Spot the Problem with this Toy Advertisement

A Lego advertisement showing a large blue background with two red rectangular Lego bricks attached in the form of a cross. A shadow cast on the ground by the two bricks looks like a real plane.

Here is a Lego print advertisement, one of four in a series.

The ad is compelling, but I see a problem. The problem is apparent to me when I view any of the ads.

You don’t have to, but you can view each ad in detail at the Hoovaloo blog.

If no one guesses correctly, I’ll post a second image tomorrow to better illustrate the problem.

It might be a problem that only a parent can see.

What do you think?

Update: Wow, there were a lot of neat guesses which might be true, but it was Eric that guessed the problem. Wow, again, he’s a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, precisely the type of person my narrow-minded stereotyping would assume would guess wrong. His parental instincts must be in control.

Here is the “hint” image I was prepared to show:

Photo of the box of a Lego passenger plane kit.

Here is the problem: The advertisement is selling imagination, the idea of open-ended creativity, a child’s world where two sticks can be an airplane.

In reality, the company is selling detailed instructions with components to build objects shown on a box. In this example, the company essentially sells model airplane kits. They’re more versatile that glued kits because they have moving parts and can be adapted, but as a creative outlet they stink.

The first toys I bought when I learned I was having a baby weren’t crinkle toys and wrist rattles. I began hoarding Lincoln Logs and Lego bricks. (Lincoln Logs make great hamster fort-mazes.)

While eBay is a fantastic venue for buying bulk bricks, I bought Lego kits at garage sales. Once home, I threw away the instructions, washed the bricks and jumbled them together in a storage bin. My 3-year-old daughter can stack bricks, but not pull them apart. I’m hoping next year is magic time.

Photo of a 10 gallon storage bin filled with my daughter's Lego blocks.

I just weighed my Lego collection. Minus the box, I have 17lbs of Lego
blocks. The 10-gallon bin is half-full, so I think I’ll stop at 20lbs. I’m overcompensating for having
grown up in a Lego-deprived household. A childhood friend had tons of Lego
bricks. We would spread them across his floor and just build, build,


26 Responses to “Spot the Problem with this Toy Advertisement”

  1. bonnie says:

    The top block is not aligned correctly with the lower block. If you follow the row of top dots you see that the one on the far right should be clicked in but instead overhangs in a strange optical illusion.

    October 18th, 2007 at 3:10 am

  2. Mark says:

    As far as I can see the legos are aligned correctly, but I can’t see anything else wrong. The pictures on the other site are pretty cool, in fact the first thing I thought of when I saw the picture were the squadrons of fighter planes I used to create with my legos as a kid.

    Sidenote…the argument going on in the comments on the Hoovaloo site is crazy. I didn’t know anybody who ever called multiple legos “lego,” much less that somehow it had anything to do with ugly Americanisms. Gotta love a good internet fight.

    October 18th, 2007 at 6:33 am

  3. Patti says:

    Yep. I agree with Bonnie. The blocks aren’t arranged in a way they could physically work together in real life.

    October 18th, 2007 at 6:35 am

  4. Dan says:

    The answer is obvious… for maximum stability of LEGO-based aeronautical vehicles, the wings must be attached *above* the fuselage. This allows the weight to “hang” below the wings lowering the cog (center of gravity). Were the fuselage above the wings (as in this ad), the tendency of the craft will be to roll.


    Now, if that’s not it, I don’t know… although, the model does look more like a Piper than a 747…

    October 18th, 2007 at 7:14 am

  5. Troy says:

    @Dan: Your comments made me LOL!

    But I was thinking about the total lack of a tail fin. There is clearly one in the shadow, but you’d need to put a 2 x 2 flat in the back to make it work…

    October 18th, 2007 at 8:00 am

  6. Hans says:

    Hmmm.. those ads seem to be aimed toward boys only. At least that series of four ads.

    October 18th, 2007 at 9:21 am

  7. John Bowman says:

    My problem is with the tank. Traditionally, Lego doesn’t “do” war toys.

    October 18th, 2007 at 10:04 am

  8. Dan says:

    @Troy… yeah, a 4×1 flat across the fuselage with a 2×1 flat wedged on top will flesh out the tail. Add those along with some 2x1s or 3x1s on the wings for the engines and we’d be rocking.

