The Boy Scouts of America is synonymous with building character, confidence and camaraderie—and more recently, digital savvy. Rather than bristling at the march of progress over tradition, the 104-year old organization has embraced its role developing the character and values of millions of young, connected digital natives.
At official gathering places such as the Philmont Training Center in New Mexico, older scouts can build orienteering and geocaching skills (which rely on GPS or mobile devices) between turns riding zip lines and panning for gold. As a result, brands such as AT&T, Jack Link's and Polaris have taken notice and discovered that a partnership with the Scouts is a unique opportunity to build loyalty among 2.7 million engaged and energetic youths, 50 million living alumni and one million adult volunteers.
To facilitate this, the organization recently launched a dedicated platform called Scouting Works, where brands can forge partnerships for marketing, media and sales opportunities with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that will reach youths and their families. This is done through Scout camps, special events and with magazines like Boys' Life and the Scout's social media and video channels.
From a brand point of view, it's an attractive proposition. Fifty percent of U.S. millennials ages 18 to 24 agreed that brands "say something about who I am, my values and where I fit in," according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group. Further, Scouts make for an ideal captive audience, and one that has significant buying power. U.S. millennials do an estimated $430 billion of nonessential spending, according to the report, and they want to spend their money on things that matter, which means that marketers have to do more than slip swag in a backpack and wait for sales to spike.
Jack Link's is one brand that hit on a way to earn a merit badge for appealing to Scouts in both a physical and digital way. This July, Jack Link's and the BSA signed a multi-year partnership that will make the company's turkey, beef, and pork jerky the "official protein snack of the Boy Scouts of America," meaning that Jack Link's products will be sold at BSA retail facilities, summer camp trading posts and high adventure bases in Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico and West Virginia.
"Jack Link's and the Boy Scouts of America are a good fit," says John Stewart, the managing director of Scouting Works. "We are constantly looking for ways to create authentic, relevant opportunities for brands to speak to America's youth, families and communities. This is a great representation of that effort."
Last year, AT&T seized an opportunity to marry technology with tradition at the National Scout Jamboree. Held every four years, the Jamboree brings in over 57,000 people for ten days of Scouting activities, both indoors and out. The company provided hundreds of tablets and smartphones for scouts to use in "connection zones" spread throughout the event's 10,000-acre property. Between skateboarding, skeet shooting and other merit badge–worthy endeavors, Scouts charged their devices and shared photos (tagged #2013jambo) in the connection zones.
The results were impressive. Not only were 43,000 "Answer the Call of the Wild" patches distributed to Scouts who participated in activities in the AT&T tent, but 186,000 mobile devices were charged and 31.6 terabytes of data were used (if data were paper, that would translate to over 10 billion single-spaced typewritten pages).
Kit Yarrow, a business professor and author of Gen BuY, believes millennials have become accustomed to instant gratification from their digital environments. Consequently, they demand interactions with brands in real life to not only be immediate, but also unique and engaging.
Polaris, the off-road vehicle manufacturer, found a way to do that by partnering with the BSA to donate off-road vehicles and safety gear to scout camps. The pilot program launched earlier in 2014 at two camps was meant to promote youth off-road safety practices, environmental respect and the benefits of outdoor activities, which also spoke to the teens' love of brands supporting a cause. Over 900 Boy Scouts learned how to ride and maintain the vehicles and earned safety patches in the process. It's part of a 10-year partnership that will expand to other camps around the country.
Brands looking to cement their appeal to this group of savvy young adults need not only to know how to bridge the divide between virtual and real world interactions, but also to remember that Scouting traditions of service, adventure, learning and leadership remain unchanged and should be at the heart of their message.