American Girl, Holiday 1999

If you are looking for an apparel catalog with extensive copy, don’t seek out the American Girl book. For some judges, the lack of details about the merchandise was enough of a shortcoming to prevent the cataloger’s holiday 1999 edition from taking home a Gold Award.

But other judges argued that the 8- to 12-year-old girls who are this catalog’s target market have no interest in reading lengthy product descriptions; they’d rather look at the pictures. And, in fact, the active lifestyle photography reinforces the catalog’s commitment to becoming a major outfitter of girls as much as it catches readers’ attention. What’s more, the ethnically diverse models support the goal of parent company Pleasant Co. (a division of toy giant Mattel) to provide images that all girls can relate to.

But the still-life shots received praise too. “It’s appealing the way the clothing product shots are arranged so that they appear to be dancing,” said one judge.

The catalog’s ability to cross-sell by featuring items on multiple pages in different combinations was also a big hit with the judges. While this can be effective in any apparel catalog, it is tailor-made for an audience still learning to create ensembles and make their own distinct look.

And the judges praised the customer service policies as well as the features that promote the brand. For one thing, the 800-number not only appears on each page, but it is set off in a purple box with the Web address as well. (And the clearly worded and easy-to-follow order instructions warn that customers must be at least 18 years old to order online.) Then there’s the 100% guarantee, which is sure to please the parents who will be footing the bill. And the catalog includes an American Girl postcard, which proves that “viral marketing” isn’t limited to the Web: Girls who send the card to friends are, intentionally or not, spreading the word about the American Girl brand. At the same time, giving girls this sort of freebie will help generate good will, too.

The American Girl apparel catalog is irresistibly cute, but that does not obscure the solid foundation of marketing and design that propelled it to Silver Award-winning status. The judges agreed: This is a catalog that knows its target market and caters to it in every way possible.

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