134. What Can Girl Scout Cookies Teach Us About Economics?

Everyone loves Girl Scout Cookie season, but there is more in those boxes than just delicious cookies. In fact, Girl Scout Cookie season can teach us a lot about an economic term called “scarcity.”

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Why the Girl Scouts Are Marketing Geniuses

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: You know, we just recently went through what should have been this annual big season of Girl Scouts flooding social media and texts from neighbors and out in front of stores selling Girl Scout cookies. But, you know, it would’ve been that way if, I would say if COVID hadn’t ruined everything. But really it’s government’s response, right? To COVID as we discussed in a previous episode that is ruining all these things. This is the time of year that should be turning me into a cookie junkie, and I buy way too many and they’re so delicious.

Brittany: Me too. And I usually drive red, like looking for the Girl Scouts, right? Because I need to see those green vests selling colorful boxes of delicious processed sugar. Look forward to it every year. and I think, last year I ate like, oh, we don’t need to go into that. It was like six boxes of thin mints. But, after scarfing down my first box of the year, you know, that euphoria of the cookie hunt kind of dies down. And then it dawns on me that these outrageously expensive cookies, because I think they’re up to like almost $5 a box now, you know, really aren’t that good. Like, you know, I could make my own cookies that are way better, but every single year I get excited to go out of my way to, you know, go buy as many boxes as I can carry and I don’t drive. So I’m literally walking around Arlington just with like a stack of cookies.

Connor: This is what I find interesting about the phenomenon because, you know, people as you point out, like come to that realization of like, wait, how much am I spending just on cookies that aren’t that great Or cuz I think like the Keebler company, they make thin mints that you can get eaten at any time. And, I know a lot of people who love the cookies or they kinda get swept up into buying them, even though they’ve got problems with the Girl Scout organization. They have disagreements with kind of what they’re doing, and now they’re all woke. And I mean, I remember in particular when Amy Coney Barrett got onto the Supreme Court, the Girl Scout’s, Twitter page, they posted this image of all the female, you know, Supreme Court justices and it was very much this like, girl empowerment, look what you can become, right? And they said, they didn’t even say something nice, they just kind of basically said, congratulations to this, woman, this girl, and all these people attacked the Girl Scouts, all these like woke leftist feminist people. How dare you say something nice about Amy Coney. And so they were pressured and they caved to the pressure. They took the tweet down, just this simple, so ridiculous, you know, congratulations post. Anyway, so people have, you know, like especially conservatives and others, you know, feel like the Girl Scouts have become very kind of leftist and whatnot. So, there’s people even that have these organizational, you know, disagreements with the Girl Scouts and yet they’re still buying these cookies cuz they wanna support this little girl raising money. And she’s cute and in her little green vest as you say. And yet they have this, like, this notion that the cookies are good cuz it’s been a year since they last had ’em and had that epiphany that you, oh, these aren’t mediocre. But then a year later they’re like, oh yeah, no, I like those. Right? And so they’ve got this like, genius marketing strategy and they empower these girls to be entrepreneurs. They’ve turned these, we’ll say mediocre lamb cookies, isnt, this like crazy successful all-around experience for people to buy? It’s really

Brittany: Interesting. Well, what’s interesting, I like that you brought up that Keebler’s has the Grasshopper mint and if you know fudge cookies because they’re actually made in Little Brown, it’s called the Little Brown Breakers or Little Brownie Bakers company, which is the same company that makes Girl Scout cookies. So Yeah. Oh wow. So you’ll get Fin Mins for five bucks, but you can get the keyboard grasshoppers for $2 and 69 cents at least when I last looked it up. So, but yet, like you said, people are willing to not only pay more but to travel further for the Girl Scout cookies. And that is where I think the beauty of the marketing strategy is, right? Because that’s an important thing about entrepreneurship. We’ve talked about this is not just the product, it’s how you’re marketing it.

Connor: And they’re actually, as part of that marketing effort, they’re using something very important, kinda an economic principle that motivates, people, to behave differently. And, that’s called, scarcity, right? And so the decision that they, make to, and this is actually artificial scarcity. In other words, they could sell these cookies year-round. It’s not actual scarcity. Like, you know, during wartime we talked on a previous episode how the government would hoard metal and it’s hard for, you know, Lego, other toy companies to, you know, have metal toys because there was scarcity of metal. There was only so much available and it was needed for other things. and so those are kind of natural or regular scarcity. Artificial scarcity is when a company like this can produce the cookies year-round. And yet they decide as part of a marketing strategy that they’re only going to sell at a few months of the year only at certain locations. And it changes people’s behavior, right? They’ll go to great lengths to get these cookies. They’ll buy way more than they ever would’ve bought normally before. And, so this is called scarcity marketing. This is a strategy that you can use to, you know, sell more of your item and it’s what the Girl Scouts are using.

Brittany: Well, that’s the thing, like if I’m craving Oreos, which happens from time to time, I know that at any given time I can go to the grocery store and find them. maybe not during the pre-day of Covid when everything was sold out, but since these cookies are so widely available like I never worry about stocking up, right? I can grab one pack and that’s it. Cuz if I want to buy another pack for any reason, I know finding it’s not gonna be a problem. They’re always there.

Connor: Yeah. But so, and that’s a great point because, with Girl Scout cookies, they’re not always going to be there. And so, people are gonna buy weight. Like they’re gonna go outta their effort, as you say, drive in the neighborhood, like looking for these girls, texting friends, Hey, is there

Brittany: like an addict?

