Students for Sale
When Susan Crockett walked Amy, her 8-year-old daughter, to her school bus stop last September, she was in for a surprise. The school bus that rolled up was covered with advertisements for Burger King, Wendy's and other brand-name products. A few weeks later, Amy, a third grader, and Crockett's three older children arrived home toting free book covers and school planners covered with ads for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts and Fox TV personalities. Then, in November, came news that local school officials were pushing a year-old contract giving Coca-Cola exclusive permission to sell its products in district schools. That was the last straw for Crockett.
"It really angers me that the school is actively promoting and pushing a product that's not good for kids," says Crockett, whose oldest child was a senior last year in the Colorado Springs, Colorado, school system. "What's next: Will kids be required to wear Nikes before they are allowed to go to school?"
These days, lots of parents are asking that question.
Eager to attract a captive audience of young customers, almost every large corporation sponsors some type of in-school marketing program. Many also sponsor curriculum materials salted with brand names and corporate logos [see "The Corporate Curriculum" in thi]. Throughout the nation, nearly 40 percent of schools begin their day with current events and commercials transmitted by Channel One, the in-school TV news program for teens. Started in 1989 by controversial entrepreneur Chris Whittle, Channel One is probably the best-known in-school marketing program, but more recent examples are even more alarming:
§ An exercise book that purports to teach third graders math by having them count Tootsie Rolls.
§ A classroom business course that teaches students the value of work by showing them how McDonald's restaurants are run.
§ Multimillion-dollar contracts that have turned some schools into virtual sales agents for Coke and Pepsi.