LEGO’s new adult product strategy: Why LEGO is retiring Creator Expert [Feature]

It’s not a secret that LEGO is not just for kids. Adults and even seniors all around the world build LEGO sets with their kids and grandkids, as well as themselves. For many, the hobby of building with plastic bricks is one of the few ways to escape the stress of the modern world. In its pursuit of new consumers, LEGO has recently announced that it is making some considerable changes to its portfolio, including retiring particular themes that have historically been popular with adult builders and collectors. One of the adult-oriented product lines that LEGO has announced that it is retiring is the LEGO Creator Expert theme. However, that doesn’t mean that LEGO sets for adults are going away.

The Brothers Brick participated in a discussion with Genevieve Capa Cruz, Audience Marketing Strategist Director within the LEGO Company’s Product Group Marketing team, to learn more about the new LEGO Adult Portfolio, focused on the 18+ audience. Genevieve told us about the barriers that the new approach is set to overcome and the changes to the products that we can already see in several lineups.

LEGO’s new adult strategy is all about welcoming more adults, who have long been a cornerstone of the brand’s strength and popularity. Adult customers account for a considerable percentage of the company’s revenue, and the figure is rapidly growing every year. With the current quarantine regime in many countries, many adults discovered a new hobby of building and collecting LEGO sets; the percentage of adults who are new to this hobby has skyrocketed in 2020.

LEGO tells us that the company has been thoroughly studying their adult customers. According to the most recent study, one in two adults questioned by the company sees themselves spending their spare time building LEGO sets. Including more adults is one of the primary goals within the new adult strategy. Although 2 in 3 adult customers are new to LEGO, many barriers prevent others from joining the hobby.

“There is this perception that LEGO isn’t really for them, or the models are not things that they are interested in. And this is for the simple reason that they are not aware of the full range of products that we have that are good for adults,” — Genevieve says. “I am a LEGO employee, but when I wasn’t working on the adult category yet, I was not even aware that we had more than 70 products that are catering towards adults in 2020 alone.”

In her presentation, Genevieve told us about three main obstacles between the new customers and the hobby of building with LEGO. The new strategy aims to overcome these barriers and invite more grown-ups to experience building with LEGO.

Barrier #1: “The models are not really for me”

For someone who is not familiar with the whole LEGO assortment, it always has been a challenge to recognize the products that are targeted at the adult audience. To solve this problem, LEGO aims to create awareness and to inform adults about the wide range of products that fit everyone’s interests.

One of the core issues has been the inconsistency of the products’ visual identity for adults. Colorful and eye-catching box designs made it particularly hard for casual customers to identify the products that are not just for kids. And since the adult customers can’t identify and decode all the different styles of packaging, they cannot see the range of adult products that LEGO has to offer them. Moreover, the fact that the sets belong to different themes and franchises make it even harder for new customers to navigate on store shelves and online. These factors created a very unfriendly experience for those adults who want to join the hobby and are looking for products that meet their passions.

“What we’ve done to help address this is that we created a more streamlined and sleeker, meant-for-adults design,” Genevieve explained. “And basically the key takeaway is that this [building set] belongs to one family of adult products.”

While testing and optimizing the new adult visual identity, the team took various approaches and created several different versions. Some designs included more colors, while others focused on the model’s displayability. They even tested the boxes with lifestyle shots in interiors similar to the photos that The Brothers Brick often publish along with press releases for these new products. The LEGO team ran a series of tests in the US, Germany, and China, in which both AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO) and non-AFOLs took part. A wide variety of opinions, as well as careful attention to cultural symbolism, let the team come up with a brand new packaging identity. The new sleek designs are deprived of extraneous details and help to focus the customer’s attention on the model.

