Category winner: CULT Girl: Responsible Management
and Self-Management of Subjectivity at Work

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This case won the Ethics and Social Responsibility category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2017.
 
The case

Who – the protagonists

Brian Sørensen, founder of the drinks company, CULT.

What?

CULT sold a variety of energy drinks and cider products and had a team of 30 full-time employees. The organisation had a youthful and unpretentious culture underpinned by its slogan, ‘good energy always wins’.

People in a nightclubWhy?

The idea of forming his own drinks company came to Brian in 1998 when he was managing one of Denmark’s largest nightclubs. He needed a drinks mixer that would encourage clubbers to stay a little longer and developed a new energy drink called CULT.

However, one reason for the company’s success – its use of ‘CULT Girls’ to sell drinks at festivals, nightclubs and other venues – quickly became controversial. The CULT girls were expected to wear sexy outfits and flirt with potential customers. Although some enjoyed the job, others could not cope with the sometimes offensive and abusive behaviour of potential customers. One CULT girl reported: ‘They actually spat at us.’

When?

alcoholic drinks

CULT was set up by Brian in 1998.

Where?

The original energy drink developed by Brian was produced in a small factory in the small town of Ribe, in Denmark, and the product was distributed from his father’s garage in Aarhus. By 2010, CULT was the market leader across Denmark.

Key quote

‘It was always easier to sell to those who were vulnerable and alone. Within five minutes we acted as a friend, which was all it took to sell the products.’ – Maria, a CULT Girl

What next?

A TV documentary, Cultpige, about CULT Girls ignited debate about the company’s marketing practices. Brian acknowledged that the experiences of some of his employees were unacceptable, but asserted that the job also had benefits, including training, and for most it was a positive experience.

But what should Brian do next? Should the CULT girls be more protected? Should he change his company’s culture? Or set clear limits on what was expected of the CULT Girls? And is it his responsibility to promote what many would see as a more positive and less sexist image of women, or are most things acceptable when it comes to marketing?
 
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CULT Girl: Responsible Management and Self-Management of Subjectivity at Work
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Teaching note
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The authors

Rasmus Johnsen and Navid Baharlooie

authorsRasmus explains why writing cases with students is so rewarding and why deciding between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is such a complex challenge.

Passion

This award really means a lot to me. Teaching is my passion and writing the case was really exciting. I am especially happy that a case like this, one that is fairly open-ended and has no clear answers, has been so useful to so many people.

My background is in philosophy and my aim in conveying to my students that ethical questions are not just about right or wrong, but also entail making tough choices between options that are never entirely clear, is at the heart of what I teach. I hope to further challenge my peers to develop cases focusing on knowledge that you can’t ‘google’!

Exercise in equality

Writing cases together with students is one of the most rewarding things there is as a teacher. I think this has to do with developing a narrative together. The ideas that I pick up on, when students bring them to me, are stories that I’d like to tell everyone – whether it is in class, to peers, or over the dinner table to my family.

sign post

When we begin developing the stories into a narrative, exciting things happen; we begin to think alike and the questions of authority, about who knows what and who doesn’t, about who teaches and who learns, begin to fall away. Writing cases together with students is an exercise in equality.

Dilemmas

What is important in this case is that readers can ‘see’ themselves in the developed dilemmas. Not many of the readers will have experienced being at a party with a bunch of strangers all over them. But most will have been in situations where questions about personal boundaries come up and where one’s boundaries are transgressed and must be managed. Sometimes such transgressions are hurtful, sometimes they teach us new things in life. Recognising this dilemma and learning from it, perhaps even while sharing these lessons with others, is always engaging.

About the authors

Rasmus Johnsen is an Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School
e rj.mpp@cbs.dk
tw @rasjohnsen

Navid Baharlooie was a Student Assistant at Copenhagen Business School and is now an Executive Trainee at Telenor DK.

 

View all the 2017 winners