Creative Thinking

How American Girl Creates Biographical Brand Stories

By Dara Cohen on August 28, 2018

Growing up, all I wanted was an American Girl doll. I read American Girl Magazine cover to cover, circling the doll I loved the most (Molly, because we were both brunettes), and imagining the outfits she would wear that matched not only her (imaginary) personality and interests but mine, too. When the day finally came, and I got the doll as a gift from my parents, it felt like a childhood rite of passage. When I found out we were going to Chicago to visit the American Girl Store a year or two later, my nine-year-old self couldn't wait to pick out matching outfits for Molly and me.

The goal of any brand is to create a seamless connection with the members of its audience. American Girl has mastered this approach by creating and maintaining a sense of brand loyalty which spans decades and reaches across different generations. They've managed to build an empire with an interactive, multi-channel, content experience that allows every girl to confidently tell her own story through their products.

Perfecting the Personalized Approach

Imagine walking down the toy aisle as a child, and stumbling across a doll that not only looks just like you, but even shares some of your own hobbies, family traditions, or future career dreams.

American Girl knows how different each girl is, so they built a line of products that appeals to every child's own ongoing story. From the historical dolls in their BeForever line showing that girls from past generations "were as important in the past as they are in the present," to modern characters like the filmmaker Z Yang, to their Bitty Babies dolls targeted to the youngest parts of their audience, the brand offers a personalized doll for any child to find themselves in. They're constantly expanding to new interest areas, announcing a new "Girl of the Year" every January 1. This year's girl, Luciana Vega, who is described as "creative and confident with a serious science streak," encourages girls to embrace interests in STEM programs.

The options for girls to control their own product experience goes even further with American Girl's digital Create Your Own feature on its website that allows users to build their own customizable dolls "from over a million different combinations." On the site, customers can choose their doll's hair and eye color, and add in special attributes like freckles, hearing aids, and customizable clothing. Once a doll is set for creation, American Girl extends the entire experience into a multi-content package, pairing your doll with their own book, shirt, and six-month subscription to the brand's print publication.

Dara Doll

Image attribution: American Girl

Ask any girl who has or had an American Girl doll why they chose the doll they did, and you'll probably find that she recognized something in the doll that she also saw in herself. The variety of dolls available and the active role that each girl takes in the design process allows them to express their own individuality through the brand, making it a truly innovative form of representation.

Building Strong Character

American Girl's mission is to "be a trusted partner in building girls of strong character." This value is at the center of every doll, video, game, article, and in-person experience they create, and it is why they take the time to infuse every product with a rich, personal history.

In an interview with AdAge, American Girl's VP of marketing Julia Prohaska explained, "While it would be easy to call us a doll company, we've always thought of ourselves as storytellers, creating inspiring stories and advice that help girls reach their full potential and ultimately connect girls with each other across time, across circumstances and across generations." These evolving stories and personalities allow girls to grow alongside the brand and show them that no matter what they are going through, they are not alone.

Beyond creating meaningful one-on-one customer relationships, American Girl takes their brand purpose to a new level by practicing what they preach, donating over $125 million to organizations such as Save the Children and the Madison Children's Museum. With these efforts, they have proven their brand extends beyond offering a material service and touches thousands of human lives. In a time where consumers are looking for brands that align with their own values to maintain brand loyalty, American Girl is able to demonstrate this in all aspects of their brand, from product conception to launch.

Providing Multi-Channel Interactions

American Girl brand magazine

Image attribution: Clotee Pridgen Allochuku

In the retail space, flashy new products are launched all the time. Children beg for the newest gadget, and once they get it, play with it for a few weeks until something better comes along and it's thrown into a corner. How does a brand avoid this one-and-done approach?

The solution is to create enough content to offer customers a long-term, multi-faceted investment that can then be leveraged across numerous channels. From physical stores, magazines and books, interactive digital games, and even a major motion picture, American Girl has turned a single product into an entire ecosystem of content experiences that children will delight in consuming again and again. At the end of this year, their newest channel will be making its debut: American Girl Live. This live musical production featuring original music and an "unforgettable experience" will be touring the United States in the coming months.

What's more, the brand also builds connections across each of its many channels. For every purchased toy, American Girl offers a complementary book that expands on the story of that particular doll, allowing the owner to build a deeper connection beyond the tangible object.

Reaching Beyond Your Target Audience

Clearly, American Girl has mastered its appeal to its target audience, girls in the age range of ages 3-12. But they've also found a way to reach an essential secondary audience-the parents in charge of making the final purchasing decisions.

American Girl has established itself as a valuable educational and trustworthy brand to this older demographic with a content line specifically dedicated to adults that offers advice and insights on common (and sometimes uncomfortable) parent-child conversations. These materials include articles on being a good sport, becoming a blended family and how to handle news headlines.

Tapping into this content area allows parents to introduce these topics with a voice their children will find familiar and comforting, the voice of American Girl. Their short, to-the-point articles and books give parents the tools to have productive, informative conversations. Creating this content aligns with their mission of creating character that counts, allowing girls and adults to build connections with each other through a trusted source of information.

American Girl has proven that you can create content and storified experiences around an initial product. What started as only a line of dolls and a catalog has expanded to a multi-channel, multi-product, interactive content experience that different generations adore and bond over. By creating genuine content that's valuable to both parents and kids, it's easy to see why American Girl has been able to build brand loyalty and maintain it for generations.

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Featured image attribution: Jelleke Vanooteghem


Dara Cohen

Dara Cohen is a Demand Generation Specialist at Skyword. She graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015 where she studied Sociology and English. Dara enjoys exploring the streets (and eats) of Boston, spending time with family and friends, and is looking forward to the day when she can go back to Barcelona, her favorite city.