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Can a name change to ‘Scouting America’ trailblaze a new era for the Boy Scouts?

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By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

June 7, 2024 | 10 min read

As the Boy Scouts of America undergoes a landmark rebranding to ‘Scouting America,’ marketers weigh in on the organization’s quest to become more inclusive and relevant in modern times. But will a name change be enough to shed its troubled past and appeal to a younger generation?

boy scout pitching a tent

The Boy Scouts of America rebrands as Scouting America, marking a new era of inclusivity and modernization / Credit: Adobe Stock

In a bid to modernize and expand its reach, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recently announced that it will rebrand to Scouting America on its 115th anniversary.

The transition, Effective February of next year, signals a fresh chapter for the venerable youth organization and a stride towards inclusivity and modernization.

This isn’t the organization’s first name change; in 2018, it rebranded from the Boy Scouts of America to Scouts BSA.

“Though our name will be new, our mission remains unchanged: we are committed to teaching young people to be ‘Prepared. For Life,’” Roger A Krone, president and chief executive officer of Scouting America, said in a statement, echoing the BSA’s motto. “This will be a simple but very important evolution as we seek to ensure that everyone feels welcome in Scouting.”

Whether or not the rebrand includes a refreshed visual identity is unclear. However, the announcement of the new name came in tandem with a new promotional video, titled ‘Scouting America Anthem,’ which portrays a diverse group of children engaging in various outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, ziplining and roasting marshmallows.

The BSA did not immediately respond to The Drum’s request for comment.

We asked marketers to share their perspectives on the organization’s transformation.

Modernizing a legacy

BSA’s historic announcement comes after a string of inclusivity milestones in recent years. Six years ago, the organization began welcoming women and girls into the core Scouts BSA program, leading to the enrollment of over 176,000 female members. In the following year, it opened memberships to transgender boys.

Alan Murdock, founder of multimedia marketing firm Murdock Media Production and volunteer at the annual Queer celebration Cedar Rapids Pride, views the BSA rebrand as a step to connect with a new generation of youth that defines gender in diverse ways. “It’s been clear for a long time that a 1950s ‘boys start fires and cut with knives, while girls sew and learn to cook’ mindset isn’t going to work, and I think they’ve been trying to sort out their culture and their role in culture,” he says.

The organization‘s shift toward inclusivity – particularly in welcoming youth of diverse gender expressions and sexualities, Murdock says, has been a crucial element in its modernization efforts. “Accepting non-binary and trans youth is the hallmark of an accepting organization.”

And the name change could help reinforce these progressive ideals. The shift will signal that the institution is “in step with real cultural shifts around gender norms and stereotypes,“ says Jason Keehn, founder of boutique agency Accompany Creative.

Ultimately, adds Aaron Hall, group director at creative agency Siegel+Gale, “It should be an exciting time to see more kids enjoying the camaraderie of being a Scout.”

Addressing past controversies

Despite the strides it has made in recent years, the BSA has a history marked by controversy – a fact that has for years impacted its public image.

Some ad industry insiders suggest that the name change could help signal a new, more positive direction for the organization in the eyes of the public.

As Keehn says, the change may help the BSA “shed a name that carries the very worst kind of baggage,” referring to the organization’s involvement in a variety of sexual abuse scandals.

In 2020, the BSA filed for bankruptcy after legal changes in several US allowed accusers to sue over decades-old abuse allegations. This organization eventually negotiated a settlement, which was approved in 2022. As part of the settlement, the BSA established a $2.4bn victims compensation trust in 2023 for the survivors, making it the largest sexual abuse settlement in US history. Under the settlement, more than 82,000 men are eligible to receive compensation ranging from $3,500 to $2.7m.

Survivor compensation was a crucial aspect of the BSA’s court-approved reorganization plan, which enabled the organization to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

However, the effectiveness of the reorg and rebranding efforts in severing ties with the organization’s problematic past remains a topic of debate.

Online, social media users have had mixed responses. Some have argued that the name change is a logical move in light of the group’s history.

Some publicity and reputation experts agree.

