Another American Girl blunder?


You might remember the American Girl PR nightmare from spring of '07 when a mommy blogger wrote a scorching letter to AG because they refused to do her daughter's non-AG doll's hair — teaching her a have and have not life lesson of epic proportions.  This story ended up  on many major news shows and creating a huge hullabaloo all over the internet.

Interestingly, AG chose not to respond to the situation.  (I do believe the individual store reached out to make amends.)  Now, I suspect they are about to end up back in the spotlight…and we'll see how the public reacts.

American Girl released some new dolls (as they do on a regular basis) and one of them is Gwen Thompson.  Like all of the AG dolls, Gwen comes complete with a book about her life.  But here's the twist.  This doll, which retails for $95, is homeless

In a stereotypical fashion, Gwen's story is that her father abandoned the family and Gwen's mom subsequently lost her job.  They now live in a car.

Her clothes are not tattered or dirty.  She's not tattered or dirty.  She goes to school and is friends with another AG doll, Chrissa.  I am sure there are some homeless kids who can maintain personal hygiene and school, but really — how many?

Somehow to me, it seems a bit obscene to sell homeless dolls for a C-note.  Especially, if we're not really telling the truth about what being homeless is all about.  I'm guessing the mommy bloggers are going to have a field day with this.

But (of course) I think there's also a branding issue here.  American Girl is making a lot of money on these dolls.  More power to them, I say.  There's nothing wrong with creating a product that people are willing to pay a premium for.  That's one of the reasons branding matters.  And many of their dolls face challenges (the depression, bullying — you name it) but somehow this feels different.  It feels a little dirty.  

In a blog announcing this batch of new dolls, notice how all the other dolls come with plenty of accessories.  Furniture, craft tables, changes of clothes, etc.  Chrissa even has a pet llama. But, Gwen comes has no add-ons.  

It will be interesting to see if AG decides to jump into the fray on this one.  It would be so simple to fix…donate a portion of Gwen's sales to homeless shelters or a children's charity.  Or use their position to teach their young patrons about compassion and community action by organizing them to make a difference and fight homelessness together.

But somehow, I have a feeling that's just not going to happen.  I wonder why many believe their brand is about entitlement?

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