American Girl Gets By The Gatekeeper

May 1, 2013

This weekend, my soon-to-be 5-year-old daughter said something a lot of mothers don’t want to hear: “Mom, I want an American Girl doll.”

Immediately, my mind started racing. Who in the heck told her about these Cabbage Patch Kids on steroids? And did said person want to help pay for the cost of entry and upkeep?

You see, for the last year, I’ve been intercepting American Girl’s attempts to reach my children. I throw away catalogs and direct mail, steer clear of the store on my rare visit to the Mall of America and downplay the neighborhood girls who clutch their dolls and play house for hours on end. But alas, my efforts have been for naught.

AG Logo

How did this happen? Where did I fail?

If you’ve got daughters, your probably know that the American Girl brand engages young girls (primarily) in unique characters, each with their own back stories. Oh, and of course they each have their own books, clothes and accessories. As a marketer, I can’t help but admire the brand’s stranglehold on kids…other people’s kids, that is.

Because every girl needs a beautiful living room set with fireplace.

Because every girl needs a beautiful living room set with fireplace.

But truthfully, I’m not sure I could have avoided it for much longer. Using a mix of online, in-store, experiential and content marketing, the brand has elevated its status from a sit-on-shelf product to a lifestyle experience. Stop in to the AG store and you can take your little doll to lunch or send her to a stylist for ear piercing or hair braiding. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve even gone so far as to create a guide for pre-teens on buying bras, healthy eating habits and dealing with periods and hormones. No kidding! In my day we simply had a hand-me-down copy of “Are You There God, it’s Me Margaret” and an awkward conversation with our moms.

A day of beauty does a girl good

A day of beauty does a girl good

So as my daughter enters this stage, I find myself pulled in two directions. On one hand, I’m fascinated by how they have created a following that continues to grow and multiply rather than suffer at the hands of the next hot toy. But as a mom and someone who manages the budget, I can’t help but shake my fist at the marketing gurus behind the brand. Because like so many moms before me, somehow, I think they finally got to my kid.