Tuesday, August 30, 2011

American Girl and Entitlement

Today, I had to take a 10-year-old to a birthday party as mom was home with a sick toddler. The party was at the store American Girl. For those that are not aware of the American Girl, it is quite the store. There are nine stores around the country, six of which are considered boutique stores, while three are the larger flagship stores.

American Girl originally started by Pleasant Company was only mail order. Mattel purchased the company back in 98 and proceeded to grow the line and open the stores. The marketing at this store is brilliant. As a person who has a master's degree in Marketing I find it fascinating and awe-inspiring. Who ever came up with the concept deserves the many millions that they will make off of this venture. Simply stunning job in marketing the store. They sell clothes for your daughters that match the clothes for the dolls. Every imaginable type of accessory is available, diaper changing stations, eye glasses in a variety of colors so your daughter can find ones that match hers, hair brushes, and on and on it goes.

For those who are not aware the dolls are sold with an accompanying book and mostly depict a time in American history. The girl of the year for 11 is Kanani, a native of Hawaii. Molly is the only original doll that is still available through the stores or online. Molly is a young girl living through World War II, and waiting for her daddy to return home from war. There is also Kit (from Kit Kittredge fame) who is growing up during the depression and watched her family lose everything and learns to realize that money isn't everything. Many of the dolls have a very good theme and reading is heavily emphasized. I picked up a few of the books in the store and was happy to see that they had some very constructive advice for tweens who are online.

But there are many problems with these stores as well. The dolls are marketed to girls 8 and over. Now, I have not lived through watching a little girl grow up and so I don't know when little girls really stop playing with dolls. But, I do seem to remember that was about the age that I started losing interest in dolls, and I was a HUGE fan of dolls. I have so many good memories of playing my baby dolls and my Barbie's. I had the whole line of Barbie items; the townhouse, the corvette, the big Barbie head so you could play hairdresser, and so on. I loved my dolls and they were very well-worn out by the time I was done with them.

The party I attended today was for girls aged 9 - 11. Every girl was given a party hat, a doll, choice of one accessory item, and a party hat for the doll. The dolls were also treated to the hair salon (yes, you read that correctly there is a doll hair salon complete with little capes that are put around the dolls while they are getting their hair braided or curled). It was quite the day. The girls seemed to enjoy the store and enjoyed the party luncheon and cake that came with the party. They all had plenty of pictures taken. I was thinking that this party must have been quite expensive, so I looked around the store more closely. Every doll in the place costs at least $100. That does include the story of the doll as well. The accessories were sold separately and range from $8 to $24. The birthday girl got two dolls and a stroller to push her dolls around in. She turned 11 today. Maybe I am wrong, but I am thinking she won't be pushing that stroller around the mall anytime soon. This party was about entitlement.

The little girls felt important being at that store. Especially since it was made clear to them how lucky they were to live locally to one of the stores. That was mentioned while we were outside on the patio putting the dolls in the high chairs that the store provides for them. Like I said, it was quite the party. There were 12 girls at this party (two were the birthday girl's sisters). This party had to have cost three or four thousand dollars. Plus she then received gifts on top of this.

Did this mother ever stop and realize that the parents of the little girls that went to this party would never be able to afford to throw such a party themselves, which could become an issue when their birthday's coming rolling around over the next year? I realize that I live in area where money is not much of a problem for many. But, this was such a blatant display of it that it really shocked me.

Isn't this just one more display of how we are teaching our children to expect things? Now, the little girl that I took to the party is lucky that she was given a doll at the party, because I can guarantee you her mother won't be buying her one. It isn't about the money so much as it is the need for an 11-year-old to have a doll at that price. Maybe I am wrong, but to me going to the store and the prestige of having the doll is what the girls want more than the doll itself. It is purely an image thing. It is sort of like the Air Jordans were to my generation. It wasn't that the sneaker was all that much nicer than the ones that were half the price, you just wanted to "be like Mike".

