A Tale of Two School Districts

by: 

Josh Golin

Yesterday was a good day. Today brings this disappointing news from District 15 in Minnesota:

As St. Francis District 15 students put their jackets into their lockers this fall, they could be greeted by pink jelly fish or luscious apples.

It’s all part of the plan to bring more revenue into the schools.

The school board Sept. 13 voted 6-1 to allow some of the lockers at six of the district’s eight school buildings to become advertising billboards for OMCM Marketing Solutions.

A few thoughts:

1. One thing people often don’t realize about in-school advertising: schools usually don’t contract directly with advertisers; they use third-party placement agencies like OMCM. Not surprisingly, agencies that hope to profit by exploiting schools’ financial difficulties aren’t always the most scrupulous. For example, until CCFC caught them, OMCM falsely implied that reputable PBS Kids was a client. Agencies like OMCM also take a significant cut of any ad revenue generated which is one reason why…

2. Advertising is rarely the cash cow schools expect. District 15 hopes to earn $100,000 - $240,000 this year by turning its lockers into billboards. I don’t for a second mean to downplay the couple of jobs that this money could save or the supplies it might buy. But with 6,000 students, that’s only $16-40/student. Consider how many times a day students visit their lockers and how many impressions the advertisers will get to make over the course of a year. And how powerful those ads will be because a) the kids have to see them several times a day and b) the advertised products will come with the school’s implicit endorsement. Sounds like a great deal for the advertisers. I’m guessing it’s a good one for OMCM. I know it’s a lousy deal for the students.

3. OMCM Greg Meyer claims children’s lockers will be used for “nutritional and educational ads, like ads from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety urging students not to text and drive.” But I’m guessing the Minnesota Department of Public Safety doesn’t have $100,000 to throw at a campaign for 6,000 students, the overwhelming majority of whom are nowhere near driving age. You know who does? General Mills, Nintendo, MTV Networks, etc . . . So what happens come January when the ad revenue hasn’t met your projections? Does the junk food or video game that you told parents would be off limits start looking more attractive?

When you start down the slippery slope of selling your students to advertisers, it’s really hard to put on the brakes. That’s just one reason why the San Diego approach is so much more preferable.

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