Pocket full of brilliance

Has everyone heard of American Girl Place? It's an outstanding retail experience and I encourage you to visit. However, if you aren't a female between the ages of 5 and 12, you might feel a bit uncomfortable.

This is because American Girl is for kids. And not the boy kind. This unique lifestyle brand is an absolutely integrated, tightly targeted set of offerings including stores, magazines, movies, books, restaurants, live theatre, photo studios and hair salons. But not the kind of hair salons where you get your hair cut - the kind where you get your doll's hair cut.

I could go on forever about the brilliance of AG's storytelling strategy. They imbue their dolls with vitality by telling moving, historical tales about their past in books and movies. They create dolls that look "just like you" to establish a personal connection, and they give them historically relevant names. Each doll is such a real person, if she gets sick (or her head falls off) you can bring her to the American Girl Doll Hospital! (and buy a hospital gown on eBay).

Now central to the retail channel are the showrooms, where you can buy your doll new clothes. And this is where I think American Girl has been most clever. So imagine: you are ten years old in this wonderland of girls and girliness. You pick up a little red folder. It's adorably titled "Pocket full of wishes." You walk around from display to display, gleefully viewing dioramas of dolls behind glass, in not only outfits but miniature environments. You see your doll Jess, exploring ancient Mayan ruins with her parents. You want her explorer's clothes. You want her backpack. You even want the ruins. What do you do? You pick up a little ticket. Next, Jess is kayaking across a river. You want her outfit, her kayak, her dog and her dog's outfit. Tickets for all these things. Suddenly you've got tons of tickets, but it's not like you're filling a shopping cart. You are collecting your wishes in a small, two-dimensional, under-your-mom's-radar kind of way.

And the tickets are fantastic, too - name of doll, color photograph of the outfit, and price. $20 for a party pinafore and birthday crown. Wait, says mom, $20 for what? A tiny piece of fabric? Absolutely not.

But mom, you whine, it's so cute! Here, see for yourself! You lead her to the diorama, where she too can experience the amazing scene. But she's not as impressed as you! Shocked and sad, you tuck the ticket back into your folder.

And here's where the brilliance begins. Kids don't give up. When they want something, they nag. And American Girl has given them the tools to be successful naggers. The folder states, "Bring your tickets to the cashier when you're ready to make a purchase. Or bring them home as a souvenir from American Girl Place!" Whatever, souvenir. These tickets are Certified Nagging Reminders. Girls hold onto them, pore over the adorable little outfits, and ask again. And again. They won't forget, because they're stored safe in their glossy, durable "Pocket full of wishes."

American Girl has done a masterful job of knowing its audience. Its young customers love the stories, the clubs, the products and the community. Its parental customers love the education, the day of quality time, the positive morals and the customer service.

But when it comes to shelling out the big bucks, American Girl knows who's really boss. They've empowered their young ladies with a lot of ammunition, and they know it works. This company is successful in part because no mom can forever resist the nagging power of her daughter.


Reynold said...

Hi Sara,

This is a very good article and your observations about why American Girl Place is successful are interesting. AGP is comparable to Build-a-Bear, which is another great example of what Philip Kotler called Benefit Packages.

What lies beneath this success? Clearly girls as young as 5 see themselves as different from boys. From age 4 onwards, kids develop strong imaginations and indulge in fantasy-like play. From age 6, they express a desire to "make it real" in every possible way, from cooking real pancakes to playing with real cars instead of cardboard boxes. I think AGP is tapping into this, making the experience of playing with a doll-child as "real" as it can get. What else could this idea lend itself to? Boys like playing with cars - Go-karts already tap into that, but could someone make the experience more "real", with pit-stops, tyre changes, customizable gear and so on? What about taking "toy soldiers" and making them "real"? One thing's for sure - kids are in for a fascinating future (although their parents might not be so pleased...).


Nate A said...

Good insight. I had never heard of the American Girl Place before reading this post (Most likely since I live in Canada!). But I found it very interesting.

It really shows that they understand their customer and the customer’s experience when shopping. I think the ticket idea is brilliant because it not only lets the kids nag but it also gives them a memento akin to the cut-out scrapbooks that many kids make of their wants. I also think that the in-depth development of the dolls themselves really gives their product a huge amount of differentiation in the marketplace. Next time I’m in the states I’ll be on the look out!

Tracking Imagination

Jessica said...

I like that you named the girl Jess. ;)

This seems like a perfect example of "niche marketing," or targeting a highly segmented audience. American Girl is definitely doing a good job of that. Love your blog Sara!

Elliott said...

AG is long lasting too. My sister had a Kirsten doll when she was eight years old. For at least the next four Chirstmases, she got all the clothes and books and my dad even converted her old toy box into a closet for her damn doll. That was back when there were only THREE dolls. The would send you little magazines with all the updates and in the books they featured the clothes you could buy for the dolls in the illustrations.