October 31, 2013 smz-blog

Experiential Branding – A Visit to American Girl Place


Some 40,000 people were in the Windy City to run the Chicago Marathon recently, but they had nothing on the four of us who “sprinted” up Michigan Avenue to American Girl Place instead!

Upon entering, it’s quickly apparent why American Girl is not called a “store,” but rather, a “place,” an “experience,” because it is that, and so much more.  American Girl helped me to experience so many things on so many levels.

As a mom, I was reduced to tears – of joy mostly (the price tags caused a few tears of sorrow).  The look on my daughter’s face, on my friend’s daughter’s face, on the faces of the other kids in the store were all looks of pure radiance.  As young as the kids were, they knew they weren’t just there to pick out a doll, but rather to create a lasting memory.  They weren’t just picking out matching clothes for themselves and their doll; they were shaping its personality while discovering new things about themselves in the process.  Why spend a day running 26 agonizing miles when you could spend a day in dolly delight!

As a marketer, I was inspired.  And not just because American Girl Place occupies two floors of the famed Water Tower, has over 50 different dolls from which to choose, thousands of items to adorn, accompany and accessorize said dolls, a restaurant that requires reservations for diners and their dolls, a hair salon, ear piercing station, hospital, and shoe store (all for the dolls of course).  It’s because even given all of this, it is NOT a place about stuff.  It’s a place about emotion.  No doubt they get you to buy lots of stuff, but like all great brands, what they really do is make you feel something about all of that stuff.  You know that there is no other place you can go that is like it.  You know that the restaurant serves dessert with breakfast (that’s great branding when your target audience is 5-12 year olds). You know that your daughter will remember it forever.  You know that walking back up Miracle Mile, past Nike Town, past Rolex with the white-gloved handlers, past Disney, (ok, that one we had to go in), that you have just been in the company of another of the world’s great brands.

As a female, I was empowered. I knew of the historical significance behind the original dolls, but had no idea of the stories behind the newer contemporary dolls.  No idea that each doll came with a necklace and each new outfit contained a new charm for that necklace.  No idea that the charms were based on admirable characteristics intended to show the doll’s spirit.  Qualities such as: strong, confident, kind, proud, loyal, smart, real, brave, fair.  As the literature describes it, “ … celebrate what’s on the inside with words she wears on the outside.”  Isn’t that a lesson that all moms want to teach their daughters?

So when people asked me about my American Girl marathon weekend, I was so happy to tell them how amazing it was.  We went to a great “place” and had a great “experience” and not once worried about hydration!



Pam Renusch, EVP, Group Account Director

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