Connor: Yeah. Yeah. And, they’re actually like proactively searching these things out. you know, they, even, I think sometimes, people will use an app on the phone that can say, here’s where Girl Scouts are selling, right? You can find locations like no one does this for other cookies. and yet because of scarcity, you know, people are proactively searching for them. They’re not just buying one box. They’re, you know, buying more, they’re freezing them for later. They’re, yeah. Or they’re just binging and eating through all the boxes. and, you know, this is just very interesting to me because, it shows that, if you wanna be an entrepreneur and, that it’s critical to understand economics, economics is not just boring charts and graphs and math and anything like that. Real economics is about human behavior. And, if I’m being honest and kind of transparent, you know, I use this with the Tuttle twins too, right? It’s like, Hey, here’s this sale. It only lasts, you know, through Saturday this coupon code. Well, if I wanted to, I could keep the coupon going like forever, but I don’t want to, because, you know, it’s gonna motivate people to buy, they know that if they don’t buy now, they’re not gonna get as big a discount later. And so it moves people to action when otherwise they might think, oh, well the Tuttle Twins books, you know, they’re always doing that sale. Get to it at some point. But it kind of shakes people a little bit. Like, Hey, you know, take attention or pay attention, take action. and so that’s why artificial scarcity can motivate behavior because people respond differently to it. It kind of wakes them up in their brain a little bit.

Brittany: Yeah. And I call this, or I don’t call it, make it, what is it? Fomo, fear of missing out, right? Like, because you get that thing of like, all right, I have to do this now I have to purchase more of this product cause it’s gonna go away. And so the power of FOMO marketing, like, it’s just incredible. But, the cool thing to realize is none of this is done by force, right? This is entirely a willing decision. If I wanna spend half my paycheck on Girl Scout cookies, I’m gonna do it. So I’ve always thought that was interesting.

Connor: You know, sometimes I’ve wondered why girl Scouts haven’t moved more towards like a digital model, right? They can sell them online or through their app. More people could easily purchase the product, the cookies. But this kind of like misses the point that we’re talking about here, right? The fact that you can only buy, from the actual Girl Scouts, makes people want them more. Like you, like I’ve told my kids, like, guys, you were at the age where people will buy anything from you. You need to take advantage of that.

Brittany: You kids like.

Connor: Totally. And, so, you know, these tiny little capitalists walking around the neighborhood, right? They’re tricking people into craving something more. They have scarcity on their side. Hey, you know, this sale only lasts, or this, you know, you can only buy ’em for another, you know, few weeks or something like that. it’s a good strategy on the part.

Brittany: yeah. And, there’s one more aspect that I really love about cookie season and that is the Girl Scout cookie experience is witnessing, you know, the rise of budding entrepreneurs, especially like you said, you know, little entrepreneurs, so few children, or even adults for that matter, understand the struggle of face-to-face sale pitches. That doesn’t really happen in the digital age anymore. I mean, maybe over the phone still, but do you remember like vacuum salesmen? Like, people used to come to your door and sell you something. So pitching a product, even when you strongly believe in it, is not easy. And it takes a fair amount of courage and salesmanship and resilience. Resilience cuz you’re gonna get doors slammed on your face. I used to knock on doors and try to sell political candidates, you know, working for political candidates and I have had the door slammed on my face many times, but without the ability to make a solid and convincing elevator pitch. And an elevator pitch is where you have like 32nd justification for why you’re selling and or what you’re selling and why it’s so great. So no entrepreneur can really achieve success unless you’ve mastered that. And luckily for the Girl Scouts, this is something these young entrepreneurs in training have mastered because they have to do it every season.

Connor: I think that’s very clever too. It does definitely instill some of the skills. and maybe if we’re being honest, right? Like the girls aren’t having to sell that hard, cuz as we said, people like you were driving the neighborhood working for men. it’s not a hard sell, you know, but, the more ambitious ones are still going door to door. They are just kind of saying, Hey, you know, are you interested? even if you know their parents are helping them and people are hunting them down, and, you know, even though the product is so famous at this point that it can basically sell itself if it wanted to, like this face-to-face interaction and instilling entrepreneurship, is essential. It’s super powerful. And, it’s good to see that that’s still happening. You know, that these girls, I mean, they can even learn about competition, right? Other girls are trying to sell to the same audience and, there’s just a lot of opportunities here for them to practice entrepreneurship, learn economics. What I like about this too is again, economics is just human interaction. And something as simple as buying Girl Scout cookies. We can understand, teach our kids, right? We can talk about these ideas as a family and understand the economics of something as silly as Girl Scout cookies because there are these principles that are, you know, being applied. And for those of us who want to be entrepreneurial, we can observe, you know, what those principles are and we can figure out, how do I apply that over here? I mean, when I first learned about scarcity marketing, it was very powerful. I was seeing all these examples of what other companies had done in order to motivate people to purchase. These are people who wanted to purchase, they liked their product, they were their target market. They knew that these customers would benefit and whatever it is, right? Vacuums, as you say, cars, whatever. And, but the problem is people are, you know, lazy, they’re busy. They’re, distracted easily. They’re being bombarded with advertisements and whatever from all kinds of people. So there’s kind of an overflow of information. And so how do you get your ideal customer, you know, will buy and excuse me, will buy and love your product? How do you get that customer to kind of, you know, get off the couch and take action? Well, scarcity marketing is one way to do it. These economic ideas can definitely be applied. and so it’s something as simple as Girl Scout cookies. We can still learn these economic ideas. We can learn how to be better entrepreneurs. A great topic as always, Brittany, thanks for chatting. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.

 

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