Toy company breaks little girls’ hearts

Companies don’t realize that starting a community is a commitment. You can’t get people to move in and hand over their time and attention and then just one day decide to close.

Mattel is shutting down its American Girl Club and our daughter is rightfully upset. She joined the community and made friends there and now Mattel is pulling up and leaving town. Because of the anonymity features of the community, this means that thousands of friendships are suddenly cut off; they communicate only through the club. It’s like putting up a Berlin Wall around third grades the world around. That’s the worst of it. Mattel also took parents’ money to set up this club. They are offering prorated refunds or issues of their magazines. But in the land of communities, that’s like taking away homes and mortgages, for it’s not the company’s community but the members’ community. This is a case of online eminent domain. Of course, business happens; obviously, it wasn’t paying to keep the club open. But I’ll bet that Mattel — like other companies — didn’t know the obligation it took on when it started this community and the damage it does to its brand shutting it down.

Toy companies should not be in the business of making children sad.

: LATER: Rex Hammock goes meta on Mattel.

  • Not good! I know YOU know the brand behind American Girl. But, does your daughter? Will SHE remember Mattel shuttered the community? Ask her if she misses the group 6 weeks from now. (Why six? Well, it’s gotta be something… you decide.) Point is, I’m thinking she’ll be itching for that next Mattel thingamabob (just like my boys and their Pixar Car toys… by Mattel no less).

    If a company like Blizzard was going to shut down World of Warcraft (rabid community there!)… how should they go about dismantling it? How should Mattel have queued their shut down of American Girl Club? Slowly and over time? All of a sudden? Their brand impact is probably not going to feel a dent as spread across the toy spectrum as they are and as transparent as the Mattel brand is behind their toy lines. Blizzard on the other hand is synonymous with WoW… May be that different rules apply…

  • Perhaps third grade is a good time for a girl to start learning that there are friends, and there is business. Mattel is a business, and makes business decisions. It’s not nice, but it is reality. Networks of friends… will someone find the business model to make that good business? Mattel pulled the plug. It’s not a bad idea to know what the motivations are for our associations…networts, and friendships. It’s a lesson worth learning or beginning to learn anyway in third grade.

  • adslfan

    just get a myspace account. everyone is doing that.

  • Ed Rusch

    “Because of the anonymity features of the community”

    As the father of two girls, I find that an excellent reason to shut it down.

    If you see this as an excellent market opportunity, form your own community for third graders. You’re quick to criticize others, Jeffy, but I’ve never seen you do anything on your own.

  • Couldn’t she start a little sub-community, and invite her friends to come there to visit. Calling it Former American Girlers or something? I suspect your servers would handle it well enuff.

  • Mr. Jarvis, I agree 100%. And Mr. Buckley in this post brings up the issue of gaming, not realizing that it strengthens your argument: our toys are now part of virtual worlds, where we meet real people and make real friends.

    For more on just how significant virtual worlds are:

  • This is just another example of idiocy in the corporate world. The cost of shutting down the community in an approrpiate manner would be much cheaper than simply casting aside all the people that have put some of themselves into that community.

    How hard would it be to give everybody notice and then spin off a new small company just to service the community? I’m sure once it was severed from the braindead main company that it would be able to find ways to monetize the concept, perhaps even having some type of special sponsorship relationship with these bozos.

    At the very least, give the community members the a safe way to hang onto the relationships they have made. Maybe there is something going on in this regard, I hope? If not, they have a large group of people that are obviously network savvy who will be happy to complain about the company for the next ten years.

  • Have those of you criticizing this post or offering alternatives actually had children who have been in the American Girl Club so you understand what made it different than myspace or other online community? Doesn’t sound like it.

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  • Ed Rusch

    Actually, Judi, I have two daughters. I do understand.

    That doesn’t mean I think Mattel owes me anything. They’ve already given us plenty of advance warning and a refund. That’s the proper way to do things. It’s unrealistic and an example of our entitlement society to insist a company continue to subsidize something I find useful.

  • My daughter was equally heartbroken. It’s up to Mattel to decide what it needs to do as a business and I don’t for a moment pretend to have any insight or inside information about their finances.

    But it’s hard to imaging having girls go online to talk about your product, buy stuff for their dolls, discuss stories about your product, share ideas for your product, arrange parties and trips around your product and tell their friends to join and pay to do the same can somehow be bad for your business.

    The American Girl phenomenon is an absolute money mint, and part of that has to do with the evangelizing one girl does with another. The site is better than free marketing – it’s marketing people PAY to have access to, and to add to. There is more value in that than a bottom line may indicate.

    Again, I claim no entitlement or even moral outrage. I just wonder about the shortsightedness, and I can’t help but think this is simply a case of one division not talking to another.

  • Sally Sue

    why dont they just get a myspace its better anyway!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Will In Az

    This is typical of the behavior of trans-national corporations nowadays. They have decided that the service is not profitable and simply cannot see the value in a loyal community of customers and have never cared about the parents or children. Their decision about the club’s non-profitability has been made and the mask of caring is off. Mattel never cared about the children, just the parent’s money.

    Parents should use the power of the Internet to make Mattel’s asshattery as ineffective as possible (and publicize it as well).

    The simple way is to take the pro-rated cash (taking magazine subscriptions results in Mattel profiting off the parents again, in the face of their asshattery) and invest in some web-hosting space. The approach to forums that Mattel is using is very simple to implement.

    I’m sure that if just a couple dozen of the disgruntled parents came together to pool their rebates, they could purchase several-years worth of web-hosting, with all the bandwidth and storage neccesary.

  • Wan

    Mattel got girls to join, make friends, work towards goals,(like with the stars)and then decides it did not sell enough memberships to make a profit. They have not (in my opion) gave the website/club long enough. Did they give a month of free club for every doll sold? Advertise in the books? They are not going to look back at closing the club.
    Yet how many parents are going to stop buying the dolls? How many will make a statement that they are unhappy about this? We have been to the stores in Chicago and LA. We are going to New York for Christmas. We will now take the AG store off our list to visit. I for one will be selling all our american girl stuff on ebay. We have/had 15 dolls, not to mention the clothes. We have spent thousands in the last 18 months and we will not spend a dime more.

  • AG mom

    Obviously, the only thing Mattel is concerned about is the bottom line, but I agree with the notion that this club generated extra interest, and therefor, revenue for the company. It leads me to wonder if there were other problems involved and not disclosed to us as to why the club is being stopped…

  • Online communiities which are wholesome and controlled for youth are important and rare.

    Our foundation is looking to create a global village for girls to meet up and communicate. The basic premise of the village will be to create awareness of cultural differences and introduce opportunities for girls to begin humanitarian activities through the purchase of age appropriate treasures which are made by women and children in need from around the globe.

    As the saying goes “When one door closes, another opens” and maybe with the closing of the American Girl online club girls will be open to exploring other online communities which promote social causes and humanitarianism through the experiences of dolls promoted on the site.

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  • American Club should open up another club right now. It would be extremely popular. You have many social networking sites that are opening for children. This is the future and they will be left out of the loop.