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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.