To what extent is advertising and corporate sponsorship appropriate in schools (i.e. from age 5-18) and universities?

Children have always been one of the most attractive market segment for marketers for they can be easily influenced and represent potential customers in the future. However marketing measures targeting children have experienced dramatic changes in the last twenty years. Indeed brands have found a new promotion field: schools and universities. Naomi Klein exposes the methods of advertising and sponsorship used on students from elementary school to university and strongly criticizes them. Now one may wonder to what extent such promotional measures are appropriate in schools and universities. One the one hand, criticism against such practices can be justified for several reasons. On the first place, the cooperation between universities and corporations on research projects endangers academic research integrity. Universities scientists hired on research projects are not allowed to publish the results of their research without the approval of the company they are researching for. This can be to some extent very dangerous for the society as a whole. For instance, a researcher testing the effectiveness of medicine discovered that those had life-threatening effects on patients. As she wanted to warn the patients and alert doctors, the company tried to prevent her from doing so by threatening to sue and dismiss her from her current job. Furthermore, most sponsorship deals include so called “non-disparagement clauses” which forbid universities and their staff to criticize the sponsor. This is clearly challenging the maintenance of basic academic principles like freedom of speech and critical thinking. Finally, many teachers deplore what they call a “mall mentality”, which the new generations of students show signs of, as a result of advertising in schools. According to them, the students‘attitude towards learning and school has deeply changed. Nowadays students act like consumers and expect to be entertained by their teachers, as they are used to with advertising. So it is always more difficult for teachers to reach out their students with math, literature or history, which are necessary and basic educational skills, because these are boring compared to designing a new ad campaign for Burger King. On the other hand, though these marketing measures show some questionable effects, they however have very significant advantages. First, young students often receive assignments like creating ads, video spots or tasting products for a school’s sponsor. These assignments are usually viewed as much more interesting than conventional homework and students show a much higher motivation and involvement because they are aware that their work has an impact that can be observed outside the school’s environment. Students of a school in Vancouver developed a concept and packaging for pizza burgers and designed new commercials for the Canadian restaurant chain White Spots. The pizza burger, which the students worked on for several months, was finally taken on the kid’s menu. Moreover, such assignments foster creativity, team and competition spirit to children (since only the best project will eventually be chosen), teaches them to work independently and show initiative. In conclusion, I think that advertising and corporate sponsorship in schools should be used but within limits fixed by the schools and clearly communicated to the public.

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