The Rise of the Adult Collector

Originally intended to be played with by children, the arrival of the LEGO Star Wars theme drew in a whole new breed of consumers – the collector.

While LEGO fully understood the adult fan who bought their sets to build (and occasionally play with them) or bought bricks to construct their own designs, the concept of buying LEGO just to have it on display was alien to them.

Already established in the Star Wars community, collectors had been amassing Star Wars products for over 20 years by the time the LEGO Star Wars license landed on toy store shelves. Being mostly in the adult age range, they had emotional connections to their toys from growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, and the LEGO Star Wars theme ticked multiple boxes.

Even though adult fans of LEGO weren’t new, the interest of Star Wars fans who wanted to collect LEGO sets was a new phenomenon and one that the company took a very long time coming to terms with; even the first Ultimate Collector Series sets were marketed at the advanced teenage builders, and not adults because LEGO struggled to understand a core part of their market.

Nothing really changed for a long time. The sets became more complicated and detailed as the team of designers got more skilled, larger part counts were allotted to the new sets and more specialized elements were introduced to the theme, but it wasn’t really until 2007 when the first UCS Millennium Falcon came out that LEGO really gave adult fans a hat-tip. It wasn’t so much the complexity, size or piece count that made LEGO market it towards adults – it was the $500 price tag.

There were certainly some outliers – the modular buildings (released in 2007) and the Architecture series (2011) clearly weren’t for kids. While they weren’t specifically marketed to adults, their existence suggested that LEWGO were beginning to think about them.

Jumping forward nearly 10 years to 2016, LEGO finally got a grasp on the adult collector when, in a series of big press interviews, the Chief Marketing Officer at LEGO mentioned that adult customers – without connecting them to being parents – were buying LEGO sets for themselves.

Beginning in 2020, the Product Group Marketing team began to canvass adult LEGO fan sites, blogs and media outlets for input into how to engage and encourage adult consumers in seeing LEGO sets as more than a toy. What came next was the Adult Collector concept, and it was a major pivot for LEGO.

However, rather than a single product line, LEGO combined a number of existing IPs, themes and styles with a common marketing approach to appeal to adults who enjoyed having their LEGO on display around the house or at work – rather than being hidden in basements or attic space – and treated them like everyday objects and ornaments that had to be dusted like anything else.

It didn’t start with the Star Wars theme. LEGO wasn’t going to test their new idea in such a fickle market. LEGO already had a platform that produced sets that were favored by adults – so they used their IDEAS sets as a way of soft-launching the Adult Collector range, and first in/best dressed was 21302 The Big Bang Theory in 2015.

As the popularity of LEGO amongst adults began to grow in the pandemic climate that dominated the first few years of the 2020s, LEGO started to introduce packaging elements that would appeal to adults. The important difference in these boxes comes down to the suggested age range – standard for 10+ and black for 18+. Most have the upmarket black box with the outer glow behind the product’s image, though some continue to be packed in the standard livery.

It was in July 2020 that the Star Wars license got some formal grown-up intention and first on the scene were two Brick Sketches sets, a small collection of character-based portraits that were used to launch the new Art theme. They were followed up a month later by a series of mosaic sets that included one that could be used to make Darth Vader, Darth Maul or Kylo Ren – or combined to make a single large image of Darth Vader.

With this trick – and The Beatles and Andy Warhol’s Marylin Monroe mosaics following suit – no one could accuse LEGO of missing out on a good marketing opportunity!

Arriving in April 2020 were the first scaled replica helmets – dubbed BucketHeadz – a collection of three 0.45 scale helmets that were similar to those made by Ridell and Master Replicas in the Nineties and Noughties.

It was at this time the packaging for the Ultimate Collector Series came in line with the Adult Collector subtheme and that year’s big-ticket set – 75275 A-wing Starfighter – had the glossy black box and classy graphics for the first time.

Captalizing on the demand for adult-orientated models, LEGO added two more sets to the growing Adult Collector subtheme during the Summer convention circuit (albeit through exclusive retail offers due to the COVID pandemic) in 2020.

A full year after the release of the first replica helmets, LEGO released a second assortment; this time with two helmets and an Imperial Probe Droid model in April 2021.

Adopting the “Adults Welcome” tagline in November 2021 certainly cemented their new relationship with grown-up LEGO collectors. With this new masthead came an even larger range of adult collector sets, with three new helmets and the new-for-2022 Diorama series.

It’s fair to say that LEGO gets their core children’s market, have made AFOLs feel comfortable about making their hobby more public, and have made decent inroads into opening up the adult collector market but they still haven’t got to grips with the Star Wars collecting community.

The growing number of sets in the Adult Collector subtheme – particularly the new Diorama Series – offer less and less value and it seems that LEGO isn’t worried that the fan-collector who is burdened with the expense of keeping their LEGO Star Wars collections as complete as possible is starting to feel the pinch.

Entertainment Earth

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