The marketing exchange: cookies for…

The marketing exchange: cookies for…

By Tom Peterson

One day driving on a busy street in my neighborhood, I noticed a couple of kids in their yard holding up signs, flagging down cars. A few adults sat nearby in lawn chairs watching and laughing. I was about to keep going when I realized what was happening: They were selling Girl Scout cookies! Immediately, the combination of cute kids being entrepreneurs and the anticipated taste of a Thin Mint kicked in. I parked and bought a few boxes.

Kids marketing cookies. In 2014, thirteen-year-old Danielle Lee took this to a new level when she planted her cookie sales in front of a medical marijuana shop in San Francisco and sold 117 boxes in two hours. Anticipating copycats, the Colorado Girl Scout officials quickly nipped this marketing idea in the bud and warned their girls: none of that! They pointed out that the kids couldn’t set up outside strip bars, liquor stores, or any other adult-oriented businesses.

Fair enough. But these stories raise questions for those who market for causes: How do you legitimately tap into real needs, perceived needs, or wants? Does anyone truly need three boxes of Thin Mint cookies? The primitive-lizard part of our brain tells us, Yes, we do! But another voice tells us those cookies don’t fit into our plan to eat healthy. Okay, so the cookies fall more into the want category. Of course, everyone wants to support the worthy Girl Scouts. Whatever motives are tapped, the cookies sell—200 million boxes worth about $800 million a year.

Marketing exchange in overdrive

The marketing exchange is about trading: I give something that benefits you and you give something that benefits me. When goods (tangible), services (intangible), ideas or money are traded, each party gets something of value from the other. The marketing exchange for even a cup of coffee isn’t always simple. You want a cup of coffee and a shop has coffee for sale. You buy a cup. But hold on, if you live or work nearby, you could have made a whole pot at a fraction of the cost. So what’s up? Maybe you can’t make a cappuccino at home, or maybe you really just wanted to get out, to meet friends, or to do your work around other people. So, you are partly buying that third place beyond home and the office. And maybe you’ll pay more if it’s fair trade coffee, because you care about the livelihood of the farmers who grew it.

The creativity of benefit marketing exchange went into overdrive at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as state and local governments and others laid out goodies to encourage the vaccine-hesitant. Apparently, saving your life, protecting those who are important to you wasn’t worth the inconvenience of getting a shot. The Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama offered two laps around the track for anyone willing to get the shot. Around the country, folks were given tickets to places like Six Flags and events like Yankees games. For many it was a cash bonus of $100. In Arkansas, it was hunting and fishing licenses. Many states offered lottery incentives, including California’s ten chances to win $1.5 million. And to come full circle, Indiana gave out boxes of Girl Scout cookies!

10 ways to be audacious

10 ways to be audacious

Most of us aren’t naturally bold. Fortunately, audacity is an attitude to be nurtured and a skill that can be learned. Audacity for its own sake is not the point. It’s not about being loud and wearing a large yellow hat to stand out in the crowd (although if you want to do that have fun). But to accomplish anything worth accomplishing you’ll need some audacity. And, as Eudora Welty observed, “All serious daring starts from within.”

  • Start with a goal and move toward it step by step. Identify how you’d like to be more daring and think of a few steps to begin. To become a powerful speaker, commit to making a presentation that’s beyond your comfort level, even if it’s to just a half-dozen people. Invite that person you admire or would like to meet to join you for a cup of coffee. Send a bold email. These actions may not sound daring but boldness is a skill and an attitude that grows with practice.
  • Move past hesitation. You find yourself thinking, this is what want to do but then you hesitate and don’t act. Those microseconds of indecision occur throughout our day and, while small, they can define us. When moments of hesitation arise, seize the opportunity, flex your muscles and do that thing that moves you toward your goals.
  • Break the Rules. The Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” King knew he wasn’t allowed in that room and certainly wasn’t allowed to sleep there overnight. Enjoy the playfulness and freedom of coloring outside the lines. It’s more fun, more exciting, more alive. It’s also where most growth and discovery happen.
  • Act as if you’re already like how you’d like to be. Invent yourself. Name your dream and claim it by showing up. Live into a bolder way by pretending. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an activist, go to the marches. If you want to make a statement, don’t wait until you have the perfect words (you never will), just make it. Yes, it will feel awkward, do it anyway. Create a story with your life. Anais Nin said “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
  • Master that area you want to learn about. It will be hard at first, like learning a new instrument, and may feel awkward until you’ve got some practice behind you. Lean in intellectually, do the research, learn the skill. “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination,” said John Dewey.
  • Talk with strangers. What’s their story? Make the effort to meet the people you’d like to know, listen to anyone, get out there to mingle.
  • Do something, anything! Don’t wait for an invitation, jump in and be daring. “Fortune favors the bold,” says the old Latin proverb. The bold are constantly moving, and the more you do, the more opportunities present themselves.
  • Question authority! If the establishment had its act together we wouldn’t have these problems, right? Reacting to a sense that Apple was getting too bureaucratic, Steve Jobs led the Macintosh team to an off-campus skunkworks workspace where they flew a Jolly Roger flag. Their motto: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy!”
  • Have fun! While much of world change activity is serious, having some fun can bring energy to the cause. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
  • Reframe your thinking. Meek and mild, half-hearted actions will got get us where we need to go. Boldness is a skill or attitude that can be developed, learned. Shift from “boldness is scary and dangerous” to “boldness is a life-affirming adventure.”

To meet the urgent needs of our time, we will need to be audacious, daring. Rosa Parks didn’t have tired feet; she had audacity. So did Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Mead, and pretty much anyone who’s ever made a difference, big or small.

More audacity needed to save democracy, the Earth!

More audacity needed to save democracy, the Earth!


Democracy at risk. Last chance to save the world. Enormous gap between the ultra-rich and billions of struggling people. Huge needs in every community. In Want to Change the World Tom Peterson celebrates the giant Movement that is taking on these challenges. But to meet the urgency of the day, he says, we all need to be more audacious. 

Here are Peterson’s “things to think about” if you want to change the world: The call for audacity. The power of a bold goal. How ideas emerge and spread. The daily slog. How to grow your cause. Creating a mighty message. Brands, names, symbols. Exploring growth possibilities. Finding and creating community. Taking on the ogres that guard against progress. And why is the firefly a symbol of great hope?

A leader in nonprofit strategy and marketing, for almost two decades Tom Peterson headed marketing and communications at Heifer International. Under his leadership annual marketing revenue grew from $3 million in 1992 to $90 million in 2008. During Peterson’s tenure Heifer went from a relatively unknown group to being featured in The New York TimesFast CompanyThe Oprah Winfrey ShowCNN60 Minutes and West Wing. Peterson teaches marketing for nonprofits at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock.

Want to Change the World? offers ways nonprofits and causes can accelerate their impact, along with stories of those who have changed the world through their ideas and bold acts. One or two of these may lead the reader down a path that changes the game.

Want to Change the World? Stakeholder Press, 2022. $16.99