New Girl Scout Brand Undermined By Health Hazard Cookies

New Girl Scout Brand Undermined By Health Hazard CookiesI love the Girl Scouts and actually was one for a couple of years long ago. Still have a great orange layer cake recipe captured in my quest for the cooking merit badge. And now our daughter Charlotte is a Daisy (pre-Brownies).

So I was dismayed to learn that the Girl Scouts are stumbling with the introduction of their new brand. The brand (read on for details) is inconsistent with the Girl Scouts most public action — the cookie program. As a result, instead of helping the org to move forward, it introduces doubts about the organization’s credibility, values and leadership.

According to a recent  Washington Post article, the Girl Scouts are moving fast on a brand makeover that de-emphasizes traditional pursuits such as earning merit badges. Instead, the new brand — spearheaded by former Oglivy & Mather partner Laurel Richie — is focused on 21st century pursuits including blogging and environmental projects.

The 97-year-old organization, which has suffered an 8 percent membership decline in the last decade, is focused hard on its online activities and last year hired Richie to shape and launch a brand around this re-direction. Richie saw the group’s image as stuck in an earlier era, and identified that as a significant barrier to recruiting urban and minority girls.

“The biggest change is last year’s debut of Journeys, a pilot curriculum that will mostly replace the system of earning badges on specific topics. Girls still will be able to earn badges if they want, but Journeys rarely mentions them, focusing instead on broader themes, including teamwork and healthy living. Rather than scouts earning a badge for cooking a single nutritious meal, for example, the books emphasize fruits and vegetables whenever food is mentioned,” reports the Washington Post.

Ok, I’m all for re-invigorating the Girl Scout program and the brand. Even when I was a Girl Scout, some of the merit badges were clearly conceived in the distant past.

But here’s the disconnect: Healthy living is a mismatch with cookies with the trans fats in several cookie varieties (even only if in small amounts, as claim the Girl Scouts here).

Trans fats (which lower healthy levels of HDL cholesterol) and the heart-unhealthy saturated fats (palm oil) used in eight cookie varieties, and healthy living are antithetical. As a matter of fact, cookies don’t mesh so well with healthy eating. In fact, the Girl Scouts they seem to be doing everything they can to alienate the very communities (urban and minority girls) that they’re trying to attract, as it’s these communities who are particularly at risk for childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

So I suggest that either the Girl Scouts walk the talk – and develop another revenue generator that fits its new brand – or cut healthy eating out of its talk. Or, as one commenter below suggests, recommend eating these and other cookies in moderation (there’s a merit badge for you).

Otherwise, the Girl Scouts’ credibility will remain seriously diminished.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Click comments below.

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Nancy Schwartz on March 10, 2009 in Branding and Messages, Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications | 15 comments
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  • majigail

    I guess I don’t see this as being any different than school sports teams selling candy bars to raise money.
    Additionally, healthy eating and fitness is an important discussion to have with our girls, salesmanship is important for anyone to learn, to say that they can’t be done together because the produce that they are selling is cookies is damaging to the girls. You can eat lots of fruits and vegetables and lean proteins and enjoy a cookie or two now and then. I don’t think the Girl Scouts advocate eating the whole box for dinner.
    Finally, for every year I can remember, the Girl Scouts have had at least one low in sugar/ fat cookie on the list and I’ll be seriously upset if they mess with my Thin Mints.

  • Per the Girl Scouts website,, they don’t have any trans fats in their cookies and still use junky oils because it’s the only way to make the cookies (maybe. . .)
    They go on to say that they have less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, which meets FDA guidelines for being labeled “zero trans fat.”
    Healthy? No. Truly without trans fats? Almost, but not quite. Still, they’re trying, they’ve been upfront about the changes they’ve made, and I’d be inclined to give them a little slack. That said, there are lots of cookies without these (still) harmful ingredients, trans fats or not.

