(Originally published February 4, 2010 at playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)
Disclaimer: When I was eleven I was asked to make a choice. Either clean the outhouses at the Meadow Mountain campsite, or turn in my Girl Scout sash. I found it completely unfair that Rhonda and Kathy were sweeping out the cabins (waving at me) as I was handed the Comet and directed to the bank of latrines. I don’t care if it was the chore I drew from the “Girl Scout Job Jar.” The Girl Scout Law implores its members to respect themselves and authority, and also to be a sister to every Girl Scout. Well, that round I chose myself over authority and turned in the sash – along with the Comet. So, today, I’m doing my part to be a sister to the Girl Scouts and teach them a thing or two about gumption.
The Girl Scout Cookie sale is an American institution. It’s been around since the 1930s, pausing only during WWII because of flour, sugar and butter shortages. (The gals in green then peddled Girl Scout Calendars, which I have to imagine were a far cry from girly calendars.) All hail the great Thin Mint – my boxes are being delivered today. My issue, however, is with names and numbers.
Specifically, where has my Samoa gone, and who is this poor stand-in Caramel deLite? Also, just how much of my $3.50 goes to the girls in troop 507 for field trips and sparkly beads for their next project, and how much goes to pay the heating bill of the Girl Scout headquarters in New York City?
To track down my facts, I called up a friend. And believe me, you are no one in the suburban hierarchy if you don’t know a mom who can hook you up with a box of pre-market Tagalongs from the back of her garage.
My friend assured me she could fill me in on all the cookie details because she’s been a Brownie troop leader for years. She was even willing to be a point person on the Boy Scout popcorn sale because her husband was a Cub Master.
Whoa, stop right there. They get Cub Master and we’re stuck with troop leader and cookie mom? She assured me, however, that she does not have to call him “Cub Master” in bed (I asked). And, she informed me that “cookie mom” has been upgraded to “cookie manager” in case any dads wanted the position. Perhaps the title of “Cookie Madame” would have given the job a little more appeal.
As for names, it turns out the Caramel deLite, née Samoa, Peanut Butter Patties, née Tagalong, and Shortbread, née Trefoil, did not undergo a name change as part of a political correctness cleansing or a dumbing down by the marketing department. It’s a simple matter of brand management. Something the Girl Scouts should learn a thing or two about before receiving their “Smart Cookie” badge.
The Girl Scout Cookie business has been streamlined to two bakeries churning out more than 200 million boxes of cookies each year. One bakery finessed the rights to all of the original cookie names, and the other was left to use bland descriptions. Thus explaining why the same cookies are known by different names according to which bakery supplies the region.
The two bakeries are appealingly named Little Brown Baker and ABC Bakers. Very Norman Rockwell, right? They also happen to be subsidiaries of two corporate behemoths known as Kelloggs and George Weston Limited. Can you guess which one got their paperwork in first to own the trademarks on the names Samoa, Tagalong and Trefoil? I’ll give you a hint. One company names its products Froot Loops, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-It, E.L.Fudge and Smorz cereal (brilliant). The other’s brands include Oroweat, Stroehmann, Freihofer’s, Entenmann’s and Bimbo Bakeries (can you say bun in the oven?)
Girls, how could you let this happen? Who wears the vest around here, you or some technicolor elf? You should be telling the bakeries what your cookies are called. But instead, half of your customers are wondering what Samoas are and the other half is mourning the disappearance of the DoSiDo (Jackie O’s favorite, according to Girl Scout lore). And before you work into your sales pitch, “get your Tagalongs also known as Peanut Butter Patties,” ask the Burmese how they feel about being from “Myanmar, formerly Burma”.
Now let’s get down to pricing. Girl Scouts are expected to be working towards their awards for “Math Fun” and “Penny Power,” so this should be pretty clear. This year, Girl Scouts will sell more than 200 million boxes of the long adored treat. At $3.50 a box, that’s a $700 million haul. That’s a lot of Thin Mints. Of that $3.50 that a Girl Scout brings in, her troop gets about 50 cents to use for their activities, while the greater Girl Scout Council keeps $2.00 per box. Granted, a lot of 50 cents can add up to a lot of feathers and glitter glue for a troop.
But, when compared with a Boy Scout troop’s take of 35% of his popcorn sales, those aren’t good margins. Girl Scout sales are divvied up 15% to a girl’s actual troop and nearly 60% to the larger Council. Boy Scout sales fall 35% to the boy’s troop and 30% to the Council. Now I never earned my “Money Sense” badge, but where is the sense in the boys earning double what the girls get? And believe you me, that is nothing compared to the prize disparity.
Highlighters, leg warmers, spiral journals, fabric bookmarks, and stuffed frogs. Oh sure, I’d much rather have those over a pocket knife, compass and torch set, or a Wal-Mart gift card. The Boy Scouts have even taken their sales online and can earn Amazon gift cards. A Girl Scout is only allowed to email friends and family that she has the goods for sale, but she is not allowed to traffic in online commerce. Since taking their efforts online, Boy Scout sales have risen 700%. You don’t even need a “Consumer Power” badge to understand that.
So girls, here’s the lesson in gumption. Forget about the “Rocks Rock” patch and move on to the “CyberGirl Scout” award and get building yourselves an online storefront. Then, write your National Council and tell them as part of your “Healthy Relationships” badge you’d like the cookie profits to be split a little more equitably. You might also urge your higher-ups to use some of that $400 million you just earned them to hire a good lawyer and reclaim ownership of your cookie names. Barring that, maybe you should just start marketing your product as iCookies.