So much for the Boy Scouts. The 108-year-old Boy Scouts of America organization is making a massive change: renaming its flagship program

It made sense in theory. Since the Boy Scouts are now trying to recruit girls, it's time to drop the "Boy" part of the "Boy Scouts" name. However, there's no easy way to say this: the replacement they've come up with is a wimpy and inept choice.

Ready? They're no longer "Boy Scouts." Now, they're going to be: "Scouts BSA."

This is such a bad decision, for so many reasons, that I think it's destined to be taught as an example of "what not to do when rebranding" for years to come. Here's why--along with the underlying conflict that this new name suggests, and the message it sends to parents of would-be scouts.

1. It's a comically passive-aggressive name.

The key problem with the name "Scouts BSA" is that it pliantly acknowledges the need to drop "Boy" from "Boy Scouts," but doesn't demonstrate the courage needed to actually make the change. Instead, we get this weak-minded, passive-aggressive half-measure. 

Seriously, why not come up with something truly inclusive, instead of this rebranding that keeps the gender-specific initials? It sounds like a nod to a faction that wanted to keep the organization single-sex, and the name intact--boys only--but that didn't have the leadership ability or the business acumen to pull it off.

They would have been better off leaving things as they anachronistically were. Instead, "Scouts BSA" sends a coded message to any girl who who might consider joining--and to the parents of any girl who might consider joining: Girls are add-ons and outsiders, at least in the eyes of the people running the organization.

In other words, we might need you (and your money), demographically speaking. But as our name makes abundantly clear, we don't really want you.

2. It's one letter off from a much better choice.

I stared at the original report describing this name change, wondering if the whole thing was a typo. Maybe they really meant, "Scouts USA."

That would have made sense: a unifying, respectful nod to our great country, while still making a break from the past. I wasn't a scout, but I'm a U.S. military veteran. I think I would have liked and respected that patriotic rebranding--if only they'd chosen it.

In fact, somewhat confusingly, the overall umbrella organization that runs the new "Scouts USA" (along with the Cub Scouts) is still going to be called the Boy Scouts of America. So, there would have been a semantic link between the "America" in the big organization's name and the "USA" in the flagship program's name.

Just to recap: This means the Boy Scouts of America will no longer run a program called the Boy Scouts, because it's no longer only for boys. Yet for some reason, they're still keeping the "Boy" in the overall organization's name, thus undercutting the entire message, which was hopelessly muddled to begin with.

I'm exhausted even thinking that through. Fortunately, we've reached the final point:

3. It sounds like a name that was chosen by committee.

Is there a merit badge for marketing? Seems like there needs to be, because the most important rule of rebranding is something like, "Don't choose everyone's third-favorite option. Pick something that people can feel passionate about."

"Scouts BSA" smells like a compromise between at least two groups: traditionalists who didn't want girls in the Boy Scouts to begin with, and other groups that are more progressive, or that at least that think that demographics are destiny--and that a half-step towards the future is better than none.

Lo and behold, the AP summarizes the deliberations that led to this name change as "lengthy," and quotes Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh calling them, "incredibly fun."

Really? Lengthy deliberations, and yet, "incredibly fun?" Scout's honor? 

Yeah, okay. Maybe they've convinced themselves. And I'm sure that the Boy Scouts will defend this name change now, since they've now gone out on a limb and announced it. Yet, all of this compromise, if that's what it was, obscures the fundamental challenge.

Namely, many younger parents think scouting is old-fashioned. They'd need to be convinced even to consider having their kids participate. Sure, there are stalwart families, but the scouts are shrinking, fast. And the numbers back it up.

Boy Scout membership dropped about 13 percent in just five years according to the AP (from 2.6 million to 2.3 million)--and it's way down from a height of 4 million a few years back. Meantime, the Girl Scouts have the same issue: down about 13.7 percent since 2014--and their leadership reportedly was "blindsided" by the Boy Scouts' move to recruit girls.

"Girl Scouts is the premier leadership development organization for girls," Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, told the media after the Boy Scouts announcement. "We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents."

It's understandable that the Girl Scouts would be upset. I mean, I might have been worried if I were in their shoes. Maybe some girls would be more likely to want to join a truly gender-neutral scouting organization. Maybe some parents would have liked the idea, too. 

That's not what's happening. I'm a dad. I have a young daughter. I'm the target market. Maybe my daughter someday soon will want to become a scout.

But if the program formerly known as the Boy Scouts can't even muster the courage to adopt an inclusive and respectful name, why would I expect them to behave inclusively and respectfully towards her when things get tough? Why would I be inclined to steer her (and my money) to them?

Ergo, marketing fail. That's why the "BSA" in "Scouts BSA" should really stand for something else: "Better Start Again."

Published on: May 2, 2018
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