“Girl Scout cookies”. Once a year, those three words are able to invoke strong emotions into the hearts and souls of the American public. Whether it is dread over having to deliver an immense amount of cookies to eager customers or excitement over replenishing last year’s stockpile, the little baked goods occupy a certain place in most people’s minds. After more than fifty years in existence and several recessions along the way, Girl Scouts are still as popular as ever and have never lacked a sizable consumer base. A major part of this success is due to clever marketing over the years and revitalizing the brand by licensing other companies to provide their take on the cookies, usually by incorporating the flavors into their products. It is also important to note how things can go wrong for corporations if they are a poor fit for the image the Girl Scouts of America has cultivated over the years
The earliest documented cookie drive occurred in December 1917 with the Muskegee, Oklahoma Mistletoe troop leading the event. The idea continued during the 1920s and 1930s as Girl Scout troops baked simple sugar cookies and sold them independently. Around the mid-1930’s, commercial bakeries approached the organization about producing the cookies, but it was not until 1951 when ABC Bakery began producing shortbread, thin mint, and sandwich varieties of cookies for the scouts to sell. Presently, ABC Bakery and Little Brownie Bakers are licensed to produce the eight varieties of Girl Scout cookies that have been altered over the years to suit the demands of the American public. Despite flour shortages during World War II and the trans-fat controversy in 2005, the cookies manage to sell in huge quantities each year. Most consumers are not aware of it, but a clever advertising technique keeps them coming back for more each year.
In marketing, there is concept known as “brand personality” ,which is used to sell a product based on human characteristics. According to brand personality, a person is more likely to repeatedly buy a product if they can relate to the traits the brand is attempting to convey. The Girl Scout’s brand personality has been developed over the past fifty years. Sweet, innocent, and adorable are usually the first few words that are formulated if one is asked to describe a Girl Scout. These adjectives allow the brand to fall under the “excitement” category of brand personalities. The youthful image has helped the organization eventually license the flavors to companies that also embody a similar brand personality.
In the past few years, three corporations have taken advantage of the long-running success that is associated with the Girl Scout cookie brand. The Edy’s ice cream company started this trend in 2001 by offering Thin Mint and Samoa flavors from January to April. This was seen as an answer to the cookie fanatics that have gone through frozen supply of cookies and are still craving the treats. The organization made the crossover to the beauty industry and licensed the Girl Scout cookie product name to the cosmetic company Bonne Bell in 2011. The company’s Lip Smackers division, which targets the 8 to 13 age market, put out a set of chap sticks and lip glosses that captured the scents of the five iconic varieties of Girl Scout cookies. Nestled between the original scents of strawberry, pink lemonade, and various other summery sweet treats are the thin mint, peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter, trefoils, and coconut caramel stripes that drive the American public wild. These two products have been accepted by ice cream aficionados and beauty products junkies, young and old, with welcome arms and as brilliant alternatives to their beloved cookies.
The third corporation has not been seen the amount of success and praise the other two have received in response to the Girl Scout inspired products. Dana Angelo White, a healthy food blogger and dietitian for the Food Network compiled a list of unofficial, waistline-friendly recipes that replicated the taste of Girl Scout cookies. While the cookies had the same fundamental ingredients as their commercially produced counterparts, something was amiss in the presentation. The comments on the blog reflected a mixed perception of the post. Half of the comments were in praise of the author’s recipes and being able to enjoy the cookies year-round and guilt-free. The other half of the comments decried t
he very thought of making imitation cookies. Snatching support and money from the scouts during the only time they are able to make money was the primary argument that most people had against the imitation cookies. From the rhetoric of the comments, it is clear that even if the diet-conscious people did not buy cookies, they would donate money to the organization based on the value system the scouts uphold. Another facet of the argument is the reassurance that indulging in the addictive cookies once a year will not do much harm and in this case, ignorance about the nutritional content is bliss.
Here is an example of how effective brand marketing can ensure a high level of devotion to a product. Like Coca-Cola, Girl Scout cookies have a special place in Americans’ hearts because of what they represent. The sweet and adorable little girl enthusiastically selling you cookies is the image that most people have fixed in their minds. By channeling the ignorance of adult issues like calories and sugar into a box of cookies, one bite can take a person back to the carefree time of their childhood, whether it is to troop memories or simply tasting the classic flavors. Edy’s and Bonne Bell each represent an aspect of youth culture, with ice cream and novelty chap sticks, respectively. However, the Food Network’s Healthy Living blog and its mention of calorie count in a cookie recipe is seen as an unwelcome visitor in the protective ring that surrounds youth culture. Nostalgia often does not contain “adult” issues, like diet conscious eating and the Girl Scouts and affiliates are sure not to include it in its advertising.
Whether is it with the actual cookies, the ice cream, or the chap sticks, Americans will continue to have a fabulous love affair with Girl Scout cookies thanks to clever marketing. As we have seen time and time again, youthfulness and indulgence will never go out of style.