September 20th, 2006

Consumer Groups Lobby to Remove Ads From Schools

By Meredith Deliso
Advertising Age

Call for Boycott of Channel One, BusRadio

In an age where advertising is more aggressive and techniques that target children are controversial, there are those who want to keep at least one area free of paid content: schools.

With Channel One anchors bringing news into the classroom and now BusRadio blaring on yellow school buses across the country, Commercial Alert, the Center for a New American Dream and Obligation have organized a campaign to remove the news program and radio show from every school in the country. A letter endorsed by 40 organizations and 64 children’s advocates was sent last week to the 100 leading national advertisers and the top 50 advertising agencies urging them not to advertise with the two companies.

‘Protect our children’
“We are writing to ask for your help to turn your industry’s conscience into a reality, and to protect our children and their education from aggressive marketers,” the letter reads. “We believe it is wrong for a company to use compulsory-school-attendance laws to force a captive audience of children to listen to advertising. As most practitioners in the field recognize, successful advertising depends on the willing participation of both advertiser and consumer. BusRadio and Channel One violate this fundamental principle.”

The campaign comes at a time when advocacy groups are increasingly targeting below-parental-radar tactics such as advergaming and viral marketing. Of particular concern is food advertising—especially ads for fast food, soda and sugary cereal—geared toward students at a time when childhood obesity is a national concern.

Commercial Alert has targeted Channel One in the past for its advertising content. Since 1990, the network has outfitted schools with free TV equipment as part of agreements to air newscasts with ads during school hours. Channel One News reaches more than 7 million secondary-school children in 11,000 schools with its daily 12-minute news broadcasts, which include two minutes of ads.

Broad reach
Though chided by children’s advocates for its advertising, Channel One defends its news content and its broad reach among teenagers.

“Channel One school principals and teachers in the classroom continue to support our content, and today Channel One stands among more than 300,000 educators as a valued source of unbiased news and current events,” said Judy L. Harris, president-CEO of Channel One.

Massachusetts-based BusRadio is the new kid on the block with its school-bus radio program, which includes eight minutes of advertising every hour. Radios rolled out last week in 30 school districts in eight states. The company provides age-appropriate content and safety features such as a panic button for bus drivers; it also works with Homeland Security to inform drivers of any alerts.

“What we’re doing is very socially responsible,” said BusRadio President Steven Shulman. “We’re providing a service that is age-appropriate and a better alternative to what kids are listening to today, with safety features that are unheard of.”

Renewed effort
Gary Ruskin, executive director for Commercial Alert, said this renewed effort against Channel One and now BusRadio was encouraged by the group’s previous work against Channel One, which has seen its advertising revenue “plummet dramatically.” Indeed, ad revenue for Primedia’s Education segment, which is dominated by Channel One, fell 12% to $34.4 million in 2005. The company has been hit hard in the past by food marketers wary of the obesity issue, losing Kraft in 2003 when it enacted a policy to end in-school marketing. But the network welcomed Subway as a major sponsor last year and launched a healthy-living program in 2006.

BusRadio is confident about the prospects for its company, hoping to reach a million students in 2007. “If you dig into BusRadio and know what our true goals are, they far outweigh having a few socially responsible sponsors on a school bus,” Mr. Shulman said.

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