Monday, December 21, 2009

My American Girl

"Can we just stop in the American Girl Doll Store?" These are ten words that really, truly scare me.

Now, before you get all "what do you have against dolls?" on me, let me explain. Although I can appreciate the theory behind American Girl (learn about history) and the strength of the brand - the colors, the numerous dolls, the consistency (the hair salon? the cafe?), American Girl dolls are first and foremost about one thing - consumption. And those prices? Your entry level fee (doll and costume) is about $100 (the "starter kits" hit you with two bills, including tax). These aren't dolls - they are status symbols.

My question is, "what type of status are you trying to show?" That said, I think it's important in the process of teaching kids about money to let them spend the money they've earned via their allowance in their Spend Smart jar with a reasonable amount of autonomy. So I answered yes when my daughter asked me to go in. For those who know me at all, that was a big step. Also, she had brought only six bucks with her, so I knew there was no real chance that we'd purchase anything at an AG store.

I quietly walked around with her as she pointed out various interesting features on the dolls (she of course knew many of the names). It's a testament to their marketing machine that even someone as jaded as I am gets drawn in by the brand (that just screams to be parodied in Warholesque style for it's impressive sameness). Finally, Quinn asked me the price of the Chrissa doll (which she calls, "Little Eileen," as it bears a striking resemblance to my wife). As objectively as I could, I told her that the Chrissa (who apparently took home 2009 AG "Girl of the Year" honors) was priced at a cool $95. I explained that it would take her about four months to save for the doll, and that was accounting for the fact that she had already saved over forty bucks in her Save jar. She stared at the doll.

This wasn't our first conversation about AG dolls and I have consistently tried to steer her toward other, less expensive dolls. See, I'm not anti-doll! I think dolls are a natural part of a girl's development, just like Han Solo in Bespin outfit was for me (I kid, I kid). I mention that this wasn't our first conversation because, without prodding from me, she looked up and asked to leave. I imagine this won't put an end to her AG fascination (the fact that so many of her friends have them is a big driver), but it's part of the process. I'll keep you apprised.



Nicky Lowney said...

Hi John-
Great blog! This is very timely for me - my boys (6.5) are obsessed with money. Saving, not spending. For now anyway! My daughter is just a couple of years away from the AG world and I am dreading it. I'd better start to get her thinking about the value of $$ soon!

Nancy said...

My daughter is about to enter the AG franchise...But at the hands my mother-in-law for Christmas. She has had other dolls, and I think she is "ready," as she's ready to better care for this one if she wants to keep it and get the other stuff to go with it. We just started her on an allowance, and I've explained that we can't buy everything she wants; if she saves her money, then she can. The allowance is contingent on chores she must do at 25 cents a chore; she keeps track of them during the week by giving herself a sticker when she completes a chore, and she'll get paid every Friday. We're hoping this works to get her to better understand the value of money.

Martha said...

I am still in shock that you walked into the AG store. As you know your girls and I also took a "pilgrimage" to the AG store a couple of months ago and it was in that trip, as we waited with about 20 other people for the store to open, that I realized the marketing genius of the store goes beyond history, price and branding. The branding in some ways is the same as the Apple Store located just a few stores away. Here is a store that caters to little girls (for the most part) with dolls and their clothes, etc and nothing else. It is where they can spend aimless time just looking and fiddling like most of the people in the Apple store. Yes, it is a status symbol, like some would say for a mac and yes, it may help teach a little girl that 4 months of allowance equals one doll. Your 6 yr old master negotiator certainly gets the math lesson but I don't think it is fair to expect that to translate into her treating the doll with any greater care than a knock-off available at Target, Toys R Us or Costco as I am sure some might suggest for justifying the expense. Ask yourself, do you treat your Mac better than you did your PC?

I think it would be beneficial for adults to separate the product from the experience. Treat it like any trip to a museum. Let the experience of the trip be the reward rather than the doll itself. Just from my experience with the girls, I found it harder to get them to want to leave the Kids Pottery Barn store than the AG store, contrary to my own expectations and probably because of my own expectations.

Cindy Bright said...

Hey John-

Nice post. I've started intercepting and recycling the catalogues before my 9 year-old sees them. The amount of longing they cause is painful. We now discuss costs in terms of how many times we can go skiing or do X instead of buying something else. It works well, as our whole family can ski for the evening for the price of the AG riding ensemble plus horse!