Articles | Branding | Don’t Sweet Talk Your Brand: New Girl Scout Brand Undermined By Health Hazard Cookies (Case Study)

Don’t Sweet Talk Your Brand: New Girl Scout Brand Undermined By Health Hazard Cookies (Case Study)

According to a recent  Washington Post article, the Girl Scouts are moving fast on a brand makeover that deemphasizes 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 Brand Makeover

The 97-year-old organization, which has suffered an eight 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 the 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, Journeys emphasizes fruits and vegetables whenever food is mentioned,” reports the Washington Post.

The Problem: Too Much Sweet Talk

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 rooted 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 are antithetical with healthy living. As a matter of fact, cookies don’t mesh so well with healthy eating. A few in moderation is fine but to have cookies star in the organization’s leading campaign is hard for me to digest.

In fact, the Girl Scouts 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.

My Recommendation

I suggest that either the Girl Scouts act their brand — and develop another revenue generator that is a better fit — or cut active living 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 — moderation).

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

Here’s What Your Peers Have to Say

“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.

“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.”
— Erin

“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.”
–Robin Donavan, Center for Respite Care

“[This isn’t] 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, and salesmanship is important for anyone to learn. 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.”

“While the cookie sale is an important fundraiser for the Girl Scouts, its [main value] is that the scouts learn how to sell. Next to writing, I think that’s the most important skill that young people need to succeed in the working world.”

“I buy the cookies because it is MY chance to indulge and help a cause I believe in. Where in life can you get that combo?”
— Sister Sarah (Sally) Neale, Sarah’s Place

“Desserts are not going away, no matter how much organizations stress healthy living. But they could easily improve the cookies and make them mesh more with the re-branding by concentrating on whole grains, “good” fats, and lots of healthy ingredients, e.g. nuts, dried fruits, etc..”
— Bobbie Lewis, Director, Communications
Lutheran Social Services of Michigan

“This is a great example of an organization losing its way! It’s difficult to believe that the organization is still selling “unhealthy” cookies in this day and age. I was a Girl Scout many years ago too and have fond memories of the experience.”
— Barbara Keiser, MSW, ACSW
The Project To End Homelessness In Philadelphia, Inc.

Nancy Schwartz in Branding, Strategies and Campaigns | 3 comments

© 2002 - 2018 Nancy E. Schwartz. All rights reserved.

You’re welcome to “reprint” this article online as long as you do not alter the article in any way, and you include the author byline and attribution as displayed below. If you would like to edit the article, please contact us.

Please use this byline

By Nancy E. Schwartz
Publisher – / President – Nancy Schwartz & Company

Please use this attribution (at the beginning or end of article):

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at

Complete article listing