Adult fans of Lego say they’re not just playing, they’re building community brick by brick | CBC Radio

Adult fans of Lego say they’re not just playing, they’re building community brick by brick | CBC Radio

Metro Morning6:12Here’s why more adults are back to building with Lego

When Graeme Dymond was in kindergarten, his teacher asked him to draw what he wanted to be when he grew up. So he drew a picture of himself playing with his favourite toy, Lego.

Decades later, he saw that teacher again.

“I told her I made that picture come true,” said Dymond, a Lego certified professional and the organizer of the Lego fan convention, Bricks in the Six in Mississauga, Ont.

“I didn’t even know that could have been a career. I certainly, as a kid, didn’t know that would be a job that I could do.”

The 39-year-old is one of many people who have either kept their love of Lego, or rediscovered it as adults. And that customer base has become an important part of The Lego Group’s marketing strategy.

A growing number of new sets are geared specifically to adults, featuring an 18+ label in the corner and price tags of up to $1,000, which is much more than most children’s allowance.

This set of Lego houses was designed to look like Jelly Bean Row in St. John’s, N.L. Adults who use the toy bricks to create elaborate scenes like this are becoming an important part of The Lego Group’s marketing strategy. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Genevieve Capa Cruz, head of product for the Lego Group’s adult department, says it’s a part of a new strategy for the company.

“It’s been a very good trajectory for us and we can see it in our consumer data,” said Capa Cruz, noting that their data tells them they typically have high retention of their older fans.

Though she didn’t want to share specific statistics about how much of its consumer base is made up of adults, Capa Cruz did say it was “thriving” and “healthy.”

Turning a toy into a career

Dymond always had an affinity for Lego bricks. In high school and university, he would often choose to stay in to play with bricks over going out with friends.

After university, he got a job doing corporate training at a bank in Toronto. But he still felt the toy’s pull. When there was a Lego building contest in the city, he ditched work to compete.

“I didn’t think I had what it would take to win,” Dymond said. “But I thought I’d like to meet other people like me who are grown-ups and love Lego building.”

But his many nights spent building Lego sets at home were worth it, because he won, becoming Canada’s first Legoland Master Model Builder. The prize; an opportunity to work for the Lego Company.

A Lego creation of the Rosebud Motel from the show Schitt's Creek.
Sometimes Lego fans use the bricks to recreate locations from their favourite shows, such as the Rosebud Motel from Schitt’s Creek, complete with ‘minifig’ versions of the cast. (Philip Drost/CBC)

He did that for a few years, and now works as a freelancer to help companies come up with custom Lego creations. He’s built a human-sized dinosaur, mosaics and recently created a replica of the Eiffel Tower, all as part of what he calls “one of the greatest jobs in the world.”

Dymond also hosted a Lego fan convention in July, bringing together fans from around the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.

Marketing to adults

Simon Liu, who attended the convention to display his large Lego tower, rediscovered the toy when he was in university, and needed something to take his mind off exams.

He says the stigma that used to exist around playing with Lego as an adult has evaporated.

“Everyone at my work knows, like, I’m gone for a Lego convention,” said Liu.

A man stands beside a large Lego tower that is taller than he is.
Simon Liu stands beside his Lego tower at the Lego fan convention in July. He says there’s no longer a stigma around adults enjoying Lego. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Part of what attracts adults to Lego, according to Liu, is the company’s marketing. He notes that the shelves of Lego stores are full of sets aimed at older fans.

“They’ve always sort of done it,” he said. “But now it’s like they have an actual line for adults.”

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Lego’s Capa Cruz says that’s part of a very deliberate push that began in earnest about four years ago. The company saw a lot of potential to expand its footprint with an older audience, because she says “adults never really outgrow their love for Lego.”

The company began examining what kind of sets adults would want, and how it could design boxes that made it clear they were meant for older fans.

According to Capa Cruz, they also tried to reposition the brand as more of a hobby than a toy.

A woman stands behinds rows of flowers made out of Lego.
Sandy Lai didn’t start collecting Lego sets until she was in her 30s, but she now designs her own botanical Lego creations. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Building the childhood she never had

Toronto’s Sandy Lai says she didn’t start playing with Lego until she was in her 30s. In 2015, she was introduced to Lego flower sets, and became obsessed with them.

Now she collects sets and shares social media posts featuring her own creations based on ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

“I was one of those people that was never allowed to be a kid as a kid,” said Lai. “So it really just opened my eyes and started helping heal my inner child, as it were.”

Lego, she says, has allowed her to “build myself the childhood I never had.”

Fiorella Groves, creative lead for Lego Art, has helped design Lego sets and says the company spends a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of sets would capture the imagination of its older fans.

A man working on a Lego Star Wars custom creation.
Four years ago, Lego began marketing more to its adult fans with sets based on Star Wars and other pop culture references that appeal to their sense of nostalgia. (Philip Drost/CBC)

One factor that comes into play for adult sets, she says, is the idea that rather than dismantling their creations once they’re built, adults want to display them.

“For adults, we can see there’s a big factor on displayability,” she said.

Groves notes they also try to play up the “talkability” of certain sets for adults that they know are striking and attention-getting.

Some of those include replicas of art, such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawaor Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

Lego also has adult sets that tap into our sense of nostalgia, like the apartment from Friendsor the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.

Developing a community of fans

Dymond, the pro builder, thinks one reason the toy has made its way back into people’s lives is partly because they’re having children later in life, leaving more room for hobbies.

He says people his generation and older who grew up loving Lego now have “a bit more disposable income, and they discover that, ‘You know what, I could get back into this.’ ”

A Gameboy Colour beside six Lego replicas of the gaming device.
One reason fans like Dymond think Lego has become popular with adults is because they now have the disposable income to invest in Lego as a hobby. (Philip Drost/CBC)

The July convention was the second event Dymond organized, with the first taking place just before the pandemic. He says the Lego community in Toronto has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years, and he doesn’t expect that growth to slow.

One of his goals with the conventions is to bring adult fans together to collaborate and connect and let them know, “Hey, there’s a home for you, there’s a community for you.”

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