Recently, my five-year-old daughter dragged our family to the American Girl doll store.
For those of you who don’t know, the American Girl brand sells traditional dolls , and creates detailed, historical backstories that bring their character to life. Each doll is given a realistic set of circumstances that she faces along with a larger biography that includes the historical period and geographic location in which she lives. In addition, each American Girl doll reflects a distinct personality and carries a specific belief system that guides her through her world.
What makes American Girl so successful is its creation and promotion of modern day mythology, where characters serve as role models and embody narratives that teach real lessons and immerse their audience of young girls in a very deep experience from a tender age. And what’s most impressive about the American Girl brand is that they treat their young customers with the utmost respect. They don’t hide the difficulties or pains of real life. More than just wanting a dream house or a convertible, these characters have real issues to deal with, whether it be living through the Depression or being an African-American child during the Civil War.
The worlds created for and by these characters are absorbing, with enough depth and detail to engross child and parent. The characters act as protagonists to shepherd the audience through a realistic and sometimes scary but exciting world. Each American Girl is a safe guide that allows these young consumers like my daughter to experience and navigate a world where there are problems to be confronted and overcome.
Marketers should take note of American Girl’s success: Your future customers will be much more demanding in terms of brand storytelling. While some brands of today can get by or even succeed by focusing on taste, provenance or ingredients, future audiences will need to be engaged with the character of the
brand. The choices consumers make will be increasingly more intertwined with the choices that brands make when bringing their products to market.
The toys of today are not just playthings but tools to train our youth on how to become consumers. Their interactions with brands teach lessons that will last a lifetime. And if American Girl can teach us anything, it’s that companies in the future will be judged not by the color of their packaging but the content of their character.