September 22nd, 2008

School Children Thrown Overboard into Commercial Sea

By Press Release
Arizona State University

Childhood is now defined by advertising.  “At Sea in a Marketing-Saturated World,” the eleventh annual report on schoolhouse commercialism released by the Arizona State University Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU), finds that children live, breathe, and play with branded products in and outside of school.

“School-based marketing is coming to share the dominant characteristics of marketing to children outside of school,” says the report’s co-author, Alex Molnar, ASU professor of education policy. “Advertising is entwined with content and often demands the active engagement of its targeted audience.”

The CERU report, based on an analysis of a year’s worth of articles in the advertising and popular media, finds that schools and classrooms are subjected to numerous advertising campaigns utilizing a variety of marketing tools ranging from ads on schools buses to teachers working at local fast food restaurants to raise extra cash for schools.

“School-based marketing is now a global phenomenon,” add co-authors Gary Wilkinson of the University of Hull, in England, and Joseph Fogarty, an Irish school headmaster. They point to marketing programs by a PepsiCo subsidiary in Great Britain and by Allied Irish Bank in Ireland as examples.

Regardless of how marketing campaigns are organized or the products or services advertised, social psychologist and report co-author Faith Boninger notes that their influence extends into the broader realm of cultural values: “Although children may ignore or dismiss a particular marketing message, in the larger scheme of things, the total advertising environment creates a materialistic atmosphere that encourages more buying, more identification with brands, and more commercialized values.”

The stakes are high and dangers are real, according to Molnar. He points out that research suggests that higher materialistic values are related to factors such as lower self-esteem, chronic physical symptoms, and higher rates of anxiety, depression and psychological distress.  In teenagers, materialistic values correlate with increased smoking, drinking, drug use, weapon carrying, vandalism and truancy. Other research, he notes, belies the argument that children benefit when their schools make money from commercial contracts.  One national study of marketing for food products found that 87.5 percent of elementary school officials reported that their schools would not be forced to reduce programs if such marketing were prohibited.

It is, according to Molnar, past time for schools to be ruled off limits to marketers.  He argues, “In light of the destructive consequences of marketing to children, policy makers have an obligation to put the interests of school children ahead of the interests of marketers.”

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