Ultimately, LEGO tells us that the new style of box design is intended to help new customers identify their passion points within the LEGO assortment. Whether you are into cars, architecture, or travel, there are sets for you that you can spot on shelves. The box showcases the model, making it easier for the consumer to imagine what the assembled model will look like on a shelf. Unlike children, adults tend to choose LEGO sets depending on how complicated and time-consuming the models are. This is why the number of pieces is one of the most critical indicators in the new visual identity. As for the “18+” label, which provoked a lot of discussions in the AFOL community, Genevieve clarified that the purpose of this marking is “to leave no doubt that these products that we’re creating are catered towards adults.” One of the unexpected effects of the new labeling was the fact that older teenagers who took part in the visual identity testing claimed that they find these “adult” products even more aspiring and exciting because of the age recommendation. The last of the defining pieces of the identity is the sub-branding at the bottom. The fact that the product belongs to the Technic or Architecture lineup may not always be helpful for new customers, so this labeling is secondary.

One of the significant consequences of implementing the new adult visual identity is the retiring of the Creator Expert brand. Genevieve mentioned two main reasons for the decision. First, the brand comprised a considerable part of the adult portfolio, including models of vehicles (for instance, 10271 Fiat 500), holiday-themed sets (like 10267 Winter Village Gingerbread House), modular buildings (10270 Bookshop), and even sports (10272 Old Trafford-Manchester United). Second, they try to avoid the perception that only the Creator Expert sets offer models targeted at adults.

This way, the new visual identity helps LEGO let adults know that the brand has a massive assortment of adult products. Whatever your interests are, you will easily find a set you’ll like.

Barrier #2: “It’s a kid’s toy”

While the new visual identity help adults discover new sets and themes, the perception of the product itself as a kids’ toys still keeps many adults from discovering the joy of building with LEGO. Genevieve and her team looked into how LEGO can provide the right experience for adults and communicate why building with LEGO is relevant in everyone’s life.

While the purpose of LEGO toys for kids is absolutely clear, not all adults can see how building with plastic bricks can be meaningful for them. To reveal this, the team set out to determine the tension points of adults.

“We seem to think that the busier we are, the more fulfilled we would feel. But in fact, what we’re learning is that the exact opposite is true because we end up feeling more distracted, depleted, drained, and ultimately dissatisfied,” Genevieve explains.

Our busy modern lifestyle and the fear of missing out cause extreme stress, which is never good for our well-being. Meanwhile, building with LEGO is known as a highly absorbing and engaging activity. Calling it as a therapeutic hobby helps the brand emphasize its positive effects.

“When we build with LEGO, that’s also the mental experience that we have, or you feel like you have decompressed. And you feel so relaxed. And you feel joyful and uplifted because you have created something that you can be proud of,” Genevieve adds. “But also if it’s something that’s a passion point of yours if you’re a sports fan or a Manchester United fan, and you’re building this stadium, it’s almost like also reliving those memories and being immersed in that particular passion point.”

A great example of LEGO serving as a therapeutic hobby can be seen in the passion of celebrity fans like Daniel Radcliffe, who spent nearly 10 minutes on a recent “at home” episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert talking about and showing off nothing but Mark Stafford’s 75936 Jurassic Park T. rex Rampage, which the Harry Potter star had spent more than a week building with his girlfriend.

However, LEGO’s new strategy is not only about communicating the message, but also making sure that the products can provide the best experience. The team led another massive study, in which more than 5,000 adults took part. The aim was to determine the passion points of adult customers and see how the company can build the right products based on the interests of the audience. By looking into adults’ spare time, the team discovered that sports, music, arts, and decoration are the most popular spheres of interest. LEGO has already started exploring these themes with the release of the Old Trafford-Manchester United set, so we should expect more sets on related subjects to come very soon.

One of the core messages of the new adult portfolio is the idea that it’s not only the end model you put on the shelf that matters but also the process and joy of focusing on a particularly absorbing and relaxing building process. However, the company plans to work harder on the displayability of the sets for adults. The way adult consumers can showcase or decorate the assembled model contributes a lot to its value.

According to Genevieve’s presentation, nostalgia and iconic status are yet other driving factors for the best experience. There is no secret that strong emotions are an essential part of a great hobby.

