Create Your Own Recession, and Stuff It in This Small Box

At least it’s good for my diet

The Girl Scouts of the USA, believe it or not, are pretty Big Boys. Their organization will sell approximately 200 million boxes of cookies in the United States this year (at an average price of $3.50), accounting for roughly half of their annual revenues. It’s time to see what one of the Big Boys can tell us about looking the recession square in the eye, and standing side-by-side with your customers.

Part One: Wherein Kelly Wanders the Mall

At the mall Saturday, my daughter and I bought a box of Girl Scout cookies from a stand. When we walked over to the food court to get a slice of pizza, the manager of the pizza place spotted the Samoas sticking out of my bag.

“I heard their business is down pretty bad this year. The recession is even hitting cookies. Might have something to do with the smaller boxes, though.”

Smaller boxes?

“Less in every box, they told me. Seems like a rip-off.”

I sat down to my slice and The Kid pipes up. “I heard that from Jane and Brenda. Fewer in some boxes. And the cookies are smaller.”

“The box looks about the same to me,” I said.

“Mama, every Girl Scout I know told me it. They said you’re not supposed to notice. But if you do, they’re supposed to tell the truth.”

Later on, we saw the Scouts walking out with boxes and boxes of unsold boxes.

Are they making their own recession, I wondered?

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered this. What if “Where have all the good times gone?” can be answered by looking under your desk where you kicked them?

Isn’t it about time to laissez les bon temps rouler, instead of giving in to gloom?

Part Two: Late at Night, Kelly Wanders the www

I wouldn’t run this post about a strategy of the venerable Girl Scouts without doing a little sleuthing. I saw little difference in our package of cookies, and the secondhand opinion of one Delaware pizza manager and the discussion of a few fourth-graders seemed like slender evidence.

So I searched for “girl scout cookies” +smaller, and bingo. Discussions in media from large to small, talking points from one of the official Scout bakers, and a lot of recession talk. I did my research and checked my facts. The Girl Scouts are selling less (up to an ounce less per box, depending on the variety) for the same price. Spokespeople discuss cost increases for ingredients and for transportation. Talking points carefully insist that Girl Scouts who are asked should tell the truth.

“Here’s a great way you might respond: ‘Yes, the packages are a little smaller. That’s because the cost of baking cookies has gone up along with food and gas prices. Of course, the delicious taste of your favorite Girl Scout cookie is just the same!’”

Bottom line:

Giving money to the Girl Scouts at cookie-time long ago ceased to feel like pure charitable giving to many people. It’s buying special, limited-availability items (ooh! scarcity marketing!), with a little make-a-kid-happy and a little charity thrown in to make us feel good about overindulging.

People don’t buy from you (or from the Girl Scouts) to make you money. They buy to get something for themselves.

I tried, I really did, to see this strategy as wise, or benefitting the kids, but it’s not. It’s crazy, from end to end. It’s a shot in the foot.

1. “Tell the truth if you’re asked” is NOT transparency. It’s evasiveness. It means most folks won’t find out from you, but when they do find out, oh, boy are they going to form a negative opinion.

2. Selling less for the same amount of my hard-earned dough is never going to win you any fans, no matter what your rationalization. What did that manager say? “Seems like a rip-off.” People don’t care why just because you wish they’d care, and they aren’t waiting to hear why before judging.

3. Sending kids out to explain the rationale? I know, I know, its for the kids. Can I send mine out when I raise my prices, because I feed her with a portion of the profits? It’s for The Kid…

There shouldn’t be a convoluted rationale for kids to deal with. The bottom line is suck it up and raise prices if you have to. Better to figure out a way not to raise prices through efficiencies if at all possible. If not? Look the problem square in the eye. This tangled web of explanations and excuses—offered in detail only to those confused or upset enough to search for it—would be damaging to any business. Rather than standing with the customer, this sets a shadowy “marketer-speak” between the Scouts and their hungry public.

Never give less than is expected of your product or service.

Be honest. The real kind of honest!

According to various estimates on the web, cookie sales this year are off by as much as 18–20%.

What will the long term fallout be—and will they recognize MINIMUM Customer Experience’s role in it?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson