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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6 comments on “Another American Girl blunder?

  1. We were just talking about your example of the first American Girl blunder you told the BMCA group earlier this year.

    Will be interesting to see how they handle the forecasted backlash.

  2. Scott,

    My guess — they won’t do a thing. Just like last time.


  3. Sharon McEachern says:

    What percentage from sales of this doll will Mattel donate to real homeless children in America? Just sayin…
    I am surprised that people are still buying Mattel toys. Mattel, the world’s largest toymaker, along with its subsidiary Fischer-Price, are responsible for huge toy recalls because of lead-tainted and lead-painted toys. Two years ago more than 2 million Mattel toys were recalled. After this unprecedented number of toy recalls in the U.S. — most from Mattel –Congress passed legislation last year setting strict mandates on lead, lead paint and phthalate levels. The law requires third-party, independent testing of all products for children 12 years old and younger.

    But surprise! The federal regulator, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, SECRETLY EXEMPTED MATTEL. It was Mattel’s toys which prompted the legislation in the first place; yet,the giant toymaker got an “OUT.” Mattel does not want independent safety testing of their toys, they’re going to just test their own. Ethic Soup has a really good about Mattel at:

  4. Sharon,

    Much of this is news to me. Thanks for sharing it.


  5. I tweeted about this a few days ago … honestly, my first thought, as an adoptive mom to two Korean-born children, one a daughter – “We can’t get an Asian-American AG doll because AG is still evaluating the interest (trust me, I’ve seen the correspondence between AG and other adoptive moms with Asian-born daughters), but AG sees huge potential in a doll representing homeless girls?”

    Mattel had (or maybe still does) a TREMENDOUS opportunity to do great community work using the Gwen doll as its frontispiece. Talk about squandered opportunity and good will.

  6. Roberta,

    I think the whole thing is a bit bizarre to be honest. I find it hard to imagine that AG doesn’t have a better handle on monitoring their own PR and responding accordingly.

    I also can’t really understand the appeal of the homeless doll — although she is the cleanest and well dressed homeless kid I have ever seen.

    It all feels like a big blunder. And as an aside, I am stunned they haven’t done an Asian-American doll. The demographics of how many Asian-American families and the number of Asian adoptees combined would certainly suggest a huge market.

    Again…this doesn’t equate to what I would have expected from such a large company.



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