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Under the Microscope: Boy Scouts of America

The new "Scout Me In" campaign was announced concurrently with the Scouts BSA name change. Both moves signal that boys and girls will be accepted into all Scouts programs—the campaign much more successfully than the name change.

The new "Scout Me In" campaign was announced concurrently with the Scouts BSA name change. Both moves signal that boys and girls will be accepted into all Scouts programs—the campaign much more successfully than the name change.

We are a Boy Scouts family. My husband and I have gone on countless campouts, we’ve built Pinewood Derby cars, we volunteer in our sons’ troop and pack.

We are big fans of what the Boy Scouts of America are all about—developing boys into servant leaders as they grow into men.

We embrace the Boy Scouts’ decision last year to admit girls as full-fledged members to its Cub Scouts program beginning in June and into its Boy Scouts program in February. After all, this is a country where equality of opportunity is a bedrock principle.

With this change comes a rare opportunity for rebranding a historic organization. Boy Scouts is a name that no longer fits the mission now that each of its five signature programs includes or will include girls.

Sure, this effort won’t be easy. It’s a century-old organization created before women had the right to vote. And this move has drawn loud criticism from external forces (Girl Scouts of America, for starters) as well as from within its own organization (some packs and troops will not be accepting girls).

Scouts took a step toward rebranding with a name change to its flagship program, currently serving boys ages 11 to 17. The program’s new name, announced this month but set to go into effect next year: Scouts BSA.

When a brand—especially a widely known, 108-year-old one—changes its name, it has one shot at getting it right.

Unfortunately the Scouts got it wrong.

Let’s look at why the renaming effort doesn’t work and what can be learned.

Scout officials could have gone one of two ways: Tweak the original name or come up with a whole new name.

Option 1: Tweak the original name

The best example of this is Apple. When it launched with the Apple I personal computer in 1976, the company was appropriately called Apple Computer. The business faltered in the 1990s until it retooled with new products like the iPod and iTunes. After it launched the iPhone in 2007, it was time to change its name. Apple Computer became Apple.

Genius for its simplicity. The company sent the message that it was no longer simply a computer manufacturer while keeping the heart of its brand.

Option 2: Create a whole new name

Sometimes, a rebranding calls for a swing-for-the-fences, all-out approach.

That worked for Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, founded in 1946 in Japan. In the 1950s, when it began selling radios in the United States, it became Sony Corporation. It simplified while expanding its appeal. And it made up a new word, combining the Latin root for sonic and “sonny boy,” a slang term popular in the United States.

So with these two options in mind: Scouts BSA.

In choosing to tweak instead of recreate, Boy Scouts signaled its broader mission (boys and girls) with the Scouts portion of its new name.

They were so close to getting it right. Why, oh why, add the BSA?

With three little letters, they telegraph “We’re changing. We just don’t like it all that much.”

The bigger problem is that the new name only applies to the actual Boy Scouts program for 11- to 17-year-olds. The umbrella organization, which also includes its Cub Scouts, Venturing, Sea Scouts and Exploring programs, will remain Boy Scouts of America.

So while each of those programs will now be open to girls, those programs are tucked into an organization that will still be called Boy Scouts of America.

In fact, the organization is not rebranding at all. It’s simply tweaking the name of one program within its brand, albeit its best-known program.

What this tells the world: Some of us want to change, but most of us don’t.

Rebranding isn’t the sausage-making of complex legislation, where compromise is part of the process and participants recognize no one is going to come out fully happy.

If you’re going to rebrand, rebrand. Go for it. Be bold. Change.

The Scouts whiffed.

By keeping "Boy" in the organization’s name and adding initials “BSA” to its flagship program, they don’t even cleverly hide that the old guard is still fully running Scouts. Anyone involved in Boy Scouts knows BSA. It’s a widely used abbreviation.

I’m sure that’s the point of keeping BSA. But it misses the point of rebranding.

I asked Jay Jurisich, a well-known and pre-eminent namer of products and founder of the naming agency Zinzin, to weigh in.

