Outré Cause Marketing?

Bear Grylls, the eat-anything host of the Discovery Channel’s hit show Man vs. Wild (called Born Survivor in the U.K.), recently endorsed a compact knife for Boy Scouts, sold by American knife maker Gerber. A special sale of the knife at the SHOT Show (Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade) in January 2011 in Las Vegas generated $22,000 for the Cascade Pacific Council in Northwest Oregon, where Gerber is headquartered.

I saw the item in Outdoor USA Magazine... seen in the upper right hand column... a trade publication for the outdoor retailing industry, and was just a little surprised. Not by Bear Grylls endorsing a product; the adventurer has been pitching stuff in the U.K for years. I’m not surprised by the Boy Scout connection; he’s the Chief Scout of The Scout Association in the U.K., the youngest person to ever hold that position.

What surprised me was that Gerber did a cause marketing campaign for the Boy Scouts, which has been rather outré for more than a decade now. While 110 million Americans have been Boy Scouts since 1910, myself included, the Boy Scouts pointedly does not allow known or avowed homosexual or atheists or agnostics as employees or volunteers, although Scouts themselves can be either so long as they don’t hold youth leadership positions.

As a result the BSA has been a lightning rod for litigation and boycotts for years. The litigation mainly ended with the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. In 2000 the high court found that as a private organization the Boy Scouts of America enjoyed Freedom of Association, meaning the Scouts can make membership rules as they see fit, including discriminating against gay and atheist leaders.

But the boycotts remain firmly entrenched. The search term Boycott Boy Scouts of America generates 718,000 results on Google, although some of those results are for boycotts of former sponsors of the BSA.

Boycotts or not and outré or not, the BSA still has 114,000 units, 2.7 million youth members and 1 million adult leaders. Only a handful of youth organizations in the United States can claim a larger membership base. And like few other youth organizations, Boy Scouts need gear. And making outdoor gear is Gerber’s business. And Bear Grylls is a wonderfully authentic endorser.

To be fair, the BSA isn’t the only cause ever to be boycotted. The search term Boycott Susan G. Komen generates 156,000 results on Google.

Nonetheless, Gerber walks a knife’s edge with its cause efforts on behalf of the BSA.

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