I know I’m probably the only one out their weird enough to review a catalogue, but I think the new Holiday catalogue really makes some interesting contrasts with my catalogue collection from the late nineties, so I am anxious to share my thoughts. I won’t be offended, though, if you don’t feel like reading my detailed page-by-page analysis of a catalogue. 🙂
These are the Holiday catalogue covers from 1997, 1998, and 1999:
The 2015 Holiday catalogue is very eye-catching catalogue with a lot of fun content, great pictures, and of course, beautiful products. It is very fun to look at (I’ve probably flipped through it 10 times already), but wow. Things sure are different from when I was a kid. To be fair, back then catalogues were American Girl’s only marketing strategy. Obviously today most sales are done through their website. They are of course going to look different, and there really are some advantages to the way things are done today. The pressure of having to fit every marketable item into the catalogue has lessened significantly since the infinite space of the world wide web is at their disposal.
Here are the pages on the inside covers on some of the late nineties catalogues:
The first picture in this new catalogue is really very cute, and the idea of bringing in an Instagram fan is kind of fun (and genius marketing: “Mom, if I get an American Girl doll I can take awesome pictures and American Girl will put me in their catalogue!”). It contrasts like crazy with the lovely sentiments that prelude the old catalogues (respecting each girl’s time period and making sure each is represented with integrity was clearly very important while in 2015, Addy, Maryellen, Samantha and a slew of girls who would have been born in completely different centuries are all hanging out and having a Christmas party), but also interestingly portrays more or less the same tone as the second picture. Things are changing, but American Girl still stands for a lot of the same things.
Before I get into my detailed, over-the-top, probably unnecessary analysis, I will just summarize my thoughts:
- Girls are different than they were 20 years ago, and I have to admit that I feel like they have moved on without me a bit. My love for American Girl grew from basically their exact mission statement as pictured in the first few pages of the old catalogues above, and that just really is not their focus any more. American Girl is trying to sell their product and has to adjust their marketing accordingly. Speaking in general, not as a rule of course, girls are less interested in historically perfect sets and care more about what is cute and sparkly. A lot of girls also would rather take pictures to post on social media sites than read a book set over 100 years ago. American Girl is changing with the times, which is sad in a way, but what choice do they have.
- American Girl is trying to sell it’s products from the historical line (or more accurately, “Beforever”, because apparently we can’t call them what they actually are) without making them actually be historical. Oh look, this is retro. This is vintage. Just throw your basketball uniform on that New Mexican-themed bed that could maybe be old fashioned but who really cares–let’s just be eclectic and whimsical. The historical products clearly are not where the money is being made. They are practically screaming, “No, no, no, you don’t have to buy Maryellen in order to buy this expensive diner! Just send your TrulyMe doll back in time, and look how cute she looks! Just buy our stuff, we don’t care!” For the first time since my American Girl Renaissance, I am scared for the future of the historical collection. I didn’t think that they would ever get rid of it, but now I really get the feeling that they are just trying to meld it into one big, interchangeable mix. The doom and gloom in me sees the day when the historical dolls no longer exist and instead there is just a line of “retro” clothes available for the modern dolls; an insufficient nod at their abandoned roots. Of course, I could be more optimistic and perhaps it’s possible that the rebranding and re-marketing of the line is what is will save it….maybe girls need to see that they can have both basketball uniforms and matroyshka dolls. Maybe that is what will help keep their interest and what will save them.
- I think to me it sort of looks like they are trying to teach girls how to play with their dolls. Sadly, I think with the advent of technology and constant entertainment, kids are forgetting how to have an imagination. I think American Girl is trying really hard to show them what to do once they have opened their expensive new toy. Set up your clothes and accessories and have them go shopping! Have a sleepover! Have your doll play with her own doll! Their pictures of course always alluded to this in a sense, but now especially with bringing aboard the social media aspect I think AG is really trying to break the conventions of what it means to “play with dolls” and show girls that there are no limitations. Take pictures! Make stop-motion videos! Mix-and-match your own outfits! Be creative! I really think AG is on target with this initiative, because creativity is so important and kids get fewer and fewer chances to be creative in school these days. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
On to the catalogue. Of course the Truly Me dolls are first, because of all the previously stated reasons. The doll they choose to feature is beautiful, though. One of my favorites. Turn the page and we have a little winter scene that really is quite nice, apart from a few little details. Let’s look at our musicians. First of all, even a beginner flute player would never hold a flute like that. The picture is obviously depicting a transition as they flip pages, but even so, the flute should be flipped right side up and her left hand should be near the head-joint (the top). That is the natural position you would use to hold a flute with one hand because of where your hand would already be from when you were playing. Whatever, AG. Just further reason why you should hire me. Also, while I do think the “Sparkle Spotlight Outfit” is pretty cute, I spend half my life teaching my students how to dress appropriately for our concerts and I often say the sentence “There is no such thing as dress shorts.” So thanks for that.
