastwood1427

    I’m afraid that’s how the world turns. Beyond the nostalgia kick, it’s interesting to see how advertising has changed, and how the toy industry has changed too.

  10. kunert

    Another thought. I challenge anyone to find an ad from the last 25 years highlighting a little girl building with non-Belville colors.

  11. Brickwares

    I’m convinced that Lego is moving in the wrong direction. Most non AFOLS who mention Lego bitch about the fact that you “can’t just get bricks anymore” (which is, of course, untrue).

    Most MOCs use the “modern pieces”, and everyone seems happy with them. Kids like them too. Buy a bucket of bricks and a set or two, and everyone is happy.

    Besides, TLG has been making “sets” for decades now.

  12. worker201

    Andrew, when you mentioned ‘gender neutrality’ my first thought was “Yeah, that kid is kinda androgynous.”

    I think the shift from ‘imagine’ to ‘play’ has been synonymous with the mass differentiation between boy’s toys and girl’s toys. Market forces bigger than TLG were to blame, you can’t blame them for going along. I’d love it if Lego returned to a more gender neutral marketing strategy, but I think it’s just too late in the game for that.

  13. Whittleberry

    Boys were LEGO’s target market during the Just Imagine phase too, so it’s been off neutral for a while.

    The thing about this ad is its target audience.
    Being in a Homemaker magazine, it’s obviously aimed at mothers, because they’re most often the people who buy sets for their kids.
    LEGO advertising these days is aimed at the kids themselves, who are meant to nag their parents to get them the latest set, which means that if advertising appeals to these family values then LEGO will get no-where. They must advertise the sets and make them look exciting.

    I think LEGO should advertise the playability of sets to kids, while perhaps supplementing this with ads aimed at parents (similar to this one but modernised) to advertise the creativity of LEGO. This will appeal to both groups, and will help parents of girls become aware of the possibilities of LEGO that they hadn’t considered before.

    Combining a more neutrally themed range of sets (there are already many sets which could appeal to both boys and girls), parent-aimed advertising and more focus on creative play in the instructions (such as alternative models) could make LEGO seen as a more gender-balanced and valuable toy.

  14. Repoort

    The first thing I noticed is that this ad wasn’t even meant for kids, but aimed at adults.

  15. Puddleglum

    @BrickWares: I heard the same complaint from a woman at a recent model build “None of the sets have the normal bricks in them any more”. So I told her about the basic brick boxes that were quite cheap and came with ALL bricks. But the thing with those boxes is that kid’s don’t really want them, and LEGO doesn’t really promote them (I assume they don’t make much money off of them)

  16. David4

    LEGO needed to change otherwise they would be in trouble.

    My problem is they no longer make brick boxes anymore, or at least ones people would buy. 3-5 years ago you could get a 1,000 piece brick box for $20. Now for $30 you get 400 pieces, that’s a ripoff! LEGO has lost it in their that department.

  17. Eastwood1427

    Cost of plastic. Everything in that respect has shot up. Despite that, they’re still coining it.

  18. legojbaker

    This advertisement seems ahead of it’s time. I appreciate that it acknowledges the process of building and designing. It shows the end result of the process and regardless of what theme of Lego it ever is, the child used creative faculties in play. The child “played well.”

Comments are closed.