I've been thinking about the Lego Friends sets for a while, slow to form an absolute opinion about them and I've decided they're OK. There are some minuses, but I think they mostly have pluses on their side.
Let me start from the beginning. I was born in the early 70s and raised by an engineer (and a children's librarian/Girl Scout leader). So...I had a few Lego sets as a kid. I got my first set when I was 7, and it was the gift from the holiday event from my dad's work. They did it by age bracket and all of the 7 year olds got Legos. My little sister got a doll. With nice hair. That may have talked. I may have pitched a conniption fit about the Legos. I'm pretty sure that the "work gifts" cost the employees money and that was the last year we got them.
My dad tried to convince me they were fun. They were pretty good, but they were no doll with nice hair. Laura was her name (I do not know if the original name on the box was Laura or if my sister named her Laura or if I would have named her Laura if only she were mine.) The Lego box had little compartments and a flap that lifted up to open and close it and a booklet of things you could make from that set and you could never quite get that flap level again once you started building stuff - and trying to put partly built segments into the box. And then the whole stack of games in your closet was off kilter if it ended up on the bottom of the pile. I'm just saying. And once you lost the booklet you got the "What it is, is beautiful" ad. These are the things I remember liking as a kid of various ages: building with square wooden blocks (the alphabet ones. we had big ones and little ones. And just when my mom would think I was "done" with the blocks, I'd learn how to do something new, like make pyramids with them.) Barbies ( I cut their hair and made my own clothes for them.) drawing. fashion plates. Legos were in the middle somewhere.
The middle of the story is that I have a 19 year old step son. Once he figured out how to put the Lego pieces together in preschool, he was in it to win it. He accumulated Legos at every holiday and birthday. They were a tried and true gift that you knew he'd like. Some of his collection have been parceled out to younger kids, but some are still kind of waiting for their next home. The Legos that he ended up with were basically a vehicle and a minifigure in the kit and the booklet detailed how to build the one thing in the picture (unless you got the bin). There would be one or two specialty pieces in each set -- a radar dish or a bubble turret or winglets or something that would interconnect and become merged with your larger collection of blocks (if you ever saw it again).
The current part of the story is I have a 10 year old daughter. She's always had Legos available to her. I think she would build the "fat Legos" (Duplo Legos) at daycare. She'd buy stuff from the Lego bar at Downtown Disney - pastel colored blocks, flowers and bushes, etc. She'd, once in a while, put stuff together with the Monkey's leftover Legos. But it wasn't ever really something she'd ask for and definitely not something she'd spend her money on. Until there were the Lego Friends. She loves them. And she plays with them differently than the boy played with his Legos. She buys the set, follows the directions in the booklet to build the set (still, really, it only builds the thing pictured on the box) and configures it, and gets out the other sets and puts them next to each other and then becomes upset if any little piece gets lost or someone jars the configuration. Lego is also offering minifigures in a packet like baseball cards - where you get one random figure from a set of 16 in series. She is completely hooked on them. They are pretty cool.
So the things I like about the Friends sets are (a) it's a building toy that engages her and she likes on her own. (b)she's building a building toy all by herself - working on her 3D perception of how things are put together and being able to read and follow the directions in the booklet. (c) the storyline and commercials are pretty reasonable - above average in my opinion. The girls aren't being mean to each other and the characters are smart and good citizens. The thing I don't like about the Friends sets is that they seem to be not compatible with the traditional Lego sets. The people are not the same size (but I think this makes it easier to play with the sets like a doll house), and the bricks are not compatible, I don't think. I don't know if this is some IP strategy so that no other company can copy them anytime soon, but I think it might be.
The thing that has converted it to a win for me, is that they are "gateway Legos". When we were at "the Big Shop" at Legoland yesterday, La picked out the Space Needle from the Architecture Collection. She limited herself to an age 10+ kit (because she is 10) -- and I think this is one of the differences between a girl and a boy -- even though there were similar 12+ kits that she may have liked. But, she didn't even look at the other traditional lego sets - not Star Wars, not Superheros, not LOTR, not City. She looked at Friends and the Architecture collections. And she could not wait to build her purchase. She and my husband built it this morning, and it is now proudly on display on the mantle.
I hope Lego comes up with more ideas that she likes.