Q&A: What Do Girl Scout Cookies Have In Common With Viagra?

I failed my first business in 1993. I was in a partnership providing small and medium businesses with computerized accounting software products and services. We did serious research and provided a couple of marvelous products to our clients. We did sales, setup, and training, and were able to assist companies in making intelligent decisions regarding their needs and how to address and meet them.  It only took us 6 months to drain our resources to the point where the partnership required dissolution and we went our separate ways.

What went wrong was we failed to adequately market our product. We did not generate enough sales to maintain our business (wonderful as it was) and we died from insufficient cash flow. About 9 of every 10 new businesses travel down a similar pathway within the first three years of operation. In a small business seminar I attended (a couple of years before my fiasco) the idea was presented most small businesses are made of two people coming together: someone that knows how to do/make something, and someone that knows how to sell something. Unfortunately for these people, there needs to be a third person that knows how to run a business (specifically how to manage the money, both incoming and outgoing).

We (probably) should have known better, but failed none the less. We knew how to sell and how to use the product. We didn’t know how to market it (well enough). If we had been better at marketing we would have had a larger group of people to provide goods and services for, and then we would have had a larger group of people to shower us with money…

It was shortly after this trauma in my (business) life that I came to despise the Girl Scouts. Not the individual participants, they were still cute and adorable, but rather the devious and insidious marketing methods of the parent organization. Specifically, the cookie sales machine. My ex-sister-in-law was involved in the supply channel of cookie distribution and it came to light the $5.00 box of cookies would net less than 75 cents for the local group (and that did not include the copious amount of money spent on gasoline to haul the cookies from distribution center to troop home and again to the various sucker’s customer’s location). Shame on you, Mr. Ouaker!

It quickly became known in every office I worked in I was the curmudgeon to avoid like the plague when it came to kid-based fund-raising activities. Band-based citrus fruit, troop centered candy bar sales, pack pitched popcorn tins, in general any and every possible method of squeezing cash from the associates of parental units was utilized in my various workplace locations. In every case, I was identified as the LAST person to ask as it would invoke a ten-minute rant about the evils of “guilt-driven” marketing practices and when (read:if) the victim was able to escape they would be wiser next time. The number of such encounters decreased in frequency quite quickly (to the relief of co-workers in adjacent cubicles, being subjected to the anti-sales pitch several times in any given time period), eventually diminishing to winning lottery ticket occurrence regularity.

It was even worse when my son reached marketable age. I explained to his band director in person that he would not be productive in the fund raising activity of mercilessly pleading with family to buy endless quantities of needless materials thereby  funding the parent company (less a trickle for the local school system). I said I would rather write a check to the band (where every penny was given to the project) than spend (read: waste) my money buying an inflated product, only a mere pittance of which would befall upon the needy students involved.  I was not very popular in several circles (other parents, their kids, or my son himself) but I was confident I had secured the moral high ground.

So, how does this rant connect to the “little blue pill?”  There is a great similarity in the current marketing procedure for pharmaceuticals presented on television and in magazines to the little-league candy bar sales of old. Rather than putting in the required effort to market and sell your product yourself, you enlist the efforts of grossly underpaid amateur staff to hawk your wares to the general public. In the fund raising process, it is the children (or more often in my experience, their parents) plying on the associated guilt of “I need you to buy this in order for me to be able to: go to camp/win a bicycle/get a t-shirt/keep from being beaten up by my peers….” In the slick multimedia marketing presentation from the drug companies, it is the patient (or rather the customer) plying on the associated guilt of “I need you to prescribe this in order for me to be able to: avoid searching for bathrooms/obtain and maintain an erection/lower my cholesterol/eliminate frequent heartburn/help me breath easier/eliminate painful intercourse/reduce bladder leakage….” In essence, the patient has become the unpaid sale representative of the drug companies.

In the past, agents would be sent to the doctor’s office to provide samples and encourage physicians to prescribe a companies products. Now, (potential) customers are encouraged to pester their doctors for prescriptions to relieve conditions they were not aware they “were suffering from” until watching the TV. And if you act quickly you might be able to get your “first” prescription/month’s prescription/year’s prescription free (or at reduced cost). Why pay for an employee to distribute your wares when you can have the snake-oil purchasers do it for you (for free)?

At least the cookies came directly to your door….

Phred

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