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The number of LEGO Minifigures made equates to more than half the world’s population. Four are sold every second, and 18 million have been sold in the UK to date from series one to ten. How can a small figure be such a big hit? Dominic Sacco questions LEGO Minifigure brand manager Harry Harrison

LEGO Minifigure: Anatomy of a blockbuster toy

Way back in 1968, Danish toy designer Jens Nygaard Knudsen joined LEGO. Little did he know it then, but he would go on to create one of the top-selling toys of our generation.

Knudsen first created everything from cars, trains and houses to fire stations using the iconic construction brick, but he thought there was something missing. Some figures… some people…

The Minifigure eventually evolved from the LEGO brick. A little angular figure with a round head and no facial expression, with contours of arms and legs; a figure which could only be placed rather than having moveable parts.

After 50 prototypes, the first figures were carved from LEGO bricks, before being cast in tin. When LEGO’s then owner Godtfred Kirk Christiansen saw the figure, he made a decision: to develop it so it could move, bending at the hips with movable arms.

The Minifigure needed to ‘grow’ eyes and a mouth, and its hands should grip other LEGO elements.

Within six months, in 1978, the first Minifigure with movable parts appeared. In 2010 LEGO celebrated consumers’ love of the Minifigure by launching its first wave of 16 limited edition pocket money-priced mystery pack Minifigure collectables. This proved so successful that nine subsequent series have been launched, as well as a Team GB series.

Over four billion minifigures have been produced over the last 30 years. LEGO sells 3.9 minifigures per second – that’s over 122 million every year. And 18 million branded LEGO Minifigures have been sold in the UK to date from series one to ten. They are currently the number one toy of 2013.

There’s huge scope for the type of minifigures that can be created, from footballers to crane operators, skiers to skeletons and American Indians to Santa Claus, not to mention licensed characters. 170 LEGO Minifigure characters from series one to ten have been produced, including 34 professions to date.

“The LEGO minifigure has been a key sales driver for our traditional LEGO sets, with kids hunting down high price point sets purely for the minifigures they include,” brand manager Harry Harrison tells ToyNews.

“The target customers are boys aged five and above with a love for LEGO products. However we also have a number of avid female collectors, as well as kids who wouldn’t normally purchase LEGO at all.”

FIGURING IT OUT

Every new figure – like the latest rare Mr Gold – starts out as a sketch drawing, before being made digitally on computers.

Once assessed alongside other designs, physical prototype elements are made on a 3D printer and hand-painted. Once the final selection has been made, moulds are cut and production can begin.

How does LEGO ensure new minifigure designs will make it to toy form?

“LEGO designers have a 289-page minifigure style guide containing all the information, limitations, possibilities and rules that are related to the development of a minifigure – every little detail is thoroughly designed and checked before a minifigure hits the shelf,” says Harrison.

MOVEABLE MINIFIGURES

Designed to ‘fit’ all aspects of the LEGO system, the minifigure combines easily with all the classic bricks and parts.

What joints does it have?

“Its head is one LEGO brick high and its body is three bricks high and comprises eight parts: two arms, two hands, two legs, a torso and a hip joint,” comments Harrison.

“The eight parts are held together by a special ‘snap system’ which cannot easily be taken apart. The minifigure can hold a LEGO brick in its hand and can be plugged standing or sitting on top of other LEGO elements.”

BLINDING SALES

What’s made the LEGO Minifigure packs such a success at toy retail?

“The Minifigure blind bags cater for those fans that want to increase their collection, while not breaking the bank,” says LEGO Minifigure brand manager Harry Harrison.

“The low price points are perfect for pocket money purchases, or as low cost treats/rewards. The mix of iconic characters are blind bagged to increase excitement. This also encourages collectability through peer-to-peer trading in order to complete each set.

“Each character is unique to the series it appears in, through use of new elements and detailing, meaning you won’t be able to find the limited edition figures in any other LEGO set. The fact that each pack is only £1.99 also makes each series easily accessible.”

POWERFUL PACKAGING

How has the packaging and POS helped make the figures a success?

“Each minifigure bag is almost like a mystery box – you never know what you are going to get,” explains Harrison. “This excitement has definitely helped elevate the level of desire for the brand.

“The bags are packed in a display (containing 60 bags) that works ideally for placement next to the counter, a great location for a low price collectible like LEGO Minifigures.

“In addition, we have used different colours for the packaging of each series – this has been the key differentiator when it comes to communicating novelty – so kids always know that a new series is out when they see a new colour.”

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