Welcome to Heartlake City! It has a cafe, veterinarian clinic and, of course, a shopping mall. Because you can’t have a town made for 5-year-old girls and not have a mall. At least that’s what Lego believes.

On January 1st, Lego, the world’s third largest toy manufacturer, launched its new product line aimed specifically at young girls, called Lego Friends.  As outlined in the cover story of Bloomberg Business, Lego spent four years and millions of dollars researching a product line that, as Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorpput it, “(reaches) the other 50 per cent of the world’s children.”

The result? Twenty-nine taller figures with curvy frames, five of which are the line’s central characters. They live in Heartlake, a world that’s all awash in purples and pinks, and their online presence looks like this. Girly!

Lego is spending $40 million to market the new line to young girls aged 5-6, and so far it’s paying off. Sales are through the roof. But there’s been a serious backlash against the product. SPARK, a campaign against the sexualization of young girls, sent an open letter to Lego with more than 51,000 signatures. Critics accuse Lego of selling divisive gender stereotypes to girls, furthering the “princess” effect of marketing to children. Once again, the message is- You like shopping! You really do! And looking pretty is VERY important to you. It’s a message that is sure to expand the imaginations of young girls around the world.

Lego’s defence? They say a bunch of smart people in Denmark did a lot of research showing that this is exactly what girls want. Why object to creating and marketing something directed at girls, giving them what they want in a toy? But it begs the question- Which came first, the marketing department or the girl?

And then there’s this –  an ad for Lego circa 1981. See if you can spot the difference.