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A brand’s success depends on its ability to recognize certain values inherent to the lifestyle of the target audience that it caters to

American Girl, an iconic American brand of dolls, is an example of a product that was not able to keep up with the profound changes that have characterized the lifestyles of children [and their parents] in the US

Below is an article from 2010 in which we explore an American brand’s success. Our analysis sought to emphasize the importance of being relevant to certain lifestyles and to the values connected to them.

What we presented in 2010 was the historical context of American Girl’s branding campaign over the previous years, picking apart the critical factors of its success.

American Girl is an example of a product that was developed according to the characteristics of a specific segment of the American market, which is why it was an undisputed success in the US for years.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that 2010 marked the peak of American Girl’s success. In the years that followed, the company continued to pursue the same developmental strategy, opening an additional six stores in America, without realizing that the market was changing. With the advent of social media [which in 2010 was still in its infancy], our way of communicating as well as of distributing and selling products changed, and remaining anchored to one’s mono-brand stores turned out to be a fatal decision.

In 2017 the company’s sales totaled $88 million (a 30% decrease as compared to 2016) and the weight of personnel costs and fixed costs was draining the financial resources available for new investments in the American market. Looking at the analysis conducted in 2010, and in light of the almost epic changes which have taken place over the past decade, it’s easy to identify the strategic faults in the product’s market placement. The article is a useful read in order to better understand what is at the root of a product’s success in America.

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The Strength of a Brand in the United States Exemplified by a Line of Dolls: the Case of American Girl

American Girl was established as a line of dolls in the US in 1986, but the products offered are much more than simple toys

Branding strategies for the United States

This division of Mattel Inc., known in Europe for the marketing of very popular toys such as Barbie, has managed to build a strong brand in the United States, with strategic characteristics that have permitted it to sell dolls in America at a considerable premium price.

Entering one of the 17 stores present in the country, one is immediately aware that American Girl offers consumers not only a doll, but an experience. And this is the essential component of building a brand in the United States.

The atmosphere inside the store is one in which any parent would want their child to grow up: calm, orderly, colorful, and never chaotic. In fact, American Girl caters primarily to parents, seeking to guide them in their pedagogical choices by offering a complete product that leaves nothing to be desired: each doll is characterized by a story in which children can project and imagine themselves and the product is well-packaged and safe.

In parents’ eyes, all of this (in addition to a series of services offered within the stores) justifies the product’s high price tag, with that very price tag becoming a fundamental element in creating the perception of an elite and sophisticated product.

During the first years in which the doll was introduced in America, its price was so high that it was accessible to only a limited portion of American consumers. Thus it became the “dream doll” for little girls at the time. Those little girls then grew up, becoming the women and mothers of today, who have no doubts about which is the best gift to give their daughters: an American Girl doll. This also allows parents to participate in the little consumer’s development: giving an American Girl doll is just the beginning of an all-encompassing experience characterized by various elements.

Elements for Building a Brand in the United States


The concept sold by American Girl is that of a unique and “old style” doll, different from the impersonal electronic toys that today’s children are used to playing with. American Girl offers little girls the chance to get together with other little girls and their dolls and provides age-appropriate materials through which they can learn and grow with old-fashioned values.

All of the elements listed above are critical factors in the successful creation of the American Girl brand. They are factors which seek to earn the consent of parents, who are, of course, those with the spending capacity and with the power to decide whether or not to purchase a certain product. This is why American Girl works to convince parents of the product’s quality and value, thus increasing their willingness to pay while offering the product at a price with a high profit margin.

American Girl was able to build a brand that, alone, is worth approximately $125 million (2016), thanks to its ability to satisfy the needs and expectations of parents and to maintain the promise of accompanying young consumers as they grow. The product offered by American Girl is unique thanks to the characteristics and services which accompany it, therefore the elasticity of the consumer price needs to be very low: considerable variations in price do not result in equally considerable changes in terms of sales. American Girl owes its success to the strength of its brand, to its positioning, and therefore to the client’s perception of the brand itself. Parents are not only interested in the purchase of the doll, but also in the idea which the doll represents: uniqueness, reliability, and the sharing of values and ideals.

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