Sweet Frog; Fro-Yo with a side of God. Wait, what?

sweetfrogIt’s no secret that in today’s ever evolving society a successful business model is going to be dependent upon a well designed, targeted ad campaign. Since the dawn of the social networking age some businesses have taken to the internet to find new ways to reach potential customers.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace which began as ways to keep in touch with friends and family, have all but been taken over by ad after ad promoting everything from zit cream to home refinance. One can hardly fault these businesses for searching out ways to increase their sales and market share, but more recently a liberal social shift has been occurring leaving some companies with religious ties looking for ways to fight back.

It should come as no surprise that business owners have, over time, become very successful at ad campaigns directly aimed at children. Children are impressionable and don’t really have the social development early in life to know when they are being exploited, so it’s our job as parents to be on the lookout. As if making the right decisions for our children isn’t hard enough in today’s society, that job is made even harder by some who only see your children as dollar signs.

Then you have companies like Sweet Frog that think they can take it one step further.

For many of you who don’t know what Sweet Frog is, they offer self-serve frozen yogurt and were founded in 2009 by Derek Cha, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea.  Opening his very first location in Richmond, Virginia during a down economy, his chain has since grown to over 215 stores as of this year.

I would imagine most customers, like me, had no knowledge or suspicion that his company was founded and based on Christian principles, because early on they didn’t make it an obvious connection to their brand. With a pink and green color scheme coupled with two adorable cartoon frogs named “Scoop” and “Cookie,” to the everyday customer they just blend in with everything else around them. To a child, though, it’s the place to go. With a bevy of flavors and any candy topping you can think of, it’s an instant favorite spot for children.

Frequenting the locations in and around the Richmond area, my daughter and I have made it our Friday stop on our way home, and not once had it ever become apparent to me that I was in a Christian establishment.

It seems this was by design. Back in May 2012, Sweet Frog Sales and Development Director Raven Williams was quoted as saying the company would “never want anyone to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in our stores due to a difference of belief.”

In other words, “We’re gonna hide our religious affiliations because your money is more important than our faith.” I am paraphrasing, of course, but you get the point.

Well, somewhere between that interview and present day that strategy must have changed. With a potential TV show and other plans in the works for the future of his company, it has become obvious that Mr. Cha and Co. feel it’s time to quietly begin pushing that Christian agenda to his most impressionable of customers — the children.

On our last visit, we were in line to check out and the teenager behind the counter with more piercings than teeth asked my daughter if she would like a sticker. A friendly gesture indeed that is intended to make you feel like you and your children are valued customers. She said yes, and I didn’t pay it much mind while swiping my card and draining my account of a half hour’s work.

Once seated, she plunked the sticker down in front of me and asked if she could put it on her shirt. I picked it up and started to peel the backing off, but as I glanced at the sticker, I realized that what my daughter was handed was not just any 3×5 pink and green sticker with some cute frogs on it. Rather, it was a piece of religious propaganda with the words “Fully Rely On God” in bold font up front and center, clearly meant to open the discussion of religion between my child and I.

I hesitated and told her we could put it on later. She pouted a little, and as I began to survey the room I realized why. Nearly every child there had the exact same sticker on their shirt. My denying her the sticker on her shirt meant she couldn’t be like all the other children, and in typical kid fashion she wanted to know why. Which is exactly what the Sweet Frog-employed creator of this ad campaign for God-topped frozen yogurt intended.

With this attempt to introduce my child to his faith, Mr. Cha and his advertising department have overstepped their bounds as a business — and lost a customer for life.

It is not their duty or right to force that discussion through their teenage minimum-wage workers passing out targeted religious advertising. These are employees who couldn’t care less what his motives are for allowing this to take place in his shops, and will happily hand out anything asked — as long as they continue to get their paychecks. They’re just following orders, and I don’t place the blame on them for that.

This is a disgusting and pathetic practice if you ask me, and it’s hard to have any sort of respect for businesses that prey on children in this manner. If you’re like me and don’t want your child being introduced to religion in this way, we need to make it known where it hurts — their bottom line.

Michael Wunderlich

Mike Wunderlich is a single father originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania currently residing in Richmond, VA.He is the founder of Center Ice News (a popular Facebook group dedicated to hockey news), and a self proclaimed professional appreciator of music and art. You can follow him on Twitter @mwunderlichFP.

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