Saturday, March 14, 2009

Girl Scout Cookie Controversy

The controversy in question is one of those not particularly controversial "controversies". It's the kind that only exists within the space of the morning talk show. The Today Show in the US has featured an enterprising young Girl Scout, Wild Freeborn, who sought to sell 12,000 boxes of cookies by channeling the power of YouTube. There are two small amusements to be taken from this before we arrive at the reason why Wild was thwarted. First, the headline on MSNBC is "Her Girl Scout Cookie-Selling Scheme Crumbled" (boom tish). Second, the child's name is among the most unusual I've ever heard. Not only is she "freeborn", she's "wild" into the bargain. Perhaps there is some etymology for this name that I'm not familiar with, but how refreshing in any case that parents would wish to name their girl "wild". It's not an attribute that has ever been desirable in a daughter. Late-Victorian stories like "Wild Kathleen" were about girls who needed to be tamed.

Now the controversy is far from one because the girl's appearance on Today came complete with a representative from the Girl Scouts of America and some artfully positioned boxes of cookies on the coffee table on-set. Wild's father assisted her in producing a video to promote her cookie sales in her home town, which she personally delivered to each customer. Selling cookies online is against Girl Scout policy and thus after hundreds of sales, poor Wild was dobbed in for her rule violation. While technically Wild was not selling online, it was nonetheless close enough for the video to be pulled. Let's not tell Girl Scouts of America that I see cookies for sale on eBay all the time! I would have bought some already if not for wondering how they'd fare on the journey half way around the world.

It was a little disappointing to hear the reasoning for the cookie promotion ban from Girl Scouts of America. Their website strikes me as heavily rule-oriented, with more sub-sections on correct use of the official logo than points in the US constitution. There's no such marketing overkill evident in the British Guides. First, the spokeswoman suggested that it was necessary for the actions of the Girl Scout to fit with her programme. Lumbering cookies around door to door: builds fitness, increases risk of abduction, gets girls out in the community. Advertising cookie sales online: frightening use of internet, potential paedophiles worldwide set to converge, not part of the programme. The spokesperson claimed all girls selling door-to-door were accompanied by adults, but although Wild was protected by her father in her online activities, she could not guarantee all parents would do this, so online selling and promotion had to be forbidden.

Strangely enough, a YouTube search reveals some TV ads from Girl Scouts Nebraska encouraging cookie sales. There are a few shorter, more positive variations, but this one lays on the guilt by showing a crying little girl who fails to sell a box of cookies to an uncaring clod. I'm guessing Wild Freeborn's approach may have been more subtle and possibly more effective at motivating sales. Perhaps they could put her on the Girl Scout marketing payroll?

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