How Thin Mints and Do-si-dos Have Empowered Generations of Girl Scouts

And prompted Americans to buy cookies year after year

The Academy Awards of 2016 served up plenty of memorable moments, but none more surprising than host Chris Rock goading attendees into lining up behind a good cause. "I want you to reach into your millionaire pockets and buy some of my daughters' Girl Scout cookies," he told the audience.

Last year, 194 million boxes of Girl Scout cookies were sold. Photo: Nick Ferrari; Food styling: Lynne Chan

And they did—to the tune of $65,243, with Kate Winslet, Mindy Kaling and even Vice President Joe Biden ponying up. It was not only great publicity for the Girl Scouts (the greater Los Angeles chapter said it was "thrilled" about the shoutout), but it underscored America's long relationship with those famous cookies.

The tradition of the Scouts selling cookies door-to-door began in 1917 as a way to raise money to finance troop activities. In the early years, Scout members actually baked their own cookies. In 1936, they discovered it was more efficient to contract with commercial bakeries. (ABC Bakers in Richmond, Va., which signed on with the Scouts in 1937, is still an official supplier.) Over the years, varieties have come and gone, but with the exception of a few years during World War II—when the rationing of ingredients forced the Scouts to sell calendars and when the girls turned their attention to collecting cans for the war effort—cookies have been associated with the Scouts.

 

 

While the primary purpose of the cookies is to raise money, a close second is helping girls to grow up. "Selling cookies is a great opportunity for young girls to learn goal setting, money management and people skills," said Katherine Wintsch, CEO of The Mom Complex.

"Each purchase serves as an opportunity to help a young girl reach her fullest potential," adds Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez. "The cookie program empowers girls to develop leadership skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives."

And yet, cookie time brings a sense of unease for many a Girl Scout parent. "I'm giving it to you straight, ladies," explained writer Jacqueline Burt Cote in 2012. "Just in case this is your daughter's first year dealing Do-si-dos. Because nobody's going to come right out and tell you unloading those biscuits is your job … but it is."

Who hasn't dealt with that coworker slinging Thin Mints for his daughter's troop? Was Chris Rock not doing this very thing?

Health advocates gripe, and right-wing groups have called for boycotts over the Scouts' support of LGBT issues. And yet, 194 million boxes were sold last year.

Forty-six percent of us buy the cookies because we love 'em, according to one survey, while just 14 percent do it out of a sense of obligation. As Chávez put it: "Whether it be nostalgia, their delicious taste or a cookie buyer's charitable nature, Girl Scout cookies have stood the test of time."

This story first appeared in the April 25, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

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