Of all the cockamamie marketing ploys I've come across lately, this one has to top them all.

The Pleasant Company and Mattel's marketing brain power came up with the latest American Girl Doll: Gwen Thompson, the Homeless Doll. She's blond, she's wearing a crisp white dress, brand new flip-flops, and like all American Girl Dolls she comes with her own story — along with the hefty price tag of $95 plus tax.


I've been a supporter of this company's dolls and the historical lessons they provide to girls as young as 4, as well as the collection of books dealing with many a girl issue: body image, friend problems, personal grooming, relationships, gossip, health, education, etc. I've also invested in a couple of the dollies which are now neatly resting in their boxes awaiting the next generation to love and learn with them.

However, Gwen is a different story all together. Her biography includes her father abandoning the family, living in a car, and her mom losing her job. OK, so this is a reflection of our present bad economic times and could represent anyone suffering these woes, but the price tag certainly doesn't reflect this trend, and therefore I find this newest limited edition doll to be somewhat hypocritical.

Also, I just can't seem to reconcile the notion of this doll joining the ranks of the historical characters the doll maker proudly displays at the stores behind glass enclosures complete with period furniture, dinner ware, and girl-doll matching outfits — all very pricey indeed. What will the company put in Gwen's glass case? I leave this to your imagination.

I've read very differing points of view regarding this down-on-her-luck doll; from indoctrinating little girls to be man-haters, to the potentially offensive material some might read into her biography. Here's a few:

“It seems obscene that a company that prides itself on teaching impressionable children about history and grooming — you can have your doll's hair done for $20! — should engage in political preaching. What message is being sent with Gwen? For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She's also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don't lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too. ” writes Andrea Peyser of the New York Post.

A friend living in New York wrote to me commenting on this very issue, “Shouldn't parents actually model behavior that shows their kids how very privileged they are? Like volunteering for a homeless shelter, or supporting a charity that helps the neediest families? I just don't get it”.

Neither do I, my dear.

My beef with the doll and it's maker is this: If you're going to hang the same price tag on traditional dolls and the 'homeless' doll,  then why not donate all the proceeds of Gwen's sale to this very cause or at least find a tie-in to benefit the socio-economic group this toy doll symbolizes.

Here's an idea: For a pre-determined amount of time a child/family spends volunteering to help the homeless, you could donate a percentage to the charity of their choice. Or, as Disney will be doing next year, join forces with a service organization and give your loyal customers a voucher for credit to use in your stores after their time and service has been verified. Disney will be giving their volunteers a free one day park pass for volunteering.

I couldn't agree more with how Amy Jussell of Shaping Youth spells out the contradictory nature the doll and the company represent at his point, “American Girl is sadly just hawking the plight for profit as a new ‘market opportunity’ to add another ‘historical context’ and ‘theme’ to their wares. (sure gives today’s economic downturn a present tense spin of ‘living history,’ through the doll, sigh)”

She goes a step further and suggests to parents, the ones who purchase the expensive dolls, to address Mattel directly:

What can parents do?

Write to Mattel/AG and ask that they (not their customers) set up a fund to benefit real girls and their parents in homeless shelters.

Robert A. Eckert
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Mattel, Inc.
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012

It's simple Mattel et al:

Put your money where your mouth is.

Practice what you preach.

Yada, yada, yada.

Get it?

Got it.


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