Friday, April 15, 2011

Ad Space For Sale! Please Contact...Your Local High School?

Lockers used to be just places for students to store their books and personal belongings. However, in such tough economic times, cash-strapped schools are beginning to turn these banged-up rows of metal into giant, revenue-generating advertising spaces. School administrators argue the advertisements provide the necessary money to keep vital programs and teachers, but critics ask whether these benefits outweigh the potential costs.

For years, schools have allowed businesses to purchase ad space in yearbooks and have their names emblazoned on athletic scoreboards and team uniforms. But under the burden of increasing budgetary issues, schools and local legislatures are being forced to weigh the pros and cons of such explicit promotion of brand names and the effect this has on students, especially impressionable young children.

Last year, St. Francis became the first school district in Minnesota to sell advertising on lockers, walls, and open spaces and made national news doing it. It also gained about $230,000 a year for its five different schools [1]. Becker, about 18 miles southeast of St. Cloud, approved a similar measure in December and is waiting for the first set of ads to be installed. Becker, which is looking to close a $900,000 budget gap, is expected to receive approximately $140,000 from its advertising [2]. Most recently, St. Cloud has become the latest district in Minnesota to tackle the issue of advertising in schools. The district is currently facing a budget shortfall of $1.5 - $3 million for the 2011-12 school year and another shortfall the following year [2]. According to Superintendent Bruce Watkins, this is a discussion he would rather avoid, but, if it could save school programs or avoid teacher layoffs, it is worth a look.

However, opponents of this new source of education revenue argue that advertising in schools exploits a captive audience of schoolchildren and exposure to marketing messages should not be compulsory. Josh Golin, spokesperson for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, accuses vendors such as 4 Visual Media Group (4VMG) of pushing plans on schools in an attempt to exploit their fiscal crises [1]. On its website, 4VMG boasts to potential advertisers that it offers a unique form of advertising that caters to a “captive audience where the viewer can’t change the channel or turn the page.” Lisa Ray, founder of the Minnesota-based group Parents for Ethical Marketing, says the biggest problem with in-school advertising is that it undermines parents' ability to protect their children from commercial messages. "We can turn the television off, and we can keep our kids off the computer if we don't like advertising, but we have to send them to school.” [1]

However, companies that specialize in school advertising claim ads can serve both the needs of the advertiser and the education of the students. School Media, the company that is working with the St. Francis school district and is currently awaiting nine additional pending contracts, maintains that all of its advertisers agree to the condition that everything has to be nutrition, education, or health and wellness based. “Anything outside of those parameters won't be allowed within the school," says company spokesman Paul Miller. For this reason, Miller argues that making students a "captive audience" isn't always a bad thing. "They're there to learn, they're there to be educated, and I think with the messages we're bringing to the school, it's just an added benefit for these kids to be aware of what's going on.” [1]

In addition, proponents of school advertising point out that schools can maintain full control over what types of ads they allow and where they are located. The St. Cloud school district has a policy for accepting advertising that states it must be nonintrusive, limited, and meet community standards [2]. The ads that are slated to appear in all four Becker schools are limited to health and wellness topics, and a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators must approve every advertisement. At a time when nearly every school district is experiencing budget deficits, the issue of advertising in schools is a controversial topic where the pros must clearly outweigh the cons. While exploring new sources of funding and revenue is critical, it is equally important to preserve a learning environment that promotes and maintains the well-being of students.

No comments:

Post a Comment