The front of the box of LEGO Ideas 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay is a throwback to classic LEGOLAND boxes

Barrier #3: It’s not present where adults are

Unless you are a parent, a toy store is not the kind of place you will head to when you are shopping. This makes LEGO products for adults even less discoverable and available for new adult customers. The solution seems very obvious: put LEGO sets in places where adults are. But the first steps the company is taking are about the way the products are merchandised withing the LEGO brand stores. First of all, we should expect to see specific changes in the layout of products in LEGO brand stores.

“The ambition is that once an adult walks into a store, they will be able to find all the adult products merchandise together with clear navigations on the passion points,” — Genevieve explains.

With the current layout, an adult customer has to course all over the store to check out all the products aimed at the adult audience. The new plan implies that individual sections of the shelves will be devoted to adult customers only, making it much easier for new customers to find their interests.

Genevieve concluded during our call, “But at the end of the day, we’re still LEGO. So we are a brand that’s humorous, light-hearted. So it’s not about suddenly LEGO being so serious and talking about stress and anxiety. Not at all. We want to be able to communicate that in a way that’s still funny and that the adults can really relate and connect with.”

25 comments on “LEGO’s new adult product strategy: Why LEGO is retiring Creator Expert [Feature]

  1. Craig Kevin

    I am about to turn 80 and still enjoy Lego. My mechanical background is covered by me building Technic, Speed, Creator and anything that requires me to use my brain, plus it helps in boarding. Thank you Lego.

  2. Will Pyle

    I think LEGO is making a huge mistake changing all of this because some people like to display the boxes with the sets or just the box and not build the set and with the boxes looking like that is just an awful thing to display plus if it says expert and like 16+ it’s for a more older crowd. How hard is that to understand? Plus more colorful boxes look way more fun and show a cool background the new boxes don’t. I don’t mind this kind of background on ucs, collectible sets, and architecture sets but everything else is just no.

  3. Ben T Bricks

    Bars n Bricks – That would work. Plenty of drunk purchases could be made.
    Build n Bricks – Home Depot or Lowes.
    Bare Bricks – Strip clubs? $20 lap builds.
    Book n Bricks – Already done. Barnes N Nobles has Architecture sets separate in diff location from the kids LEGO. Can’t think of any other book store.
    Brew n Bricks – Coffee for all night build.

  4. Merlo

    AFOLs love Lego since childhood and yes, I want more detailed grown-up orientated models, but I also want the boxes to be fun and playful. I actually miss the images of alternate models, etc. I can’t imagine anyone who was not into Lego at a young age just looking at a store display and saying to himself “man, I think it’s about time I bought myself some building bricks”.

  5. Goran

    Nobody mentioned maybe will this strategic positioning lead to prices will rise? It is already for my opnion to expensive… especially those expert sets that we all love..

  6. Merlo

    They’re welcome to try raising the prices. As an adult with good income I don’t buy everything I would like as it is. With higher prices I would go down to maybe one set a year. Especially with the advent of other manufacturers with their own original ideas, that sometimes cater more to adult tastes and are much more affordable without a striking difference in quality.

  7. Robin Hull

    I’m sorry. The idea that Adults don’t know how to find the products they like or that would appeal to them isn’t an accurate reflection.

    From my experience, adults like everything from Friends to City and from DOTS to Technic. They don’t need visual prompts to tell them, “hey, this box right here, it’s for you!” TLG are not rebranding the $5 sets that adults also like. They’re just rebranding the $100+ sets because adults have money. The idea of the rebrand is simple. Sell more expensive LEGO to adults who don’t currently buy our products. By making the boxes look sophisticated and by putting 18+ on them TLG say it will attract adults who do not see the product for them.

    TLG say: Unless you are a parent, a toy store is not the kind of place you will head to when you are shopping. This makes LEGO products for adults even less discoverable and available for new adult customers. The solution seems very obvious: put LEGO sets in places where adults are.

