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Girl Scouts Say Yes to Social Media, But No to Online Selling



“Man I really want girl scout cookies ppl….. U juss dnt understand…..”

And so the cry goes up on Twitter and Facebook as people all over America begin craving those Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs. It’s Girl Scout cookie time and this year those little green moppets will be using social media to help them hawk those over-priced boxes of sugary joy.

The whole marketing concept behind Girl Scout cookies is pretty amazing. By releasing the product only once a year, they’ve cleverly created a seller’s market. It’s not just a box of cookies, it’s an event! The first Girl Scout cookies were sold in 1917, but the tradition as we know it goes back to the 1950’s, young girls going door-to-door, or setting up tables at the local shopping center, selling bakery-made treats. And it’s still being done that same way today but with a twist – social media.

To aid the annual cookie sale, The Girl Scout Council has set up a dedicated Girl Scout Cookie website where you can enter your zip to find a local seller and a fan page on Facebook. They also have their own YouTube page which already has 67,000 upload views and a MySpace page, which sadly only has 35 friends. They also have a general Girl Scouts Worldwide Twitter feed and many troops have their own social media pages.

The official Facebook Fan Page has 67,000 friends split between people selling and people looking to buy. Here’s the rub, though the Girl Scout Council supports online chatter, they don’t allow online sales.

In the past, future online-marketing mavens have tried setting up websites and even auctioning cookies on eBay, but once discovered, their sales were disallowed. Why? The GS Council says that the annual cookie sale helps teach kids how to handle money and run a business, but why does it have to be a “money box and card table” store? The official website doesn’t say why but my only guess is for safety reasons.

The online marketing guidelines for Scouts says that a girl must be over 13 and that she may not send out any identifying information other than her first name. No location, no troop numbers. Also, emails must be issued through a blind address that keeps the child’s name hidden.

While I applaud the Girl Scout Council’s efforts to keep their kids safe while online, this is the same group that encourages young girls to knock on a stranger’s door rather than sell to him anonymously over the internet. Where’s the logic in that?

Looking to buy cookies in your area? Just get out your iPhone, because of course, there’s an app for that.

  • http://www.garious.com/ Aaron Eden

    I think that the scarcity marketing ploy is definitely effective. It’s the same reason why rare, collector’s finds are selling six, seven to eight figures in the market. Perhaps, it’s this innate human trait of wanting what can’t easily be found… and it may even have roots in wanting that apple of knowledge in the garden of Eden ( not that my name ends with the same word ). I guess, no amount of heavy social media marketing campaign can replace that good ol’ tactic that makes girl scout cookies sell faster than the speed of type. Now, I want one too :-)

  • http://www.contestcause.com Gina Kearney

    Cookies are yummy… but fundraising for schools online is even yummier!

    Check out http://www.ContestCause.com – set up a fundraising contest for your school or group, then design shirts and vote for a winner. 1/3 of all shirt sales fo directly to the school/group and supporters get a custom made shirt delivered right to their door.

    Eat cookies while wearing a new shirt.

  • http://www.twitter.com/MeganStacey Megan Stacey

    I see the value in giving the scouts money/business experience at the table, but I don’t see why they can’t add online selling to the mix as well. I don’t see how the girls’ online safety is in jeopardy by setting up a website for customers to order the cookies from. It’s much safer than sending them door-to-door with envelopes of money!

    • Kristine Parkes

      It has more to do with geographic territory and fairness, and the girls selling the cookies – not their parents.

  • http://www.DirectResponse.net Sacha

    Girl Scout cookies are as seasonal as Christmas or Halloween. And just as these holidays bring about significant profit, so do the girl scout cookies – and probably for the same reasons: It’s true that as humans, we always want what we can’t have, or if something is available for only a short period of time we feel as though we just have to have it no matter how irrelevant it may be to our lives!

    However, I really don’t understand the logic behind not being able to sell GS cookies online. I mean hello…more money! And in my opinion, its actually safer than sending groups of under-aged girls to strangers’ homes with a bunch of cash – especially if the sales are being monitored/supervised by adults. But hey, if I have to add an app to my iphone to get get my hands on those delicious thin mints then so be it, I’ll gladly head over to the nearest shopping center in my area or just wait for the little munchkins to knock on my door!

  • http://BeaverBetty.com Betty

    Great article. Bringing the cookies online probably has more to do with the fact that they’re not set up and ready to handle it. Your points are well taken. But the Girl Scouts need still be applauded for joining the social networking marketing age.

