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November 6, 2005
The Shock Of Taking Political Stands In Business

Newsweek covers a story that has percolated a while in the blogs and at a lower profile in the media recently -- the backlash against the American Girls line of dolls produced by Mattel. Designed to provide a more wholesome image than the whore-image Bratz line and a more realistic image than mechanically impossible Barbie dolls, American Girls has had phenomenal success, especially among families that consider themselves more sensitive to self-image issues. Primarily, the AmGirl market focused on more socially conservative families.

Unfortunately, AmGirl made the mistake of going overtly political by donating a $50K to Girls, Inc, which used to be known as The Girls Clubs, and promoting its charitable outreach. Girls, Inc explicitly promotes the upholding of Roe v Wade and homosexual rights on its website, which AmGirl devotees soon learned. Now AmGirl and GirlsInc executives proclaim themselves "shocked" that the partnership has created such a controversy:

American Girl, which prides itself on being the antidote to our Paris Hilton impulses, was blindsided by the reaction. The religious right has long been alert to even the most tenuous hints of homosexual cues in popular culture (see outing of Tinky Winky), but American Girl intends to sponsor math, science and athletic programs at Girls Inc. The company is horrified by the thought of an anti-abortion demonstration. "Given this group's focus on family values, we will find it particularly shocking and ironic if they choose to use graphic images in front of innocent little girls," says American Girl spokesperson Julie Parks.

Girls Inc. was caught off guard, too. The last time it got into trouble was in 1999, when some of its members questioned a partnership with Barbie, fearing the svelte dolls would create body-image issues among the girls who played with them. Founded 141 years ago, Girls Inc., which used to be known as Girls Clubs, offers after-school programs to underprivileged girls on subjects ranging from pregnancy prevention to substance abuse. And on its vast Web site, amid proclamations of empowerment, Girls Inc. states its support for girls who might be questioning their sexuality, as well as a woman's right to an abortion. "We went into this feeling so great and so positive about this partnership," says Girls Inc. president Joyce Roche. "We have been shocked."

Let's get this straight. I have no problem with corporations making donations to whatever cause their sharholders and their representatives (board, executives) deem fit. However, it seems to me that promoting a line of little girls' dolls to conservatives and then connecting the profits to a group promoting abortion comes as close to economic stupidity and hypocrisy as one can get. One could expect that kind of linkage with Bratz girls; considering what kind of lessons that line of dolls teaches, Planned Parenthood may as well produce the dolls themselves as promotional materials anyway. But perhaps it would be best for manufacturers like AmGirls to just stay out of politics in the first place -- or to remain consistent about their politics if they want to keep their customers happy.

For their shock, shock! at finding their self-selected conservative market unhappy and rebellious at their support of abortion, the AmGirls and GirlsInc executives get the Captain Louis Renault award from CQ. My guess is that the bright AmGirl marketing exec who came up with the idea of linking the two organizations will soon receive a different kind of award from the bosses.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 6, 2005 9:32 AM

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