American Girl is trying to ignite the philanthropic spark in girls with a new campaign to donate $1 million worth of cash and goods to four nonprofit groups.
At the same time, the Middleton company is promoting sales of the custom-designed version of its dolls — with updated and enhanced features — and driving repeat visits to its website, chock-full of games, activities, and an array of products to buy.
"It's kind of creative, actually," said Joann Peck, associate professor of marketing with the UW-Madison School of Business.
The fundraising campaign, Shine On Now, began Monday. Its goal: to provide $1 million in cash, clothes, books and dolls, divided among four organizations: Kids in Distressed Situations (KIDS); National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions; National Wildlife Federation; and Save the Children.
Girls who click on the Shine On Now logo on the American Girl website (www.americangirl.com) or go directly to www.shineonnow.com can sign up as an "ambassador" and get a 10-page e-mail telling them how to spread the word about Shine On Now and offering tips on how to raise money or volunteer for causes in their own communities.
Then, starting July 13, each day a girl goes to the Shine On Now website, she can designate as many as 100 stars to American Girl's fundraising program. If the company tallies 1 million stars by July 31, it will donate the maximum, $1 million in cash and products.
The idea is "to get (girls) interested in philanthropy, to inspire them to want to give back," American Girl spokeswoman Julie Parks said. "We do know that when girls put their minds to it, they can make a huge difference."
The other goal, Parks agreed, is to get girls to return to American Girl's website. And when they do, they will see a pitch, also starting July 13, on the My American Girl doll, a newer version of the current Just Like You doll, aimed at girls ages 8 and up.
Girls can to choose from an array of features and accessories for My American Girl, and while the dolls won't come with a book — as the historic line of dolls does — their purchase will provide access to the Innerstar University website with games, activities and other offerings for girls and their My American Girl dolls, Parks said.
"We know girls are spending more time online than ever before," she said. "This is, by far, much more enriching, content-focused and much more engaging for girls than anything we've ever created for the contemporary line."
The UW's Peck said the philanthropic angle is a good one and will probably resonate with parents and grandparents who buy the $95 dolls.
"At least, American Girl is adding this ‘help society' slant to the whole thing," she said.
Meanwhile, Peck said, the company will be able to collect a lot of data on its target market, 8-12 year old girls, based on which features draw the girls' interest on the Innerstar University website.
"They will know their target inside and out and what their target spends time on online," Peck said. "The more the company gets to know its target, the more they can offer things the customer might find valuable."