    October 18th, 2007 at 10:20 am

  9. Nicole C says:

    The planes halfs don’t match. There are diffrent wing lengths and space widths between the jets. The tail fin is also diffrent lengths.

    October 18th, 2007 at 10:26 am

  10. Kristin says:

    I agree that the ads make LEGO seem like a toy made for boys. A picture of even just a house, which I think a lot of kids do build with them, would’ve made it a little less gender specific.

    October 18th, 2007 at 11:54 am

  11. Publius says:

    How awesome is it that grownups are debating how to build a lego airplane with only 3 pieces.

    Legos are the greatest

    October 18th, 2007 at 12:12 pm

  12. Eric says:

    The problem is that Lego now puts out sets that are almost completely pre-fab rather than relying on the kind of imagination evidenced in the photo. Yeah, you can play with the two blocks and pretend it’s an aeroplane, or you can buy the fully fleshed out 747 Lego model, the parts from which are largely useless in building other things. The old sets, like my favourite old LL918 starfighter, could be built according to pattern (which I’d bet I still know by heart), or they could be mixed with parts from other space sets into all kinds of ships. There seems to be less room for that with the modern sets.

    October 18th, 2007 at 2:03 pm

  13. Julius (son of Judy) says:

    Being 14 and growing up heavily emersed in lego culture, i think that it is unfair to say that a lego set takes away the creativity, in fact it can do quite the oppisite. i would always not only play with my finished product but add to it from my own collection, and unlike a model airplane your lego creation would not sit and collect dust on the shelf but would continue to amuse even after the completion, and of course in a matter of time the sometimes cool and rare pieces would get assimilated into my lego bin and i would then use the odds and ends to create planes cars houses and boats of my own design

    October 18th, 2007 at 4:38 pm

  14. AJ says:

    Julius, ahhh, when I said “as a creative outlet they stink” I didn’t mean to unilaterally say Lego kits are worthless.

    Lego kits are more versatile than glued kits, and you can certainly play with them and adapt them later. There is also educational value in learning the ability to follow a set of instructions to build a complex object. My daughter does have some non-Lego toys that serve that purpose.

    But as a creative process, kits have little value. Imagine building an object from scratch with no directions or instructions, hunting and foraging for pieces you can use, like running around in the middle of a Lego junkyard, pulling together raw scrap parts to build the thing you see inside your head. And then to have that idea refined, or even scrapped, as you discover new Lego pieces that suggest alternate building methods or completely new ideas. That doesn’t happen if you’re following printed instructions and worried about what might happen if your Lego kit pieces mingle with bricks from your other Lego kits.

    I’m just saying the real fun lies in liberating your bricks from their cardboard prisons and printed rules.

    October 18th, 2007 at 5:12 pm

  15. Eric says:

    Julius: I wasn’t trying to say that legos take away creativity but rather that they’re less creativity-inducing than the older sets that had a much smaller proportion of set-specific parts.

    October 18th, 2007 at 5:36 pm

  16. Ted says:

    Shame on the cynic in you. I understand your point, but that advertisement reminds me of when I was a little kid, when cardboard boxes were castles and two LEGO blocks were an airplane. I think it’s to remind us what we love about LEGOs and why we fell in love with them as children. As I grew older, cardboard boxes became recycle bin fodder and I would love a 768-piece jumbo jet LEGO for the challenge of putting it together. But I’m eager for when my own child is ready for LEGOs, when she snaps two blocks together and it’s an airplane again.

    October 18th, 2007 at 11:35 pm

  17. Ted says:

    P.S., sure the pre-fab LEGO sets have a lot of specific pieces, but a six-year-old will find PLENTY more ways to use it than you or I. I hope once you’ve enjoyed the challenge (and satisfaction) of putting together a pre-fab set you take it apart, hide the instructions, throw away the box with pictures, and add the pieces to your 17-pound Bucket o’ Imagination :)

    October 18th, 2007 at 11:41 pm

  18. Chief Family Officer says:

    I totally get what you’re saying, but Ted is totally right! I got a couple of Duplo sets really cheap and Alex (who’s 2) has gotten my husband (who truly understands the value of Legos!) to make him trash trucks of various types, forklifts, a harvester, etc. Never having played with Legos much myself, I’m in complete awe of what my husband has been able to do! (And I love that you’ve bought a bunch for your daughter – wish my parents had done that for me!)

