Thursday, July 15, 2010

Girl Scouts of the USA: What if they gave a new campaign and nobody came?

Consider the Girl Scouts’ new marketing as an argument for intelligent renovation of an old and valued brand. On the plus side, the headline on each new ad (and on its website) is the truest component of their revamped marketing campaign:

What did you do today?

One of the first sentences of the first chapter of the Girl Scout Handbook, 1940 edition, asks:

Do you even wonder what to do with your free time?

There is a clear brand line reaching from the Girl Scouts’ past (1912) to its present and prospective future. Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer Laurel Ritchie is trying to follow the line, at least in outward-facing communications. Ritchie comes with heavy-duty marketing credentials – Ogilvy and Mather – and a lot of transformative branding experiences, from Huggies to Kotex.

The Girl Scouts need that kind of transformation because, from the outside looking in, it appears that modern life is overwhelming the ability of the Girl Scouts to continue to serve American girls of all ages. Ritchie herself has said, in a press release, “"What we’re doing with this initiative is repositioning Girl Scouts with a message that is relevant to girls and the lives they lead today.”

Well, maybe. The Girl Scouts intro’d a “striking new visual identity” from brand/design agency Original Champions of Design in New York. The press has spotlighted the OCD-refreshed Girl Scouts logo, an iconic graphic created in the 1970s by designer Saul Bass. This is…not an entirely happy…revision with perkier noses, longer, straighter necks and modern hairstyles. You can read one example of logo-related blogospheric chit-chat here.

Logo-jiggering aside, though, the design firm and the Girl Scouts have rolled out a comprehensive new visual identity package with a great eye to contemporary photography, revised color palette and additional fresh uses of the Girl Scouts trefoil badge. In fact, “Brand New” blogger Armin has truly covered all the aspects of the design project and contributed a headline of his own:

This in not your mom’s Girl Scouts.

That’s the challenge. The almost-100-year-old organization is your mom’s Girl Scouts; perhaps it is even your grandma’s. Can an organization headquartered on 5th Avenue, NYC, make the brand changes stick across America, and use them to propel the Girl Scouts into greater girl involvement over the next decade, in the face of members with (very) long memories?

In an outfit like the Girl Scouts, balance of power becomes a key issue. New blood’s attempts to get jiggy with contemporary styles and messages often will upset the multi-generational members who have a years’ long commitment to the way the organization was when they were, say, girls.

Prism Design principal Susan Reeves, with a lot of experience in the service-organization arena, points out:

The “power balance” is always top of mind in a women’s organization that’s 100 years old. The early volunteers sank their heart and soul into the org – to build, nurture, and grow it – so younger women could have an equally profound experience when they join.

As the new generation rises to positions of authority they still practice the core values, but also adapt events and traditions to their changing environment. Or they risk becoming irrelevant. The org must constantly question what relevance it brings to members of all ages, but it's the newest members they must attract or they fail to grow.

Even the oldest members realize this. They adapt slowly, which isn't a bad thing.

Girl Scout CMO Ritchie, along with CEO Kathy Cloninger and hundreds of staffers and volunteers, will foster the adoption of the revamped branding efforts within more than 100 councils nationally (including Girl Scouts of San Jacinto in Houston).

GSUSA will have make these brand changes acceptable, even comfortable to girl-scouting participants of all ages and extend the organization’s mission to millions more American girls. Even better, it will want to drive enthusiastic uptake of the revamped brand at the local level and nurture long-time adaptation to America’s changing demography.

Someday, somebody’s going to ask CMO Ritchie, “What did you do today?” Market-speak aside, what do you think her answer ought to be?

NOTE: The Girl Scouts of the USA is a long-lived organization with many components, features and benefits. Review its websites in detail to begin grappling with its complex offerings. Or just watch for new additions to its brand development campaign on the Girl Scouts blog.


Terri Phillips said...

It would have been nice if the updated logo had portrayed white, black and Asian profiles instead of three Barbie-doll faces.

That said, I like the be active/get involved/take charge spirit of the ads and I think girls will come (perhaps with a gentle push from their mothers).

Mona Tolbert, MBA said...

Very interesting take on the new brand. I hope you don't mind if I share it with others at the Council. I like your insight. Cheers...

S. Reeves said...

"What did you do today?" is perfect.