Edgy campaign rattles traditional Guides supporters

Mock ad showing the type of false-need advertising targeting pre-teen girls and a why-girls-need-guides sticker over top of it.

In 2006, I was working for the Olds Albertan. I was lucky enough to have a press release from Girl Guides come across my desk. The resulting story appeared in the weekly newspaper August 15, 2006.  I’ve republished an edited copy here because I feel it speaks to how the organization has evolved by addressing the time in which their girls are living:

New ads pit tradition against evolution in an effort to avoid extinction

By Faye Bayko

As if living by the any-press-is-good-press creed Girl Guides of Canada representatives seem to be weathering the storm of controversy and resulting press copy over the launch of the organization’s new ad campaign with genuine smiles, and a good shovel.

Guides look for change

“Change is always difficult,” said Shauna Klein, manager of marketing and development for GGC. “I know that some of our members weren’t happy with the campaign because it is different for Girl Guides and that’s the point. We had to do something different in order to get our name out there.”

The ad campaign developed out of an idea proposed by the team from a Toronto advertising agency.

“We approached them based on the fact that we thought Girl Guides was kind of quiet as an organization,” said Stephen Jurisic, one of two creative directors and five ex-Ammirati Puris employees who had left the advertising giant five years ago to create their own company, John St.

“(GGC) were known for their cookies and that was overshadowing their leadership stuff,” explained Jurisic.

Klein said the approach from the new agency was appreciated. “They were interested in doing some pro-bono work and asked if we would be interested in taking advantage of that offer. Given that our numbers have been declining the last few years (from a high in 1986 of $250,000 to $120,000 in 2006), we thought this would be a great opportunity for us to go back out and remind people that Girl Guides are still here and still relevant.”

Jurisic, who is a father as is a good majority of the agency’s partners, said they used personal as well as professional experience to design the adds. “We’ve done a lot of work talking to moms through previous and present (clients) so we know our target well.”

And the target for the ad campaign, he said, was not young girls even though they are the ones who enroll in the GGC program. The target is the mothers of those girls.

The campaign involved creating mock ads similar to those usually seen in teen and women’s magazines where young women are posed in a manner inferring the wearing of certain clothes, etc. will make them attractive to men. The ad would have a GGC sticker pasted on it with the slogan, ‘why girls need guides’ in lower-case text.

Critical thinking for Guides

While some of the criticism has come over the subject and style of the mock ads, Jurisic said they were chosen carefully. “They’re the ones the kids are most inundated with and are probably the most difficult to explain.”

Starting last month ads using the tagline ‘why girls need guides’ started to appear in magazines and on websites. The common factor is the image of a sticker showing a cartoon illustration of a Girl Guide, by Marcos Chin, pointing at an issue-based message set into a mock ad. Do girls need to lose 10 pounds in 10 days, use pre-teen cellulite cream, or project early sexuality with a tight pair of jeans?

“This is what girls today are exposed to on a daily basis in such volume that I think we’ve become immune to it,” said Klein, who remains a strong supporter of the campaign in spite of the critics.

Jurisic is excited by all the controversy. “I love that it’s instilling conversation. … Just people talking about women’s issues, I think, is important.”

But, the new ad campaign will inspire more than conversation, according to Jurisic. There has been a participation element built into it. Along with the mock ads, thousands of sheets of stickers have been printed and inserted in to the magazines. “(Girls) can go up to posters they see on the street that are, you know, lewd, and just stick (stickers) on.”

While creating an awareness of why girls today need the Guide program may have been the function of the campaign, traditional Girl Guiders will appreciate the soft, yet out-of-doors look of the new website developed by Toronto’s Amoeba Corp.: www.girlsneedguides.ca.

The Girl Guides program and badges have undergone changes over time to reflect each generation’s interests. As she mentioned during the Canada AM interview last week, Klein said traditional badges, like those for domestic arts have given way to badges such as event planning and forensics.

While local Guide leaders have been advised by head office not to comment to the press about the new ad campaign, long-time Guide leader and treasurer for the Olds group, Linda Reid, said the program itself continues to be “excellent” and she liked the changes made last year. “They have upped the math and sciences tremendously.”

The campaign will evolve, said Jurisic. “Next year we’ll do stuff that’ll give more meat to the bone.”

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About Faye Bayko

I am a writer and photographer currently working out of Vancouver, BC.