Monday, October 24

Advertising Everywhere: Can Businesses Help Schools?

A few years ago, I made a joke that advertising was going everywhere — including chalkboards and teacher name tags. But with school districts facing budget cuts, some school districts are starting to sell advertising beyond the common sports scoreboard buy on the football field.

In a recent article by Helmut Schmidt, districts are now selling advertisements on websites or even letting firms wrap ads on wall lockers or put them on floors and walls. One school in Texas even offers up school bus wraps as a source of revenue.

Another school district uses a corporate sponsorship program that brings in $18,000 a year for one school. It paid for scoreboards, theater microphones, and an ATV to haul equipment and injured players.

The positive side of advertising on school assets. 

While some school districts have not earned as much money as they had hoped from experimental advertisements, others have raised an additional $55,000 a year or covered up to half the costs associated with special events. There may be some other opportunities beyond the obvious.

Businesses have grown more impatient with the quality of the students being produced by the educational system, specifically saying that the students do not have even the minimum skill sets to enter the workforce. Although advertising creates an additional incentive, the most obvious solution is to ask the private sector to voluntarily partner with the schools, provided their product or service or message doesn't encourage disruptions or distractions.

Several years ago, I was involved with groups of community leaders within the business sector to help encourage small- and medium-sized businesses to increase business giving on the pretense that a strong community produces a stronger economy, a better educated workforce, and more opportunities.

While the intent was more altruistic in nature, increasing the incentive for businesses to seriously consider schools for partnerships, sponsorships, and even on school grounds advertising could help reduce some costs without asking children to peddle catalog products door to door. Some schools already allow some advertising-related programs, including messages in the back of yearbooks or scoreboards.

But communities, especially those that are supported by larger corporations that could creatively fund science, computer, and robotic classes or associated clubs and after-school programs (areas where education is perceived as weak), could increase revenue with both paid and charitable opportunities for businesses.

The upside for these businesses is three-fold: supporting the community through education, reaching a specific demographic, and investing in students who will eventually become employees, customers, or both. At the same time, it could help put a human face on businesses that many students are not exposed to until well after their college years.

The negative side of advertising on school assets. 

Many people do see the conceptual model differently. Some fear allowing one advertiser means allowing in all of them. Some are adamant that sports fields ought not to look like the minor leagues. And yet others are afraid that some advertisers might convey messages contrary to the position of schools, such as soft drinks and snack foods.

There are even several organizations that have developed anti-commercialism activist groups to stop the proliferation of advertising in schools. Among their complaints are that it promotes materialism, supports coercion, and wasted taxpayer dollars when students are required to watch advertisements.

The group also cites one example where commercially-produced educational material contained biased or incomplete information in 80 percent of the material. Specifically, they felt that such material favored consumption. The group also felt that the advertisements sexualized images.

A few years ago, Coke and Pepsi tried to promote a similar advertising-based concept but were fought by the NEA, the nation's largest teacher's union, which sells its own adveritsing programs. There are several other cases where soft drinks have been blocked, including one in Philadelphia that rejected a $43 million deal for the district several years ago.
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