  • Annie

    Perhaps they just need to alter their message slightly to include moderation. It seems we’re becoming fanatical about kids and food, which may give some of them an unhealthy view of food as they get older. So maybe the Girls Scouts could focus on how it’s OK to have a cookie once in a while. But still eat fruits and veggies too. I think they could make it work.

  • Erin

    I have to agree with those above – moderation is key. Frankly, by embracing this theme, they could better legitimize their cookies as what they are – occasional indulgences – and stay in keeping with their youthful image. Eating no naughty stuff ever is a stretch for anyone, let alone cookie-loving kids. Besides, moderation is an important overall skill for life! As for the blogging instead of badging, it comes across as trying just a little too hard to be current. Hopefully they will see the light and return to the version of them that everybody loves.

  • Hi Nancy,
    I have a post half-drafted about the GSA rebranding! Great minds think alike :) Will now include your points in the discussion too. I wrote a column last week for our local paper criticizing GSA for not allowing online ordering for cookie sales.
    Would love your take on that!

  • majigail

    I have to disagree with Kivi. While the cookie sale is an important fundraiser for the Girl Scouts, the main reason it is so successful and that I think it’s so important is that it gets the girls out there learning how to sell. Next to writing, I think that’s the most important skill that young people can learn to be successful at work in their later years.

  • Annie

    I think Kivi makes some good points about selling cookies online. But I have to wonder if the Girl Scouts are worried about the cookie sales becoming unrelated business income that would not be tax exempt. I understand the reason it’s related income now is because of the “face-to-face learning experience.” It’s true that I usually buy my cookies from someone’s parent circulating the form at the office so I don’t know how accurate that is. I wonder how the Boy Scouts get around it (or if they do) with the popcorn sales.

  • Desserts are not going away, no matter how much people/organizations stress healthy living. But they could easily improve the cookies and make them mesh more with the rebranding by concentrating on whole grains, “good” fats, and lots of healthy ingredients, e.g. nuts, dried fruits, etc. Also I think the whole badge program could be made more relevant without being eliminated totally — don’t girls still like getting these as rewards for accomplishments?

  • Barbara Keiser, MSW, ACSW

    I agree with you…
    It’s a good example of an organization losing it’s way!
    And…it’s difficult to believe that the organization is
    still selling “unhealthy” cookies in this day and
    I was a Girl Scout many years ago too & have fond memories
    of the experience.
    I find your notices very helpful..
    Thank you.
    Barbara Keiser, MSW, ACSW
    The Project To End Homelessness In Philadelphia, Inc.
    Moving People Off The Streets & On With Their Lives!

  • What is worse they won’t let the scouts sell online and learn to be more creative thinkers.

  • Sue

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water (or the cookie out with the campaign). I like the suggestion of moderation, as it fits healthy living. Moderation would also be a good guide for the ad agency. The Girl Scout brand must continue to be highly valued with women and girls of all ages; Girl Scout communications and programs need to resonate with old timers and today’s girls — that is the challenge!

  • Ken Butland

    If they really wanted to teach girls about becoming responsible, caring citizens, they could ask people buy the (new, improved, healthier) cookies and have poor kids receive them instead.
    On a related note, please check out Peter Singer’s new book The Life You Can Save.

  • Don’t worry! I’ll save you from those horrible, unhealthy Samoas.
    I’ll eat them all myself.

  • Kris B

    The Girl Scouts have offered no-fat, sugar-free and reduced fat cookies and crackers in the past in response to requests from the public. While they did contribute to the overall “mix” of product for the brand, they did not contribute to the coffers of councils and troops. People did not buy them in sufficient quantity to continue their place in the product line. Both baking companies (Little Brownie Bakers and Interbake Foods) that produce the Girl Scout cookies have “core” varieties but each has at least two cookies that vary from year to year and respond to market forces. Be the force that creates change, express your ideas to Girl Scouts USA through your local Girl Scout council which you can find at

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