Moving on to the page with the horses, we have a nice picture by the featured Instagram photographer. It’s cute, and like I mentioned earlier, clever marketing. I chuckle to think about how many new followers this girl will have after this week and how many new AG themed Instagram accounts will be created.
I absolutely love the picture on page 16. They look like sisters opening up new dolls on Christmas morning! I think AG is bringing the emphasis of “a doll for your doll” back on the mini-dolls. I have never cared for the minis myself, but the idea of my Abby or Daphne having their own historical doll is kind of fun. It at least will hopefully encourage this new generation to have some shred of historical merchandise in their collections.
Not sure what’s happening here on page 18. We are shopping at a store that sells dance costumes as well as a school dress from the 1950s? I guess it’s just encouraging girls to be creative in how they use their collections, which is good.
Page 20-21: Coconut? Coconut? Where are you???? Heeeeeere, Coconut!
….seriously, where is Coconut?
Very cool Fan-Made Photo on page 25; at least this girl’s doll reads about Kaya!
Cute picture on page 27. Once again, I like the doll-for-your-doll emphasis. Some Julie products have snuck their way into this bedroom scene. This raises my eyebrows just because they’ve never done this historical-modern mix-and-match thing before, but I guess there is no reason why a girl from 2015 can’t have a yellow telephone and eat popcorn.
Page 28: “What Would I Put Together?” Fun idea, and I can’t frown too much at the historical items being masked as modern since I did this a bit for my own Mix and Match post. Definitely encouraging girls to be creative. It’s also neat to see some input from employees.
American Girl gave up on the logical system of featuring the dolls in their chronological time-period order sometime in the early 2000s, so we just jump right in with Maryellen from the 1950s. She is so beautiful and her collection really is outstanding, and of course being new it’s understandable that she gets several pages. Maryellen has a time-traveling friend join her in her diner (well, I’ve seen worse things I suppose…and really what else are you supposed to do with with all of those diner seats?) and the full sized feature on pages 50-51 makes me nostalgic for the catalogues from back in the day. I like that this page even features a little blurb about her book (What!? There are books? I thought that these were just pretty dolls to meant to be dressed in pink frillies!).
These are the full length pictures from the 1999 catalogue. I love them so so much. I feel a burning desire to make each of my dolls a personalized garland right now.
Samantha of course is beautiful and I was especially excited to see a little paragraph featuring some fun historical facts about her ice cream parlor! Maybe there is hope!
Addy looks adorable here! (She is next on my list!) And yay! More history! I love the rope feature on her bed and I will definitely get it one day. I have Caroline’s, which also has this perfect detail, and it is awesome.
Josefina gets a fun little behind the scenes-type of blurb here and also is graced with another “Fan Made Photo” that features Josefina in Caroline’s parlor. Josefina would have had powder blue walls and a model ship, right?…Oh well, I’ve seen worse. She does look very pretty and I love the addition of her fan to her Christmas dress.
Pages 60-61 is where I really grimace. This is literally the opposite of what American Girl used to be. We’ve gone from organized historical sets of beautiful products directly related to a series of books to come one, come all, mix and match all you want! Just buy our stuff, sure Kit can sit in Julie’s egg chair! Josefina can lay her basketball uniform out on her bed before she grabs her backpack and heads off to practice! And I am sure some music from a jukebox will help Rebecca drift right off to sleep! Maybe I’m thinking about it wrong, I don’t know. Maybe I am too much of a purist. My sister would strongly agree. Evidently she thinks I was horrible to play dolls with when we were little and that I ruined her childhood (I might have been a little uptight in how I played dolls, but I think her childhood was mostly undamaged). My perspective is that I have high standards, but her words include obsessive, extreme, and anal (we really do love each other, we are just good at being honest). I guess this maybe is a way to help girls think creatively and maybe I need to look at it as a healthy mix of culture rather than an explosion of disaster. Probably most 10 year olds would look at these pages and think they are adorable. I’m just having a hard time wrapping my mind around this new perspective, though if it encourages girls to buy the historical merchandise then I guess I can’t complain too much.
Keep flipping the pages and Rebecca, Kit, and Kaya are all featured with nice layouts and fun Fan Favorite Detail sections. I especially like that the mention the research that went into Kaya’s set (though I was sure I remember reading in her books that her teepee was made of tule mats, not buffalo hide…I will have to check on that). Kaya also has a nice Fan Photo on her page.
I adore the picture on page 68. They are doing an admirable job in convincing me that Abby and Daphne need dolls of their own. Yeah, I’m pretty convinced, actually. I’m thinking Kaya for Daphne and Maryellen or Rebecca for Abby.
It really is a fun catalogue, I just yearn a bit for the times of old. I can’t keep times from changing and I should just feel good that there are still girls who want to play with dolls. In my own little world of dolls, historical accuracy will always be important, but I respect my fellow AG fans’ right to play with their dolls however they choose. Something I need to remember is that were it not for AG’s marketing, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. About this time last year, a catalogue showed up at my mom’s house which sparked nostalgia and a Christmas gift idea…