Like I said there are many things about the store that I really like. It promotes reading, it promotes patriotism, and it gives out some sound advice to tweens about the dangers in the world that they face. But it is directly marketing to girls that are probably a little too old for playing with dolls and a little too young to understand the worth of the keeping the doll in pristine condition for collecting.

Much to my chagrin, my little friend chose Julie as her doll. Julie is from San Francisco in the early 70's. She works to save the environment and to promote women's lib. Looks like I have some work to do with that one!! But, I have never seen her play with a doll ever, so I relatively certain it will be an expensive dust collector that sits on her bed.

See the website for yourself and let me know what you think.

I personally believe that the mother who threw this party better be picking out the kind of car she wants her daughter to have, because she will be expecting it in the driveway five years from today. And she has no one else to blame than herself for her daughter thinking that way.


LL said...

I have four mostly grown up daughters. I bought each one a new car when they went to college. I don't regret doing that, but then again I had the means to pull it off.

Chris said...

I guess you didn't see Bitty Baby. She's the toddler intro to American Girl. Yes, a kind and well-heeled relative gave Bitty Baby to my daughter when she was 3 or 4. And now she has several American Girl dolls (sadly, Julie is one of them). You're right about them being a status symbol - her friends arrange play dates for the dolls. Girls without an American Girl doll aren't included of course.

Did you see the hospital? That's even more amazing. Bitty Baby's eyelid got stuck open. We took her in for "surgery." You don't want to know how much it cost.

Just a conservative girl said...

My question would be to you did they expect it? I would think the youngest did as she watched the other three get it, but did the eldest expect it? big difference don't you think?

I also think it is apples and oranges to wanting your babies to have a reliable mode of transportation when they are away from home for the first time and spending almost five grand on a party for an 11 year old.

You know you can adopt me if you want!! I need a new car.

Just a conservative girl said...

I don't think mine has a hospital. I live near one of the boutique stores. You may live near one of the flagship stores. I can't even imagine what the one in NY, LA, and Chicago look like. This one is huge. It is two floors and has an outdoor patio for the parties.

I have to say I was impressed with the stroller. I am sure if I were little I would want one too. But for parents who don't have that kind of money it is hard to explain to them.

Anonymous said...

We are far from rich but we have a disabled daughter and we saved for an american girl doll and bought it for her. Thank god for them! They are good quality and the look a little older than a cabbage patch doll. My daughter is now 20 and still carries it around. I cheat and buy the clothes for her at target where they have the todays girl dolls. I think these dolls are wonderful! You don't have to be rich to buy one! And they last! Plus they do promote reading and history! She collects the books and movies and they are good stories. you can now buy the books at most book stores for a reasonable price. You can give your kids things without turning them into demanding brats! I only bought toys on x-mas bdays and easter the rest of the time they could ask if I said no that was the end of it!

Just a conservative girl said...

Your daughter wanted the doll and actually plays with it. You got your money's worth. This party was almost a week ago and the doll has yet to be touched, it is still in the box. She wanted the presitige of having the doll, not the doll itself. There is a huge difference there.

Anonymous said...

By chance, I happened across your blog, when searching for "American Girl status symbol". I am really surprised at how much the dolls have become a status symbol in recent years, and I partly blame Mattel and their marketing for turning it so. I had these dolls (got them from ages 9 to 12) growing up, and my family was hardly rich. My parents encouraged the dolls since they helped teach history and were anti-Barbie. My dolls were well loved, and I still have most of them around to pass down if I ever have a daughter. I do not think it is bad for older girls (tweens and early teens) to play with the dolls - some I know use their dolls to help work on their sewing, knitting and design skills, as well as photography. But I do agree that the party sounded over-the-top, and during my only visit to a store (as an adult), I was turned off by what American Girl is now. I would never buy anything from the company now - my childhood dolls will be sufficient if said future child ever expresses an interest. It promotes too much consumerism for my penny-pinching ways.

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