He agreed with my thoughts.

“I think this is a classic example of groupthink and of trying to have their cake and eat it too,” he said. “The Boy Scouts want to move forward into the future (or some faction of the organization does), but they can’t let go of the past.”

Jurisich doesn’t usually like initials.

Used here, “it becomes a big red flag that though the name has changed, the rest not so much.” That message is actually worse than doing nothing.

The Scouts missed what could be their only opportunity to rebrand in a way that truly reflects the changes they are making. That’s disastrous from a rebranding viewpoint.

But for an organization that prides itself on turning children into leaders, it’s particularly disappointing. The Scout Law says a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Those values are reflected in everything a Scout aspires to. Regrettably, the organization’s leadership failed to be brave.



Case Study: A BIG Event

AIA Invitation final.png

The challenge
The American Institute of Architects Kansas City hired us to reboot its annual officer election event to entice more members into participating. 

We felt honored and up to the task because we believe in the power of the profession. Architects shape the world — Kansas City included — into inspiring places to live. We wanted to dream BIG like them.  

The solution
We brainstormed the theme of BIG in our initial conversation with AIA Kansas City and crafted a new identity around that: AIA KC BIG NIGHT.

BIG implies heft and lots of possibilities. For the event logo we settled on a typographic solution that we felt the intended audience would fully embrace: the simple, beautifully proportioned typeface Gotham set in a way that playfully explores positive/negative space while generating a Bright Lights, BIG City vibe. The subject line for the Save the Date heralded “Something BIG is about to happen!” The invitation contained lots of BIG wording. We created BIG stuff for the event.

The results
There was a significant bump in attendance from previous years and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the institute. BIG win! 


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Brains Behind the Brand: Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten spoke at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Ina Garten spoke at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Millions of people are fans of Ina Garten, known for her “Barefoot Contessa” Food Network show and cookbooks.

Audiences adore her because she makes entertaining seem easy and approachable. How does she make hosting a sophisticated dinner party look so simple? By sharing useful information like a coveted friend who has the scoop on all the secret sources in town. Her advice on cooking (add coffee to chocolate desserts to make them more chocolate-y) and decorating (use monochromatic blooms to create a harmonious floral arrangement) will never steer you wrong.

So when Garten spoke about entrepreneurism in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s “Ideas of March” series, the at-capacity crowd knew they were in for a treat.  Indeed; now that it’s April, Garten’s words continue to inspire.

“I don’t like to sit in a classroom; I like to do,” Garten told her audience of college students and fellow entrepreneurs. “I like not knowing what’s coming. I love solving problems. I love making decisions.”

Instead of delivering a presentation, which is essentially what Garten does with each episode of her cooking show, she held a conversation on stage with Kansas City food writer and philanthropist Mary Bloch.

“If you love it, you’ll be really good at it,” Garten said of entering the business world.

While working as a policy analyst in 1978 in the White House Office of Management and Budget, Garten felt creatively unfulfilled. She spotted a New York Times ad for a gourmet shop in the Hamptons called “Barefoot Contessa.” Although she had a passion for food and entertaining, she’d never run a business before.

“You can always stand on the side of a pond and find a million reasons not to jump in,” she said. Intrigued, she made a low offer and was surprised it was accepted.

Garten said learning from role models is critical. Hers were Julia Child and her love for French cuisine, and Eli Zabar with his Manhattan food empire.

Garten built up the “Barefoot Contessa” store and sold it to two employees in 1996. She began writing cookbooks that became bestsellers, leading to her own Food Network television show in 2002 — this is when she really became famous.

Garten’s shows feel authentic because she has her real friends over for meals and parties. Many of the episodes feature her husband, Jeffrey, who as a Yale international business professor, is no slouch himself.

Garten declines offers to launch a magazine and endorse products because she “wants a life” and intends to protect the business she has built. She initially turned down the television series, too, but producers kept nudging. That willingness to let yourself go outside of your comfort zone, she said, can be the key to bigger and better opportunities.


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