  • dean

    Cynthia –

    The fault in your argument is that you are coming at it like a rational “business person” looking to optimize the market opportunity which would scream for an ecommerce solution. What’s missing from this is the Scouts goal. First and foremost they are trying to teach scouts about business. Nothing does that better than getting out there in front of your customer and learning how to market and sell your product. Sure it was great when my Dad brought home $20 from the office from schlepping my stuff to co-workers, but it paled in comparison to the lessons I learned walking up to a stranger’s door, pitching my product, and walking away with a cool $5. Even when they declined, I learned that not everyone was a customer and sometimes people say “no”. It also gave me the self-confidence that I could actually sell something to a total stranger. None of these critical lessons can be taught by selling online. The second goal is for each local troop to raise enough money to support their own group’s activities. The Scouts aren’t in it to put Oreos out of business; they just need to be able to raise enough funds to support their activities for the year.

    Could you sell year round online? Sure. But who do you think is going to manage that effort? Likely the people at Scouting Headquarters which destroys half the point of the effort – teaching the Scouts lessons in business. Additionally, how would profits from online sales be distributed? Every troop getting equal share? Based on regional/local sales? Based on who needs the money most? By selling locally door to door, or at storefronts, each troop is given a territory that is theirs to maximize. They are not relying on Corporate to “cut them a check” for their Jamboree, and they don’t have to worry that Troop 432 in Fresno, California is poaching sales in Charleston, SC just because “Becky’s Dad” is an expert in building ecommerce sites.

    Should scouts learn about new technologies as part of their scouting experience? Yes, and they do. But as far as cookies are concerned, there are lessons to be learned that can’t be taught by selling online. And frankly, I would never buy Girl Scout cookies online (let’s face it, they’re expensive and I don’t pine for them on a regular basis). I buy them because a 10 year girl has summoned the courage to walk up to my door and ask, “Hi Sir, would you like to buy some cookies?”, not because I got some auto-generated email from Corporate reminding me that it’s Girl Scout cookie time again.
    As far as, “this is the same group that encourages young girls to knock on a stranger’s door”. C’mon, when has a scout ever come to your door selling cookies where Mom or Dad wasn’t standing at the end of the driveway. Give them some credit.

    Dean
    Purchaser of several dozen Boxes of Samoas because he can’t say no to a 10 year old.

    • Cynthia

      Thank you for your in-depth comment but I have to respectfully disagree on most counts except for the timing issue. I don’t think the cookies should be sold year round as it would saturate the market, so that’s not a question.

      My issue lies in the idea of online selling. I believe the issue is purely based in the fact that the Girl Scouts are an age-old institution that simply hasn’t moved forward into the modern world. Yes, it’s about learning to run a business, but I believe the girls would learn more from setting up a website with a Paypal payment system (the troop could do it as a group project) than by selling one-on-one. Here’s why.

      First, as you said, a huge number of cookies aren’t sold by the girls at all. Over the years, most of my cookies have come from a parent in my office pressuring me to buy.

      Second, the next biggest chunk comes from girls in front of my grocery store. This is good except they only take cash. I don’t carry cash and often, by the time I shop and come out with cash, they’re gone. That’s a missed sale.

      Third, it takes a lot more skill and effort to build and monitor a website than to walk around the neighborhood banging on doors.

  • http://www.benjaminmediagroup.com Benjamin

    I’d sure love to see the Girl Scouts add e-commerce experience to their existing (and effective) marketing mix. Aside from the revenue potential for the GS, selfishly I want to get my Samoas conveniently online! I mean, if I’m already sitting on my duff at a computer, I may as well be eating cookies, right? ;)

    Furthermore, e-commerce skills will be instrumental to the futures of these young girls. I do take small issue with your last paragraph, however. Seems presumptuous (and somewhat inappropriate) to assume that it is only a “him” that could be dangerous to a young girl scout going door to door. Could it not plausibly be a “her” as well?

    Great article, Cynthia.

  • http://wyblog.us/ Chris Wysocki

    I suspect the ban on online sales has to do with the rigid territorial sales structure imposed by the Girl Scouts Councils. Each territory is given a 30 day sales window, staggered based on geography. They don’t want a girl in Minnesota selling cookies to a family in Texas. Texas is served by local girls and they want the locals to get the sales. Ergo, the “find a cookie sale” app.

  • dean

    OK, I’ll bite. Let’s set up a website. Tell me how you’d tactically do that. Be sure to address:

    1. Gaining approval for Scout HQ
    2. Territorial Issues
    3. Logistic Issues (the scouts meet once a week for an hour in a church basement. You got no computer and if your lucky a spotty wi-fi connection.
    4. You’ve got 13, 11 year-old girls, and 4 parents (one is a mechanic, one is a widget sales, one is a stay at home mom, and you) and none have interest in investing more than an hour a week in this.
    5. Pricing – Retail price is $3.50 but I’ll assume shipping will push that closer to $5/box. BTW, KMart is selling Chips Ahoy for $3.29 (with twice as many cookies)
    6. Promotion – How will people find out about the site? AdWords? Word of Mouth?
    7. How we’ll accomplish this while still moving through the Girl Scout Curriculum.

    We’ll need to clear $5,000 dollars by the end of February or the girls can’t go on their year end event.

    Good Luck and God Bless