Featured case:
CULT Girl: Responsible Management and
Self-Management of Subjectivity at Work

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Brian Sørensen, founder of the drinks company, CULT.


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’.


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.’


CULT was set up by Brian in 1998.


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?

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

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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 author

Rasmus Johnsen and Navid Baharlooie

Rasmus discusses the central dilemmas in CULT Girl, the challenges involved in deciding what is 'right' and 'wrong', and why it's important to consider the customer too.

Personal versus professional

The case was inspired by the Cultpige documentary which follows the young women to a boot camp that is supposed to prepare them for the ‘CULT Girl’ work, and then to the various events where they ‘perform’.

What interested me was how blurry the lines remained to them between their personal and their professional identities. Some love the work, others feel that they were never prepared for it.

Teaching the case

Most discussions are about the extent to which the young women are ‘blinded’ by what they do – the immediate popularity, the party atmosphere, the power to infatuate men, and the sometimes ‘cult-like’ group dynamics which the company actively encourages.

What students disagree on is whether working as a CULT Girl is really a ‘free choice’, or if it results in illusions about identity and where to draw the line. Scandinavian students are fairly relaxed about these issues, but I would love to hear reactions from different cultures in other parts of the world.

Rules of the game

We also thought it very important to encourage discussion about the male ‘customers’ – usually very drunk. Because the rules of conduct are fairly open – much more so than, for example, at a strip club – the guys who end up with a drink may also end up with a broken heart.

Important learning opportunities

First, the case highlights the dilemma that ensues when the workplace also becomes a primary sphere of self-development for individual employees  –  a common theme in contemporary Northern European organisational life. The case illustrates how difficult the ‘just be yourself’ task of self-management can be.

Second, the case explores the nature of responsible management when working with self-managing employees. For many students, the insight that there is no single, objective right answer is an eye-opener.

Staying connected

I highly recommend writing cases with undergraduate students as it’s a great experience and a good way to stay connected with what goes on in the classroom.

Watch a short clip from the Cultpige documentary

The authors

Rasmus Johnsen, Assistant Professor, Copenhagen Business School
e rj.mpp@cbs.dk

Navid Baharlooie, Student Assistant at Copenhagen Business School, now Executive Trainee at Telenor DK


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