Friday, August 13, 2010

Thinking About Allowing Advertising in Your School? Do Your Homework

With schools facing unprecedented budget shortfalls and teacher layoffs, it’s not surprising that so many are considering what just a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable: allowing corporate advertising in their schools. The San Diego Union Tribune reports that the Sweetwater Union High School District has signed a contract with a company called 4 Visual Media Group to allow advertising on its cafeterias, hallways, and school buses. Meanwhile, schools in the Twin Cities area are signing up with a new company called School Media’s to place ads on children’s lockers.

Who are these companies that hope to profit off of schools’ fiscal crises? Let’s start with 4 Visual Media Group. I stumbled upon their website six months ago when doing some research and couldn’t believe what I saw. In a section of its website labeled “Elementary School Media Kit,” the company boasted to potential advertisers:

4VMG's unique form of advertising caters to a captive audience where the viewer can't "change the channel" or "turn the page.” As such, 4VMG’s product is able to capture the attention of the consumer for longer periods of time and with a more specific focus than traditional billboard style advertising.

This is the company that Sweetwater schools has sold their students to. A company that that refers to schoolchildren as consumers and brags about its ability to deliver a captive audience. The fact that advertising in schools exploits a captive audience is the number one reason (of many) that it’s so wrong. But for 4 Visual Media Group, that’s the selling point. And it gets worse:

In addition to providing “captive audience” advertising, 4VMG offers the option to its advertisers of a unique interactive campaign allowing for each advertisement to possess a “dynamic” component. Promotional codes displayed on the table or panel allow for promotions such as a coupon to be sent to the viewer’s cell phone directly and immediately.

It’s hard to imagine anything more inappropriate than providing advertisers with a platform to send text messages to children while they’re in school. And remember, this is from 4 Visual Media Group’s elementary school media kit.

Or it was. After I shared 4VMG’s plans with Jim Metrock at Obligation, Inc., he posted about the company’s plans on his website and wrote to their President. Shortly after, went dark and, when it relaunched, there was nary a word about text messaging, captive audiences or even advertising in schools at all. That’s why the first rule of
anti-school commercialism advocacy is document everything you see before going public with your concerns.

Which brings me to School Media’s, the company that specializes in advertising across students’ lockers. Until a few days ago, their website included this lovely picture:

Now if you’re trying to allay concerns about marketing in schools, what better way than to suggest one of your major advertisers is a company that most parents hold in high regard, like PBS Kids. There’s just one problem: The picture is a fake, as we found out thanks to the magic of Twitter:

A company that wants to send text message advertisements to elementary school students and a company that pretends to have a client that they don't in order to give their predatory marketing a veneer of respectability. These are the kinds of companies that schools will have to deal with if they decide to let advertisers in. Which is just one more reason (I’ll write more soon about the others) why schools should be commercial-free.


  1. Yes, schools should just remain underfunded, providing education that's the laughing stock of other First World countries, rather than getting funding that would help a number of these schools provide huge increases to the quality of education they provide.

    Don't want your elementary school student getting "text-message ads"? Don't give them a freaking cell phone!

    And if your children buy things, they are, by definition, consumers. Instead of trying to squash their exposure to advertisments, teach your kids how to be intelligent with shopping. The importance of choosing products with a known good history of quality. That ads aren't giving them all the information.

    Honestly, I think you're all a bunch of whakos, and you all frighten me greatly. Take control of your children and your own household. Stop trying to force your beliefs and values on every one else.

    I don't believe in your bullshit. My kids watch PG-13 movies, play video games, and make choices what to buy with their money. They are bright, intelligent, and can actually function in society. Yours, I fear, cannot. You shelter them to the point that they have no idea how things really are in the world.

    You and your organization are doing your children a grave disservice. I hope your crazy boycotts and schemes stop working. I truly do.

  2. Point taken Jaded Scribe about parents drawing boundaries and informing kids about how to think critically and how to make informed choices. Also good point made about media in the right quantity and of the right quality being okay.

    That having been said, advertising is pretty insidious and I think you're taking a leap assuming that all kids are going to a) be as bright as yours are and b) have the excellent upbringing they've had under your tutelage.

    I am a teacher and a parent and the reality I see every day is that most kids AREN'T taught the lessons they should be around advertising and media. Most kids aren't taught many lessons at all (like how to read, for one, which movies and video games don't teach).

    The kids whose parents speak up aren't the ones we're worried about. Those parents are probably somewhat in the know and make a bit of an effort to be present and involved.

    I think you're also assuming that your kids are okay because your're their parent and to assume otherwise would mean that you haven't done your job. Your kids are your own fault, right?

    Don't assume either that because some of us want to keep hardcore capitalism out of our schools that we live in a cabin in the woods and listen to Zamfir and meditate with our kids.

    You're simplistic and judgemental. It's a complex argument and letting ads into schools is a slippery slope.

    I for one would like ads to stay out. My kids are going to get enough of that crap outside of school.

  3. Okay, let me get this straight.... We as Americans are in a recession. Therefore schools have a tighter budget. Therefore schools have decided to advertise things children can buy.

    Hey kids! We don't have money for your schoolbooks or your teachers salaries! You're going to this crappy school because you can't afford a private one! But you can afford a SONIC burger! So go buy that instead! Your parents don't have money, and neither does your school, so why don't YOU buy stuff!

    Brilliant. And WHY do we think America's schools are failing?

  4. Ah yes, the fear mongering, conspiracy loons are at it again. This time attempting to impregnate your mind that somehow a 7 year old seeing a PBS ad in school is going to turn them into a deviant.

    One must assume they have their children so well trained that not only do they not watch television, but also look away at a passing billboard or their friends Dora the Explora backpack (which also happens to be a walking ad).

    I'd be curious how they plan to etch off the name Crayola on every crayon, or tell their child you can't have that Toy Story movie notebook as it perpetuates a victious corporate greed agenda.

    Reminds me of how rock and roll music was the satin of humanity and how too much TV will rot your brain. Meanwhile the most productive, ingenious, philanthropic, and inspirational people of our generation all seemed to have survived the very same chicken little sky is falling paranoia.

    Just imagine if the energy expired by the CCFC was actually used to better our educational system versus uselessly wasted attempting to "reclaim childhood."

    While I do agree energy drinks and video games have no place advertising in schools - I think we should give the school boards a little more credit and decisive autonomy in selecting advertisements that can enrich the learning experience and generate much needed income.

    After all if we as parents are so incredibly concered about what they're learning - why do we send them to school where we have absolutely no control.

    If I had my way I'd require every student to learn about financial responsibility, moral rectitude, and manners. After all, look where the common curriculum has gotten us as a country.