The Girl Scouts Get a Brand Makeover

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Few groups are as well known in this country as the Girl Scouts, and that may be their biggest problem. Since the Girl Scouts was created in 1912, many suggest that it has gone from a touchstone of middle class America to a largely irrelevant organization that looks more antiquated with each passing year. As Time magazine declared in 2008, "Nearly 100 years later, Girl Scouts are fighting to stay relevant and hip."

In the last decade alone, the Girl Scouts' membership declined by more than 8% to 2.5 million. Recognizing this downward trend, the executives in charge of the Girl Scouts decided to try and do the impossible and remake a century-old brand into something more relevant to girls growing up in the new millennium. So five years ago, the organization began to overhaul and eliminate some of their most essential elements.

“One thing we noticed is that our declining numbers really start with girls around the 5th grade,” said Sharon Lee, the Senior Brand Manager for the Girl Scouts. “The things about girl scouts that are much more appealing to younger girls, like wearing the uniform and hanging out with mom as a volunteer, suddenly become much more embarrassing to this age group.” With that in mind, the group has encouraged people who are not mothers to serve as troop leaders for teenage girl scouts and has even experimented with allowing girls in the fourth grade and up to have more freedom with their uniforms.

Yes, there are still cookies and in any given week, you’ll probably see a story in a local paper about a group of Girl Scouts who sold an absurd amount of them, but this is no longer the emphasis of the organization.

“We are an association that is heavily associated with cookies, camps and crafts but we do so much more than that,” Lee said. As has always been the case, the group seeks to actualize a girl’s potential, but they are trying to do so while being mindful of the new possibilities and obstacles that these girls often face. The Girl Scouts has recently begun to educate members and the public about the dangers of cyber bullying and holds classes on everything from astronomy to leading a green life.

However, in the process of trying to remodel the activities and aesthetic of the Girl Scouts, the group has been forced to confront an ugly truth. “One of the misconceptions is that we are an association for middle class white girls and that is just not the case,” Lee said. The Girl Scouts are desperately trying to change this perception, but in so doing, they may actually just make it all the more pronounced.

The Girl Scouts recently announced that they would be partnering with The National Urban League, a popular African American community movement, in a campaign empower young Americans around public service and yes, let’s be honest, to show off their diversity. On top of that, Venus Williams, the prominent African American tennis star, is now a spokesperson for the group. When we asked Lee if this was in any way part of the larger effort to appeal to more than just those “middle class white girls,” Lee offered two seemingly contradictory responses back to back.

“We want to celebrate the multicultural nature of the organization,” she said. “I don’t think we ever made the conscious decision to choose her because she’s not the stereotypical spokesperson for us since she’s a person of color. We see Venus as being a very positive role model for girls.”

But African Americans aren’t the only minority to whom the Girl Scouts are reaching out. They are also slowly, perhaps grudgingly, trying to attract a few more men.

“We target people, not just moms. Men or women, though primarily women,” Lee said. “It’s about role models. Anything that an adult can bring to Girl Scouts will be very embraced.” According to Lee, somewhere between 1 and 3% of the Girl Scouts are men. “They serve as board members, volunteers and coaches,” she says and then adds after thinking for a minute, “Some of the robotics team leaders are also men.”

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