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Professor researches doll marketing

Marisa Iati | Thursday, February 3, 2011

Notre Dame marketing professor John F. Sherry, Jr. received the 2011 William R. Davidson Honorable Mention Award from the “Journal of Retailing,” where his article on the American Girl Company appeared in 2009.

Sherry’s article is titled, “Why Are Themed Brand Stores so Powerful? Retail Brand Ideology at American Girl Place.” Sherry and five other college professors wrote the article after observing customers at American Girl Place in Chicago, Sherry said.

Sherry said the most interesting aspect of the project was being admitted into the female world of American Girl Place.

The Journal of Retailing is a marketing journal that publishes four issues annually. One article each year receives the Award for Best Paper and one receives the Honorable Mention Award, Sherry said.

Sherry and his colleagues will receive a plaque at the American Marketing Association Winter Educators’ Conference in Boston later this month.

Sherry said he chose to research American Girl because he wanted to study a retail company that caters to females.

“I had studied a number of other retail outlets that were more masculine in character, places like Niketown and ESPN Zone,” Sherry said. “Most of them that I studied before were male-oriented, and it struck me as a good idea to try to understand a female counterpart.”

Sherry and the other researchers studied consumers’ relationships with American Girl Place by observing customers at the store.

“I’m an anthropologist by training, so the research I do is called ethnographic research,” Sherry said. “What that means is you collect participant observations, a lot of video-taping and photography. The idea is to actually be present when the consumers are using the services so you can catch them in the act.”

The researchers focused on how consumers co-create their experiences with the American Girl brand, Sherry said.

“Marketers create a product, but they don’t control all the meanings associated with it; they don’t control the behaviors the consumers engage in,” Sherry said. “We’re interested in what the consumers do with the brand to create that brand. The [marketing] field is still trying to understand what makes for an iconic brand.”

In addition to writing the journal article, the researchers also created a film in order to produce multiple ways to understand American Girl Place.

Sherry said working with researchers of different ages and ethnicities was also exciting because they brought different perspectives on the problem. The other researchers are from Loyola University and DePaul University in Chicago, York University in Canada and Bocconi University in Italy.

Sherry has taught at the University of Florida, Katholieke Universiteit in Belgium, Chulalongkorn University Bangkok in Thailand and Northwestern University. He has been the Raymond W. & Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Marketing at the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame since 2005.