“From a PR standpoint, it’s good to separate the brand from the scandals of the past,” comments Craig Greiwe, chief strategy officer & chief marketing officer of multi-national conglomerate GoDigital Media Group. “A good ol’ name change is a tried-and-true classic to remove yourself from the SEO-driven digital footprint of sordid scandals.”

In spite of the positive publicity boost the organization may enjoy from its name change, Greiwe sees existential risk in the BSA’s future due to a years-long trend of declining membership numbers.

“Both the [BSA] and the Girl Scouts are in a freefall, a nosedive into irrelevance,” he says.

Grant Polachek, head of branding at naming platform Atom, also expresses skepticism: “As a marketer, I can confidently say that the reality of child abuse will not be fixed with this name change. More focus should be placed on the process for eliminating this terrible reality than just the name.”

Legal tensions with the Girl Scouts

It’s not just PR and relevance hurdles ahead for the BSA – the organization also faces pressure from other scouting organizations.

The Girl Scouts of America, a separate organization, began criticizing the BSA in 2018 when it dropped the word ‘boy‘ from its name in exchange for the name ‘Scouts BSA‘ to attract more girls to its program. The Girl Scouts also previously criticized the BSA’s decision to start accepting girls into the Boy Scouts program.

Sylvia Acevedo, The Girl Scouts’ chief executive, fired back at the decision, saying, We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents,” at the time.

Tensions between the two organizations culminated later that year when the Girl Scouts filed a lawsuit over the BSA‘s right to employ the term ”scouting” to promote co-ed programs, arguing that the rebrand created marketplace confusion and harmed its recruitment efforts. However, the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in April of 2022.

Marketers have varied opinions on validity of the claims made by Girl Scouts of America.

Dustin Siggins, founder of PR firm Proven Media Solutions, agrees with the Girl Scouts that the name change could sow confusion, particularly in online search environments. It might “create issues with online searches and future generations considering joining a scouting organization,” he says.

Meanwhile, Accompany Creative‘s Keehn acknowledges the potential for brand confusion but argues that the BSA rebrand is unlikely to impact the Girl Scouts brand in any significant way. He says that while both organizations share similar foundational principles – a strong emphasis on outdoor adventure, learning life skills and serving the community, for example – they differ markedly in their programming, values and the benefits they claim to provide, which will ultimately distinguish them.

“While there may be legitimate brand confusion around Scouting America, I don’t believe the new-found gender inclusivity of [the organization] meaningfully threatens the fundamental appeal of the Girls Scouts,” Keehn says. Still, he stresses that “girls deserve and need safe spaces to help them thrive, regardless of what any other scouting organization does or doesn’t do.”

Gauging the organization’s next steps

As the BSA enters its new era as Scouting America, marketers have a few pieces of advice so the organization can position itself for success.

A more substantial overhaul in brand image could go a long way, suggests Keehn. “To meaningfully address the cultural shift around gender and embrace inclusivity, their branding – from their voice to their iconography – needs to evolve and expand,” he says. “The brand’s website currently features rocketry, flag salutes, badge icons with anchors and wolves, and ‘oaths’ to take to achieve MacGyver-like preparedness. Their brand identity may reinforce a militia-like tone that leans into traditional masculine equities that conflict with a focus on inclusivity.”

Meanwhile, Murdock, reflecting on the new promo video, notes the importance of representing less traditionally masculine and feminine presenting individuals in the organization’s marketing materials, such as those with “blue hair, multiple body types, boys, girls and people who present as nonbinary and LGBTQIA+.”

Hall stresses the importance of preparing for potential backlash during the official launch. “How you launch a name is nearly as important as the name itself ... Scouting America is a great name that reflects the organization’s evolved mission and audience ... Launch messaging should emphasize that this new name is a signal that guides the organization toward the future – a future where they can help all kids prepare themselves for life.”

Not everyone is as optimistic about the organization‘s future success, however.

Proven Media Solutions‘ Siggins, for instance, sees the rebrand as a desperate but ultimately shallow attempt to regain relevance. He suggests the change is a mere cosmetic fix for a brand hamstrung by lawsuits, declining membership and the rise of rival groups like Trail Life USA.

Whether the name change will benefit the organization in the long run only time can tell.

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