ERIC Identifier: ED389473
Publication Date: 1995-12-00
Author: Aidman, Amy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Advertising in the Schools. ERIC Digest.
Many advertisers view children as a uniquely profitable three-in-one market:
as buyers themselves, as influencers of their parents' purchases, and as future
adult consumers. Each year, elementary school children have an estimated $15
billion of their own money, of which they spend an estimated $11 billion on such
products as toys, clothes, candy, and snacks. Children influence at least $160
billion in parental purchases (McNeal, 1994). As future adults, children are
potential consumers for all goods and services. This digest reviews the recent
history of advertising to children, spotlights controversial marketing efforts,
and focuses attention on the evolving nature of commercial messages directed
toward children in the public schools.
Because of the increase in children's spending power in recent decades,
advertisers have closely targeted children as consumers (Wartella, 1995). New
advertising strategies aimed at children steadily proliferate. The toy-related
program or program-length commercial, in which a television program is developed
to sell toys, is one that has stirred public attention and debates, as have the
900-number telephone services aimed at children. In the 1980s, children got
their own TV networks, radio networks, magazines, newspapers, kids' clothing
brands, books, banking, and such high-ticket items as video games and other
high-tech products. Other recent advertising tactics include kids' clubs, store
displays directed at children, direct mailing to children and their parents, and
marketer-sponsored school activities. Linking their products to educational
goals, advertisers have reached into the schools by sponsoring such activities
as literacy programs, reading projects, anti-drug campaigns, and communication
skills training, while rewarding students for good performance with coupons for
products and free meals. This spread of advertising in the schools can be seen
as part of a historical pattern toward the commercialization of youth (Wartella,
Because children spend 20 percent of their time
in schools, advertisers have been eager to pursue school-based marketing in many
forms. Although traditionally there have been links between business and
education in this country (Harty, 1979), commercialism in schools has recently
skyrocketed and has spurred public debate. In 1989, controversy arose when
Whittle Communications (now Channel One Communications) announced the test
marketing in six school districts of "Channel One" a 12-minute daily news show
for students in grades 6 through 12 that included two minutes of age-appropriate
ads for products like jeans and soft drinks. In exchange for airing the program
each day at the same time for three years, Channel One Communications gives
schools a satellite dish, a cable hookup, a television monitor for each
classroom, and an agreement to service the equipment for three years. While some
state school systems originally said no to "Channel One," the Consumers Union
Education Services (CUES) (1995) notes that Channel One Communications reports
its program is viewed in 350,000 classrooms. A further concern is that the
presence of "Channel One" in classrooms may be evident more in some
neighborhoods than in others. For example, one study (Morgan, 1993) found that
among those schools showing "Channel One," a disproportionate number are located
in areas of high poverty.
Although "Channel One" has attracted a great deal of public attention,
in-school advertising takes many other forms as well. According to James McNeal
In-school advertising is being talked about more, and in a more critical
manner, because of the increasing amounts of it and because of the advent of
television advertising in schools. (Criticisms of TV advertising in schools seem
to be directed mainly at Whittle...because of its intrusive nature and because
the firm flaunts its ability to buy its way into schools.) In-school advertising
takes an endless number of forms: scoreboards and billboards in athletic areas,
posters, pamphlets, book covers, lesson plans, films, and vending machines.
Although some educators defend the use of commercially produced materials as
a way of providing useful supplements to the curriculum or as a way of raising
funds and building needed bridges to businesses, other educators oppose it,
fearing that market values may, for the most part, take the place of democratic
values in the schools. Those who defend the trend argue that commercialism is
highly prevalent throughout our society and a bit more advertising in the
schools should not adversely affect students. Critics of the trend, however,
point to increased pressure on teachers' and administrators' time as they sort
through offers from businesses. Many educators do not want to participate in
offering up students as a captive audience. According to Molnar (1995), failure
to change policies by the end of the century will result in solidifying public
education's role in delivering corporate profits.
TYPES OF ADVERTISING
"Captive Kids," a new report by the
CUES (1995) summarizes the routes of commercial messages into schools, examines
some of those messages, and discusses the meaning of the enormous influx of
corporate-produced materials into the schools. The report, which is a follow-up
to the earlier report, "Selling America's Kids" (CUES, 1990), divides the
examples of in-school commercialism into four categories:
IN-SCHOOL ADS. In-school ads are conspicuous forms of advertising that can be
seen on billboards, on school buses, on scoreboards, and in school hallways.
