Girl Guides of Canada's move to rebrand "Brownies" is 'powerful', expert says, but some Canadians don't see the problem

The Girl Guides of Canada rebrand of their “Brownies” branch is a move that puts their actions ahead of words when it comes to being an inclusive organization, according to one expert.

Rob McLean, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Guelph, calls the move “brave” and a positive thing to protect their brand identity of being a truly welcoming place for children and young people.

They’re not just putting out words, they’re making a real change. The message it sends about inclusivity to all their members is pretty powerful.Rob McLean, Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Guelph

The girls' extracurricular program announced this week that it would be dropping the name “Brownie”, from the component of the organization for children aged seven and eight. It said the change was sparked by racialized members of the Girl Guides, who would wait until they were nine years old to become members, so they wouldn’t have to be labelled by that name.

“We heard from several members and former members that the name Brownies has caused them personal harm, so we are changing the name of this branch to further remove barriers for belonging for racialized girls and women,” Jill Zelmanovits, CEO of Girl Guides of Canada, said in a press release.

CANADA - FEBRUARY 12: Girl guide cookies (Photo by Paul Irish/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CANADA - FEBRUARY 12: Girl guide cookies (Photo by Paul Irish/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The new announcement was faced with some criticism online, decrying it as being overly sensitive.

Will the change from 'Brownies' impact the brand?

McLean says that kind of negative feedback, or resistance from traditionalists, likely won’t hurt the Girl Guides' bottom line.

“That’s listening to their membership and making what’s probably a difficult decision based on direct feedback," he says. "It’s a difficult decision to make because the brand is over a century old. But at the same time, it’s probably an easy decision to make because it was creating a barrier to membership. And an organization like Girl Guides has to be inclusive."

Girl Guides Canada will choose the new moniker after consulting with racialized members, past members, and the community. They said they plan to announce the new name in January and the changes will go into effect in September 2023.

McLean admits that there might be a bit of financial burden when it comes to doing the actual rebrand, but that it likely won’t impact their bottom line.

“Especially if they consider how much is made in cookie sales alone,” he laughs.

In recent years, several American sports teams with discriminatory name have chosen to rebrand. The Washington Commanders were previously known as the Washington Redskins, a racist term for Indigenous people, and the Cleveland Guardians were formerly known as the Cleveland Indians.