Yuck: The Billion-Dollar Girl Scout Cookie Revolt

Orangutans threatened by girl scout cookies

The Girl Scouts of America is learning an important business lesson this week, as a couple of pissed-off  teenagers are jeopardizing their billion dollar cookie empire.  It’s a business lesson worth learning.

The problem?  GSA preaches ecology and good stewardship of the planet, but each year it sells 198 million boxes of cookies made with apparent disregard for the rain forest and endangered species.   In short,  the GSA is not putting it’s money where it’s mouth is.

In 2007, two young scouts — now teenagers in Michigan — discovered that Girl Scout cookies contain Palm Oil, which comes largely from plantations built on deforested regions of Southeast Asia. Besides the loss of important ecosystems, these plantations are also jeopardizing the species that live there, like endangered orangutans. (See the Wall Street Journal article for a complete history of the fight.)

Suddenly, young scouts all over the country are no longer interested in taking cookies door to door.  Instead, they are taking an anti-cookie campaign to the street.  Through social media and outreach to conservation groups, the effort has reached the national media… giving the GSA an embarrassing black eye.

THE BUSINESS LESSON IS CLEAR: Being consistent and authentic is not just for the marketing department. Every decision made in your company should reflect a consistent message. What your company stands for is important to all the people in your business — from employees to vendors to customers to shareholders.

The Girl Scouts are supposed to stand for sugar and spice and everything nice.  Palm oil does not make the list.  But worse than including palm oil in their cookies, is the GSA’s lack of meaningful response to their members.  Their non-commital response to this issue adds insult to injury and makes the entire organization seem uncaring.

I’M TAKING THREE LESSONS FROM THIS SAD STORY

  1. Even the smallest voice can create a public relations crisis. The fact that one of their own is calling them out reflects a new business reality: every voice matters, and social media is a force to be reckoned with.
  2. Say what you do and do what you say. Consistency counts.  Each time.  Every time.
  3. React to a crisis with decisive action.   Customers won’t wait to hear your second or third answer.  They don’t want your excuses or equivocations.  Decide, act and assure your audience that the problem will be solved quickly and permanently.

Think that’s too much to ask of the Girl Scouts?  Think again.  Kellog’s (yes, the cereal company) is way ahead of the curve by pledging to take palm oil out of its cereals.   Kellog’s saw what needed to be done and did it — No one had to protest against Frosted Flakes!

If the GSA learns these lessons*, they will be stronger for it.

Dedicated to your (Consistent) Profits,

David

[* The GSA could really make a statement against deforestation, not to mention childhood obesity and poor nutrition, by getting out of the cookie business once and for all!  How cool would that be?]

 

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  1. Great article. So true. Every business needs to be much more aware of every customer, every voice. As you so well said, even the smallest voice can become a nightmare with the use of social media in today’s connected world. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Jim: It’s shocking how poorly companies manage their reputation online… GSA let this issue get so far out of control, that cleaning it up now will be tough. If they had been “listening” to the web (and to their scouts), this never would have happened.

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