According to a Newsweek piece, a North Carolina Girl Scout named Wild Freeborn got the idea to sell cookies over the internet from her web designer dad, Bryan's, work, and asked for his help in earning her troop a trip to Scout Camp.
In late January, they posted a YouTube video, starring Freeborn in Girl Scout gear, touting her straightforward sales pitch. "Buy cookies! And they're yummy!" Soon after, they set up an online order system that was limited to customers within their local area (so Freeborn could personally deliver them). While her online sales strategy took hold, she continued peddling cookies the traditional way-going door to door and working booths at the local grocery store. Within two weeks, more than 700 orders for Thin Mints, Caramel DeLites and Peanut Butter Patties reached the Freeborns solely through the online form.
Freeborn's success quickly raised the hackles of some parents in the community, who complained that the web pitch gave her troupe an unfair advantage, and brought the site to the attention of Girl Scouts. While the objection may seem purely curmudgeonly in these tech-savvy times, and "safety" concerns may seem disingenuous when the alternative is interacting with strangers, there were real issues: in rural North Carolina, not every family can afford a computer. As such, Freeborn's troupe did have a genuine advantage.
However, the fracas, and the subsequent shut-down, have spurred discussion that maybe Girl Scouts need to get with the times, integrating technology in an organized way. After all, if the goal is business savvy, then the internet's a pretty necessary area of study. And in general, many feel that the Scouts haven't embraced the tech age fully.
On the girls' level, few of the badges that scouts can earn involve technology, and of those that do, the requirements are paltry: the "Computer Smarts" requirement for young girls (or "Brownies") only requires that they visit three Web sites. For older girls, the CyberGirl Scout badge is earned in part by sending an e-mail. "These skills are at a level I'm sure many girls can already surpass," [says one expert]
Girl Scout cookies are an emotionally-charged issue, rooted in tradition and nostalgia. According to a new helpful timeline on MentalFloss, Scouts started selling sugar cookies at bake sales in 1917; soon cookies had become a major fundraiser, a tradition that was broken only during World War II, when rationing forces the Scouts to vend calendars instead. Today the cookies, which are Kosher, are made by only two bakeries. For many families, the door-to-door sales ritual is not merely a good social exercise, but a connection to history.
While Wild's dad feels they've done nothing wrong - "We had to talk with Wild about the ethics of cookie sales, what you can and cannot do...We decided that as long as we weren't taking money over the Internet, we weren't doing anything wrong" - others describe her high-tech pitch as creating "the perception of unfairness" that's antithetical to the Girl Scout mission and want the issue addressed formally. And given that it's something which obviously isn't going away, that seems logical. To our minds, it seems like this is something that wouldn't be that hard to deal with - couldn't troops collaborate with local libraries to ensure internet access? Or get this dad to give a tutorial, sit-com working-together-style? Resenting the interference of web designer parents in a community where some can't afford computers is one issue - and a valid one. But prohibiting the use of the internet is simply out-of-touch. Besides which, if scouts are going to be taking to the web, it seems imperative that the organization make web safety, and the accompanying guidelines, as high a priority as the strictures that govern door-to-door sales. Because anything that gets more Thin Mints from factory to face - and, ahem, more funds for the Scouts - is a Good Thing.
P.S. Anyone know where can we put in an order?