In-school ads include ads on book covers and in piped-in radio programming.
Advertising is also found in product coupons and in give-aways that are
distributed in schools.
ADS IN CLASSROOM MATERIALS AND PROGRAMS. Ads in classroom materials include
any commercial messages in magazines or video programming used in school. The
ads in "Channel One" fall into this category.
CORPORATE-SPONSORED EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS AND PROGRAMS. Promotional messages
appearing in sponsored educational materials may be more subtle than those in
the previous categories. Sponsored educational materials include free or
low-cost items which can be used for instruction. These teaching aids may take
the form of multimedia teaching kits, videotapes, software, books, posters,
reproducible activity sheets, and workbooks. While some of these materials may
be ad-free, others may contain advertising for the producer of the item, or they
may contain biased information aimed at swaying students toward a company's
products or services.
CORPORATE-SPONSORED CONTESTS AND INCENTIVE PROGRAMS. Contests and incentive
programs bring brand names into the schools along with the promise of such
rewards as free pizzas, cash, points toward buying educational equipment, or
trips and other prizes.
GUIDELINES AND POLICIES
What are appropriate policies for
addressing the increasing flow of commercial messages into schools? Those who
support the call for guidelines include education groups such as the Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the National Parent Teacher
Association, and the National Education Association. The Society of Consumer
Affairs Professionals in Business (SOCAP) and Consumers International are two
consumer interest groups that have formulated guidelines for sponsored
materials. These guidelines suggest that education materials should be accurate,
objective, clearly written, nondiscriminatory, and noncommercial (Karpatkin & Holmes, 1995, p.75).
According to Karpatkin and Holmes, the Consumers Union supports the notion of
schools as "ad-free zones." The overall goal of collaboration between businesses
and schools should be for business leaders, educators, parents, and government
officials to work together "...to embrace practical, responsible approaches that
will protect the educational integrity of our school systems" (Karpatkin &
Holmes, 1995, p.75). In dealing with the issues of in-school commercialism,
Karpatkin & Holmes suggest a three-pronged approach that includes:
Reviewing all sponsored materials and activities and holding them to the same
standards as other curriculum items by using the SOCAP or Consumers
Pursuing noncommercial partnerships with businesses and rejecting the notion
that it is ethical to bring advertising into the schools to provide materials or
funds to bolster dwindling budgets.
Beginning the teaching of media literacy in elementary school, to help educate
children to be critical readers of advertising, propaganda, and other
mass-mediated messages, while helping them gain the skills to be intelligent,
With the expanding presence of advertising
targeted to younger and younger children, schools have become involved in
serving up students as captive audiences to advertisers. It is time to pause and
reflect on the appropriateness of various kinds of connections between
businesses and schools, and the influence those connections might have on the
integrity of education in a democracy. In light of the controversial nature of
the issue, as well as the underlying ambivalence toward it, public discussion
and workable policies are needed.
Consumers Union Education Services (CUES).
(1990). SELLING AMERICA'S KIDS: COMMERCIAL PRESSURES ON KIDS OF THE 90'S.
Yonkers, NY: Author.
Consumers Union Education Services (CUES). (1995). CAPTIVE KIDS: COMMERCIAL
PRESSURES ON KIDS AT SCHOOL. New York: Author. PS 023 660.
Harty, Sheila. (1979). HUCKSTERS IN THE CLASSROOM: A REVIEW OF INDUSTRY
PROPOGANDA IN SCHOOLS. Washington, DC: Center for Study of Responsible Law.
Karpatkin, Rhoda H., and Anita Holmes. (1995). Making Schools Ad-Free Zones.
EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 53(1, Sep): 72-76.
McNeal, James U. (1990). KIDS AS CUSTOMERS. New York: Lexington Books.
McNeal, James U. (1994). Billions at Stake in Growing Kids Market. DISCOUNT
STORE NEWS (Feb 7): 4.
Molnar, Alex. (1995). Schooled for Profit. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 53(1, Sep):
Morgan, Michael. (1993). CHANNEL ONE IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: WIDENING THE
GAPS. Research report for UNPLUG. ED 366 688.
Wartella, Ellen. (1995). The Commercialization of Youth: Channel One in
Context. PHI DELTA KAPPAN 76(6, Feb): 448-451. EJ 497 517.