Thursday, October 8, 2009

VERITAS: FUMBLE - GWEN THE HOMELESS DOLL


Mattel subsidiary American Girl has been weathering the tumultuous launch of its latest doll, Gwen. American Girl is an extremely popular product that has cultivated an very devoted consumer base. Dolls are sold for $95, each with its own back-story, and American Girl offers a huge variety of accessories for its dolls. In this case, Gwen’s back-story has sparked controversy: Gwen’s family has fallen on tough times, like many families in the past year, having gone through parental separation and subsequently losing their home and living out of their car. After finding refuge in a homeless shelter, Gwen and her family are able to establish themselves in an apartment. New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser called Mattel’s strategy and execution into question, going so far as to say that Mattel was engaging in ‘political indoctrination.’ From there, opinions from all corners of the internet have emerged. Homeless advocacy blogs (i.e Change.org), parenting blogs (Parentdish, Dadomatic)and consumer focused blogs (Consumerist Blog) have all made their case about the appropriateness of Gwen’s back-story and Mattel’s approach. The Veritas team has discussed this and are giving Mattel a Fumble. Without making any judgments about their choice of back- story, the Fumble stems from the fact that Mattel didn’t provide any context to its consumer or media audience in advance of the launch. Consumers, parents and housing advocates were all left to interpret Mattel’s intentions as they saw fit. With a high price point and little mention of charitable contributions made from profits, Mattel was left open to being called insensitive, and was perceived as profiteering from a very real and sensitive issue. Although Mattel eventually (and reactively) issued a release with HomeAid America to explain their actions, they had already lost the opportunity to participate in the discussion that had taken off without them.

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