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, http://4visualmedia.com/ 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.