    Where? I see LEGO in the stores I visit. From supermarkets to department stores and everything in between. I even recall seeing sets in the Apple store! Are they thinking of having them available to buy in FOOTLOCKER or THE GAP. Maybe even in bars or nightclubs? “Hey, I’ll get a scotch on the rocks and that Harry Potter set!”

    Also, to say a toy store is not the kind of place you visit unless you’re a parent is very wrong. How many adults make construction sets or are into model trains. What about the thousands into dolls. Even TLG’s own Matthew Ashton collects My Little Pony. He isn’t going to THE GAP to buy them! It’s utter claptrap!

    Then TLG say: But the first steps the company is taking are about the way the products are merchandised within the LEGO brand stores. First of all, we should expect to see specific changes in the layout of products in LEGO brand stores.

    “The ambition is that once an adult walks into a store, they will be able to find all the adult products merchandise together with clear navigations on the passion points,” — Genevieve explains.

    I have several good friends who work as Sales Associates within LEGO brand stores. I asked one long-time employee about this “radical” idea. He said. The adults who visit my store know exactly what they want. Whether it’s Friends or Technic. Other adults are there with children and aren’t necessarily looking for themselves. Our job, as sales associates is to help them find a product that they may like. The other adults are usually the Mystery Shopper who are pretending they don’t know what it is they want!

    The idea of having in store visual prompts makes very little sense. Unless, of course TLG are looking to lay-off in store associates as a way of maximising profit?

  8. Dano Drisdelle

    Can we get big nostalgia pandering sets like Barracuda Bay for every 80s and 90s theme, thanks

  9. Jimmy

    Another reason for leaving behind the “Creator Expert” branding is that it frees them to produce 18+ products that are simple in construction technique.

  10. Doug Donnelly

    I’m an AFOL but I won’t spend above $200 max, even then it would have to be awesome. Lego has always been expensive but this will blow the price way out.
    They’re overthinking this and focusing on profit, I hope it does not bring the company to the brink of bankruptcy again.

  11. Brian P Holmes

    I particularly appreciate the marketing of LEGO as a therapeutic hobby, because that’s exactly what it is to me. I will say though that a lot of comments here can’t seem to get out of the AFOL mindset. Most adults I can tell you feel silly going to toy stores, including myself, and also have no interest in displaying boxes. They are, after all, nothing but packaging. I personally welcome this reorganisation, and look forward to more adult-oriented sets

  12. Lucas Antonietto

    Forgot f***ing expensive in some coutries. An adult lego set is 30-50% the average salary of a Brazilian worker.

  13. Daniel

    Aiming for a market that doesn’t like LEGO, whilst assuming the existing market will just continue buying drab uninspiring boxes with models which have more muted tones and just simply look less fun.
    My 4yo son hungrily eyes the Creator Expert Rollercoaster regularly, what would he think of the new Haunted House … most probably he would think nothing. I am an Adult Fan but I am also a parent, I love that my son gets excited about the more complex builds and can play with them under supervision. The box art provides context to a model, which is particularly important with the fairground sets. Would a drab green building with a black background sell a set better than a fairground setting with some spooky ghost whizzing around a Haunted House? You could not even tell this is a fairground ride from the box.
    The Creator Expert trains were fun, my son plays with the Maersk regularly, but the Brown Crocodile that they are planning to release is drab and a little boring. Not the glorious return to Expert Train builds i was hoping for. These boxes are only part of the problem, but they are a problem. Like in the late 90s, they are aiming for people who are too ashamed to be seen buying LEGO or simply don’t like LEGO, whilst assuming their core base is locked in and won’t stop buying.

  14. MaffyD

    The replies to this article are interesting. If you are browsing TBB then you are already part of Lego’s existing audience, and your answers are self-selecting. Of course you like colourful boxes – it’s what you’ve been buying for the last 2 decades or more. Of course you see Lego wherever you shop – you are interested in all Lego, which includes the mass-market birthday and holiday presents you expect to find in supermarkets and department stores. And you often make a special trip to where you know the Lego is, to see if there’s any deals or just to look. And as far as emotional resonance goes – for us, if it’s got the red box in the corner it’s already resonant. We like Lego because it’s Lego. Not just because it’s licensed to a franchise we like or a topic we have an interest in.

