The devil doesn’t wear Prada, she wears a Girl Scout uniform. Or at least she does from February through March, when she haunts the doorways of your local grocery store. She arrives just in time for your New Year resolutions to start to fray, and you’re poised on the slippery slope of slackerdom.
You pass the siren call of cookies with eyes averted, heart intent on stockpiling leafy greens and superfoods. This time—THIS time—you resolve that the cookies won’t make you crumble. But the evil Scout gets you as soon as you come out, and you succumb once again, to the sweet, sick allure of the sugar rush. And how can you not, especially when greeted by a gaggle of grinning Girl Scouts? Of course, I’m biased because I was an overzealous Girl Scout myself, starting as a wee Brownie and honing my cookie-hawking skills for several years.
Up to 28 varieties of cookies are available at any time, but most of us are familiar with the Fab Five. Strangely, four of the five bestsellers go by two different names, depending on which bakery they come from, either ABC Bakers or Little Brownie Bakers. The bakery chooses the name, so there’s no standardization (oh, the horrors of misguided nom nom nomenclature!) ABC Bakers leans towards more descriptive names, while Little Brown Bakers takes the more evocative route.
Each regional Girl Scout council decides which baker to use. When the councils merged after the August 2006 reorganization, some changed bakers, which gave rise to a clusterfudge of cookie confusion. I’d say this is absolutely inane. Try explaining to an 8-year-old girl why council/baker politics means the same cookie has two names, and she’ll say, “That’s stupid.” And she’s right.
The primary purpose of names is to help the target audience differentiate between things, and this dual-naming approach is unnecessarily complex. Some of the cookie names (Samoa, Tagalong, Do-si-do) have strong brand equity, and when you change them, you kill the goodwill of nostalgic customers who are attached to these names.
Luckily, Thin Mints always go by the same name. This is my personal flavorite, and I love the name because of the internal rhyme. They taste and look the way they sound, airy and fresh with a trace of sweetness. (Of course, the “thinness” refers only to their form factor; eat enough and you’ll be anything but thin). They’re also the undisputed cookie king, with a whopping quarter of all sales.
Nom nom grade: A+
Nominal grade: A
Ah, and then you have the soul-satisfying stickiness of Samoas®/ Caramel deLites®. They’re graced with the holy trinity of chocolate, coconut, and caramel, and they carry a certain weight that the other cookies lack. I knew them as “Samoas,” so the other longer name just irks me. Plus, “deLite” is impossible to spell and isn’t as memorable or short as “Samoa,” which is a lovely word, rich in tropical imagery. It evokes the copious coconuttiness of the cookie, and may have inspired Pepperidge Farm to give its cookies delectable place names.
Nom nom grade: A
Nominal grade: Samoas – A / Caramel deLites – C
And now for the Reese’s Pieces-like Peanut Butter Patties®/Tagalongs®. These crispy vanilla cookies are layered with peanut butter and enrobed in chocolate for a sweet and salty combo. While “Peanut Butter Patties” has a nice ring and clearly describes the product, it’s long and plain Jane in tonality. “Tagalong” is more fun, and while somewhat arbitrary, its playfulness makes it memorable to munchers.
Nom nom grade: B
Nominal grade: Peanut Butter Patties – B- / Tagalongs – A-
Next up of the top five are the Trefoils™/Shortbread, the popularity of which I just don’t get. They’re blandly buttery with no other discernible flavors, although they’ve redeemed themselves as the perfect pairing for an afternoon shot of espresso. Blandness aside, I’m not a fan of the term “Trefoil” or the very descriptive and blasé “Shortbread.” Trefoil, a nod to its iconic shape of three leaves, sounds straight-up unappetizing. Last time I checked, “foil” wasn’t something that cued scrumptiousness, and while “shortbread” is a generic term for a shortening-based biscuit, it’s also immediately forgettable.
Nom nom grade: C
Nominal grade: Trefoils™ – C / Shortbread – C
Last, but certainly not least, are the Do-si-dos™/Peanut Butter Sandwiches. “Peanut Butter Sandwich” is the most obvious way of describing the cookie: two oatmeal pieces with creamy peanut butter on the inside. But consider how much more engaging “Do-si-do” is, suggesting two cookies dancing around its creamy center. One name is insipid, and the other one is indelible. A name that captures the imagination and communicates the product’s features? Now that’s sweet.
Nom nom grade: B+
Nominal grade: Do-si-do – A / Peanut Butter Sandwich – C-
Although let’s face it, no matter what the cookies are called, people will inhale them. At the very least, the national Girl Scout organization could work up an appetite for simplicity and give up the second name.