Christina Binkley visits Middleton’s American Girl (a unit of Mattel):
A little more than a year ago, executives at the dollmaker American Girl sat down to undertake a high-stakes marketing mission: cramming everything the company deems uplifting and authentic about American girls into a single plastic and cloth figure. The goal: to create a character so compelling that parents will pay $86 for an 18-inch doll and a paperback book.
Working with a trove of customer feedback culled from its magazine, Web and book-publishing empire, the company determined that the typical girl these days is dependable, athletic and loves animals. She is also completely overscheduled and stressed out. She skis like a demon, rides horses, trains guide dogs, plans school parties, washes the dishes, battles popularity crises and helps her little brother with his math homework.
The improbable result is Nicki Fleming, the company’s 2007 Girl of the Year — an annual event in which the Mattel Inc. unit releases, on Jan. 1, a new doll meant to capture the current state of girlhood. Nicki’s dog Sprocket, together with training treats, a collar and leash, sells for $24. Her horse Jackson with Western saddle costs $62; his tack box, curry brush and carrots are $34.
Mattel’s (Jill Barrad was CEO at the time) acquisition of Pleasant Rowland’s American Girl for some $700M lead the way to the creation of Madison’s Overture Center. Former Oscar Meyer CEO Bob Eckert currently runs Mattel.