    Here, they want to reach out to a new demographic without alienating the old. I’m not sure how many existing adult Lego fans care too much about the box – there will be some, but most will recognize that the contents is what is important, and ditch the box (I keep my boxes, but I think I’m in a minority). Non-Lego fans may feel self-conscious about the brand, but in a grown up looking box will think of it as an ornament or hobby – rather than a toy.

    They will also be reluctant to go down the toy aisle or to the ‘kids stuff’ floor to look out for Lego which they might like. They want to see it in an environment where they would feel at home in buying them. It will be interesting to see where Lego will put these sets to get that feeling – a special ‘dark boxes’ section in their own stores seems natural, but elsewhere – let’s see what happens when we’re out of lockdown. Perhaps associating with the theme of the model will become more important – architecture sets at travel agents and airport duty free shops might become more popular. Star Wars sets at memorabilia sites and outlets. Vehicle sets at gadget and model shops.

    And if they try to raise prices, there’s always Amazon and sales.

  15. Benjamin von Sück

    Agreed, Dano. Also, everyone here who says they’ll vote with their dollars… LEGO isn’t hurting for customers right now. Every big set has been sold out since the start of the pandemic. I don’t want to pay more for LEGO sets, like any person with a budget, but let’s face it… there are plenty of rich people out there buying LEGO right now, so they’re not worried.

  16. Hobbes

    I don’t see the shame/embarrassment of going into a toy store. No-one in the store knows if it is for you, your kids or niece/nephews or anyone else. Personally I am ok-ish with more serious box whenever there are no minifigs involved. If there are minifigs, I want something bubbly and animated – basically I want a picture taken “in context”.

  17. Ivan Angeli

    I am adult, and I can find my way in LEGO store just fine. But, I am a passionate AFOL who follows news, knows a lot about the breand (at least parts of it that hold my interest), and visit AFOL-oriented events – but this is just a small percentage of adults who actually by LEGO, and I guess comming in a shop full of diferent themes and sets can be intimidating or confusing

    I need to send msg to TLG (The LEGO Company) that “adult” soed not need to mean “Expencive” or “complicated”, sometimes we, adults, share just a plain simple love for the brick.

    Giving us ways to build our armies, to buy loose (bulk) bricks easier, themes that are darker (Diablo game comes to mind) is a way to go – do not forget, most of us adults who do buy LEGO -0 are still kids in hearths :)

  18. Chris

    Keeping items in stock might help. Even pre-COVID, sets in the Architecture, Expert, Ideas lines plus some of the higher-priced themed sets are often out of stock. Making sure that the sets people want are available to them would increase engagement levels.

  19. Marc

    Well, what can I say? As Genevieve said, people have FOMO always wanting to know other people’s business, I have JOMO (joy of missing out) don’t think about other people’s problems especially those you don’t know, I really don’t understand them. I can’t see why people fined it confusing to what they can build. All the details are printed clearly on the boxes, if they can’t see them how do they get on with the instructions ss they are more complex? The Creator sets are great as they are more challenging than the children’s sets but not as fiddly as Technic, they’re great. I build more Creator sets than any other, I really hope they’re not retiring it will be a great loss for many people.

  20. Alexander Post author

    @Marc, of course, they do not stop producing models like those we are used to seeing under the Creator Expert brand. They are just retiring the brand, but there will be new sets for sure: the new modular building is coming in December, plus the rumor has it the new train is just around the corner.

  21. Tim

    The barrier for me is not how it looks, or whether they hit my interests, it’s the price tag. It’s been a barrier all my life. As a kid, my parents would never get the big kits as gifts because they cost too much. When I had my own money there was never enough left over to justify the prices and that still hasn’t changed. You want more adults to play with LEGO, make it more affordable.

  22. Casper

    Great idea! I am 50+ and have a decent collection of Lego bricks. Make the adult sets available in typical adult stores like book stores, and home supply stores.

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