    October 19th, 2007 at 5:36 am

  19. Paul says:

    Ah, yes…Hours and hours spent on the floor of Rusty’s room making worlds of our own. Good times, good times. I agree that Lego has lost its focus as an imagination-building outlet. My 10 year old son loves to build with Legos…as long as he can follow to the letter the detailed and complicated directions supplied (He got 1/24 scale Lego Ferrari for his birthday last month…about halfway through he discovered that he omitted a crucial step in the process, put it on a shelf, and has not touched it since. The unusual shapes of the bricks in this kit all but guarantee this set will not turn into a castle, bulldozer, or space alien battle submarine. When I build with him, it’s freestyle all the way, trying to teach him the holistic approach to lego play – it doesn’t matter what you start to build, the important thing is what you end up with.

    October 19th, 2007 at 10:01 am

  20. nathan says:

    I NEVER would have gotten that as the problem, because we buy the pieces in packages that don’t come pre-made. You don’t have to buy the kits, but can get them in big plastic bins of lots of different pieces.

    We just ignore the ones that have the set stuff, and my three year old loves building towers. So I don’t think of Legos as models, but as lots of blocks.

    October 19th, 2007 at 12:08 pm

  21. adrienne says:

    You’re right- just because they’re sold in sets doesn’t mean they discourage imagination. Even a fully completed model kit can inspire other related items that Lego didn’t design (for instance, a completed car needs a garage and a gas station).

    Back in the old days, when Legos were sold as batches rather than one item kits, we got used to making up our own designs for things. It underestimates the youth of today to think they will not dream beyond the picture on the box.

    October 19th, 2007 at 2:39 pm

  22. AJ says:

    I feel so misunderstood. I’m not underestimating anyone. I’m not saying Lego kits kill imagination. But to spark imagination you have to discard the instructions and build something new. And when you build something new, you’re probably mingling in non-kit bricks, which means you either keep your kits separate, or you give up ever making your kit vehicle/building ever again, unless you spend hour(s) sorting through all of your bricks to find the ones that came with the kit.

    The advertisement is pitching simplicity. Lego kits are complexity.

    As for the miscellaneous brick packages Nathan mentioned, those resurfaced within the last few years. I just haven’t seen them in any store I shop that carries Lego.

    October 19th, 2007 at 2:45 pm

  23. Publius says:

    I am 33.

    I still have a sigle-seater space fighter I built when I was 12. I modeled it after the Klingon ship from the Star Trek movies and the X-Wing fighter. It has stayed with my through high-school, college, law school, marriage and so far through 2 kids.

    Legos kick ass.

    October 20th, 2007 at 7:36 pm

  24. M says:

    Our two boys, 3 and 6.5, play with legos all the time. We too keep ours in large bins, all mix together, including those specialized “kit” blocks. We haven’t kept the original boxes, but we’ve kept the kit instructions in a separate location. The boys ususally play with them freestyle. But once in a while our older one likes to pull out a set of instructions and build the “kit” item. He certainly doesn’t always find exact matching block in terms of color, but he finds the right size. This has help him to learn to be more flexible, and that it is ok when the end item doesn’t look exactly as the pic. At the same time, it has taught him to follow instructions (this really is something that is a part of life), to be patient (he has to go through 100s and 100s of legos to find the right sz), and to complete a project. I say, keep the instructions, but not w/ the legos themselves (we have ours in a binder) b/c legos have value either way.

    October 22nd, 2007 at 10:30 am

  25. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    I HAD Lego kits with instructions on how to make things growing up.

    This did not prevent me from intermingling all the pieces and making other things as WELL As the stuff on the boxes. (and in fact, our first set of “mostly just pieces” was a farm set that had instructions for making animals, putting together the people, making the farm house, etc. But we still used that as a launching board.) So don’t fear, Lego does not stifle creativity. It launches it.

    Notice on the boxes? They don’t just have pictures of the things that are made by the instructions, but also other things that can be made using just the pieces in that box! So you can try to recreate it. This is teaching yet a third important skill. (Oh and following instructions IS an important skil. And gives ideas for ways of using the pieces that I may not have come up with on my own)

    April 18th, 2008 at 9:16 am

  26. BLAH says:

    Developing a healthy imagination is an awesome thing, but i feel like there’s also something to be said about learning how to follow instructions.

    Sorry for posting on this old thread.

    July 2nd, 2008 at 4:40 pm