Digital Sweet Tooth

Girl Scout Cookies & computers

Digital Sweet Tooth
| published December 1, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


We live in a digital age in which nearly everything upon this earth can be purchased via the internet, from books to music, from cars to drones, from plumbers to exterminators, from medicine to furniture, to groceries to hot coffee (Starbucks is introducing an app to pre-order your specialty joe ahead of time so that your latte can be ready and waiting when you walk in). Not only can it all be purchased with the click of a computer mouse, most of that swag can now be obtained with a few finger-strokes on your smart phone or other handheld device.

And that’s why it seems strange when something new comes along that has the power to rock our world. Think of one of the most traditional purchases which involve direct, one-on-one contact: cookies. Well, cookies can be ordered online too—all too easily, some might say. But what about Girl Scout Cookies? Those wonderfully packaged, boxed goodies which serve two important tasks: satisfying your craving for something sweet, and assuaging guilt by making that purchase from a non-profit, community organization meant to foster better, stronger, business-savvy young women.

It’s a predictable and even quaint business model: sample boxes; a price list with all those great flavors and a line on the form for “quantity”; and some kid or adult with a simple spreadsheet upon which you write your name, address, and phone. These transactions were invariably up-close and personal: at your front door, at a neighbor’s house, at the mall or grocery store, in your office break-room. You hand them a check or some cash, and you get cookies in return—all for a worthwhile cause.

But now, thanks to the pressures of digital marketing in the twenty-first century, you might see those same famous cookies popping up online. Previously banned from expanding their marketing into social media and the world of the internet, girls (and parents) have brought enough pressure on the home office—Girl Scouts of the USA—to allow those legions of cookie-hawkers to sell their goodies using their own individual websites, or by tapping into a variety of apps designed for mobile marketing and social media. That means that in a few days, when you are browsing through Facebook looking at your cousin’s vacation photos, or clicking on funny videos of dogs with human babies, or laughing at pictures of grumpy cats, you might also bump into a few ads for Girl Scout cookies posted by people you know.

Be warned: the pressure to buy those traditional shortbread cookies or those decadent Samoas won’t stop there. Expect to be reminded of cookie season via Twitter, Stumble Upon, Tumblr and even Linked-In. Sales of Girl Scout cookies can exceed $750 million per year, and that means that once this social media and digital gate has been opened, the flood of Tagalongs, Thin Mints, and Do-si-dos will be will be massive, and incessant.

The Girl Scouts USA have about two millions members, and roughly half of those will sign up with their troop leadership to participate in selling cookies—the Girl Scout organization’s biggest event and fundraiser. The annual cookie sales project is also meant to be an important life lesson for girls, instilling them with skills such as business management and financial responsibility. The official website for the Girl Scouts USA lists “The Five Skills,” which include goal-setting, decision-making, money-management, people skills, and business ethics.

Many observers—as well as many Girl Scout families—have asked the question for more than a decade” why hasn’t the Girl Scout USA organization embraced the internet and online technologies for the sale of cookies sooner? One answer is security and safety. Many families may have preferred that their daughters not engage in an open sales effort for cookies on an internet known for—among other things—its potential for stalking, identity theft, fraud, and predatory behavior.

The solution came in the form of a first-name-only website which can be customized—using several standard templates—for each girl or for each troop. Girls can create a simple email campaign asking their families and friends to sign up to buy cookies. Girls can also create their own videos to embed in emails, or place on their webpage, and the national organization encourages the girls who participate to describe their business plan and explain where the proceeds will go—as well as how the money will be used. However, individual websites will not be viewable without an invite through an email or a social media post—an additional security feature which should greatly reduce both fraud and predatory behavior. The Girl Scout’s main website also features a “Cookie Finder” app so that people can locate the nearest local source of cookies at a kiosk or other location.

Girl Scout cookies are only sold for a brief period each year, but the exact sales period may vary from city to city, from state to state. Girl Scouts USA hopes that the introduction of so many digital and social media avenues for sales will boost revenue from the cookie campaign greatly—not to mention helping girls better embrace the melding of business skills with digital technologies.

But don’t expect the entire cookie business model to migrate entirely online and into the smart phone. The Girl Scouts USA expect millions of packages of cookies to be sold the old fashioned way—door-to-door, at shopping centers, and in schools and churches. And no matter what method you use to buy that package of Samoas, Thin Mints or Savannah Smiles, the sweet-tooth money will go toward a great cause.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Italian Chocolatier Makes it Her Way in America; Victoria Prather; Thursday Review; March 26, 2014.