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Your brand identity is crucial! For any company trying to market a product or a service, their brand name is often the most critical asset that they possess. As the marketing slogan goes—and yes, it is an advertising classic, “Image is everything!”
And so that is why the lawsuit that has just been filed in Federal Court in Manhattan is going to very, very interesting to watch! The Girl Scouts are suing the Boy Scouts for trademark infringement. In a nutshell, the case comes down to one central question. Can the Boy Scouts use the words “scouts” and/or “scouting” in conjunction with their organization’s new outreach to females? And the outcome is crucial for both organizations, as yes, scouts are what they are both about and scouting is what they do. Can you be the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts without that second word in their venerable brands? What would the image of both organizations be without that identity? Well, we may find just have to find out.
Scouts vs. Scouts
This controversy dates back to earlier this year, when the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would be opening-up its ranks to all children—both boys and girls. Now, this was a move brought about both by changing times—and by demographic realities. The ranks of the Boy Scouts have been thinning for years—from a peak of 6.5 million members in 1972 to 2.3 million in 2016. This has been attributed to a confluence of a number of factors. As families are busier than ever, kids have more activity choices than ever, schools have attempted to become more rigorous, and technology presents an ever-growing and ever-more enticing alternatives to the more “traditional,” outdoor-focused activities offered by scouting.
So, the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America made a decision to fundamentally change the nature of scouting, namely by opening up membership to young women. In doing so, one group strongly objected to the move, the Girl Scouts! The Girl Scouts of the United States of America saw the Boy Scouts move as an existential threat—and rightly so.
While the two groups had coexisted for over a century, the Girl Scouts did not take kindly to the Boy Scouts move into what had been their turf, especially because the female-oriented organization has likewise been beset with falling membership numbers. In August 2017, well in advance of the Boy Scouts’ announcement, they would open up membership to young women in November. The Girl Scouts organization sent a strongly worded letter to the BSA. The Girl Scouts challenged the notion that the change was being driven by parent requests for programming for both genders and accused the Boy Scouts of simply using this as a way to try and reverse their membership losses and regain some momentum in the marketplace of kids’ activities.
So, as girls are already being admitted into the younger Cub Scouts group and will be permitted to actually join the ranks of the Boy Scouts in 2019, the Girl Scouts have now filed suit to try and gain an injunction in Federal Court to stop the BSA from using the words scouts and scouting in connection with their activities aimed at both genders, as well as, of course in the world in which we live, “unspecified monetary damages.” The Girl Scouts contend that the situation has caused confusion in the minds of consumers, with several instances of parents mistakenly signing up their daughters for programming with the Boy Scouts under either the false impression that the two groups had merged and/or that the Boy Scouts would be the exclusive home for such activities from now on for young women. Now, the battle for members will enter the legal realm, and where all of this goes remains to be determined.
From a marketing perspective however, one can certainly understand, and feel for, the plight of the Girl Scouts. They face a true crisis—one that may indeed threaten their viability and survival. They face an uphill challenge to be able to maintain their membership and their identity in the face of the bold move by the Boy Scots, which, by the way, makes perfect sense from their perspective. After all, if you can expand your market from half of the population of elementary and junior high school-aged kids to all of them, it really is a no-brainer! Plus, it helps dispel some of the many times, both justly and unjustly, that the image and reputation of the Boy Scouts organization has been tarnished by adult leaders behaving badly and by accidents involving Scouts.
Thus, the challenge for the Girl Scouts will be how to best respond from a marketing perspective. This is quite aside of their legal fight, which may take years to unwind and most likely, will not prevent the Boy Scouts from using the terms scouts or scouting anyway.
Perhaps then this should not be regarded as so much of a threat by the Girl Scouts, but a unique opportunity that has been thrust upon them. If handled right, they can perform a delicate dance to actually enhance the Girl Scout brand as being unique in the marketplace, namely because their organization is maintaining their focus and commitment solely on young women. Just as there are parents and kids who will be attracted to the “one scout solution” offered by the Boy Scouts (soon to be known as Scouts USA). There will also be parents and young women alike who will be drawn to the unique nature of the “girl” quotient in the Girl Scouts. They have an opportunity to reposition the organization and capitalize on their gender exclusivity, which could, in time, serve them well. And judging by their splash page when you arrive on their website, they may just be thinking that way presently.
One of the most common causes of a failed business strategy is when one tries to be all things to all people. Perhaps this is the trap that the Boy Scouts have fallen into. On the other hand, their move makes perfect sense by again, expanding their base and enhancing their prospects for actually stemming the rather rapid decline in membership they have been experiencing.
In the end, I think there is room for both organizations and both approaches. And with modernization of the curriculum used and activities scouts, of both genders and in both organizations, engage in, we could see an active rebound in young men and women pursuing scouting as a counter to the sedentary, tech-laden existence many youth find themselves in today. If marketed and branded “right,” and yes, maybe with some degree of cooperation between the two organizations who are fighting it out in court at present, both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can coexist, and maybe even thrive, in today’s environment.
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