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A Branded Education

Recently, I received an interesting topic for discussion by a fellow named JT:

I was born in 1983… I’m almost 21 now. I’ve been reading a lot on Branding’s intrusive presence in America, especially in public schools. In reading this, I realized that the entire 12 or so years I attended elementary and high school were during the prime dates mentioned in all the essays by DK Holland and Naomi Klein1 where corporations turned their eyes and money towards advertising in education. So I’m wandering how many designers at Speak Up can remember these influences? Anything particularly odd happen at their schools, like the Coca-Cola Day incident2 in a Georgia high school? I certainly remember Channel One News3 , and Chick-fil-A, Little Caesars Pizza, and Subway serving food, but I never acknowledged it as a real disturbance… at least not consciously. It might be interesting to hear from the younger designers like me, and what they remember about their “Branded Education.”

1 I read Naomi Klein’s No Logo not long ago and having not went to school here in the US I was very surprised to learn about all the effort by corporations to get to youngsters early on… not that it surprised me at all.

2 On March 19, 1998 high school senior Mike Cameron wore a Pepsi T-shirt during Coke in Education Day. He got suspended… not that it surprised me at all.

3 Channel One News is a daily, televised, 12-minute newscast that is beamed via satellite during the school year to each of the 12,000 schools in the Channel One Network community. Sounds educational and harmless right? Oh, of those 12 minutes, 2 are devoted to commercials… not that it surprised me at all.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.16.2004 BY Armin
brook’s comment is:

the deal my high school got with CH1 was a free TV/VCR in every classroom as long as the show was on each morning. not many of us actually watched the broadcast, as most of the teachers were not happy the administration made the deal in the first place. they turned it on like they were supposed to, but then let us talk and not pay attention. i don't, and didn't, like the idea of putting children into a situation where they have no choice about whether they would see advertising or not. also, there was little actual benefit of having the televisions in each room. few classes used them, and those that did need one usually got a larger tv on a wheeled cart. pretty much a pointless deal for everyone involved.

On Feb.16.2004 at 10:15 AM
marian’s comment is:

I wonder if any teachers ever actually used this as an opportunity to discuss branding in the classroom, to educate about some of the tricks of the advertising trade and to discuss what was being sold and why?

On Feb.16.2004 at 10:45 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Another question that I should have addressed in the original entry: For those of you who are parents, does this bother you at all? I'm not saying it should or not but I'm curious.

On Feb.16.2004 at 10:55 AM
Scott d’s comment is:

I remember late in high school my school put a tv in everyclass room. Channel One News was on during studyhalls, and I believe we made fun of it because it was so terrible.

Then when I was a junior (97 or 98) a pickup full of Josta pulled up to the front door of the school and gave away as much as you wanted to take. Pepsi made it and it was full of caffeine; obviously targeting us youngsters with the drink. It had hideous graphics and was marketed as having some berry from the jungle. Sadly people out there have online "shrines" to this drink, and I have no idea how in the hell I remembered its name-I think it was the ugly graphics. Damn bad design for making me remember a brand!

On Feb.16.2004 at 10:55 AM
pk’s comment is:

marian: my mother has that conversation with her students (or rather did...i don't know that her school system still uses cannel one) the first time they show it every semester. i think she feels a bit priveleged to be able to have that conversation with the kids. from what i understand, advertising is somewhat dimly understood in the classroom simply because most educators just don't know much about the inner mechanics of the industry.

On Feb.16.2004 at 11:02 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

My junior year of high school was the year my school was infiltrated with brands. The school offered Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and I think one other fast food chain in the cafeteria. It was like having mini versions of each restaurant in the school. It was pitched as a way of keeping students from leaving the grounds for lunch without taking the privilege away. I guess they missed the whole point of why students wanted to leave school.

Who remembers this controversy?

"Oscar Myer Talent Search

attention K-5 music teachers

$10,000 winners- one per state.

$25,000 grand prize winner.

Prize money is for your school."

On Feb.16.2004 at 11:12 AM
brook’s comment is:

i wonder if it's that educators don't understand advertising in that way...or if the conflict of receiving additional money that they know they need usually outweighs their criticism. in my school most of the teachers were opposed to getting channel 1, though the administration pushed it through anyway. when these things come up, i'm sure the teachers that do understand, and have a strong opinion, communicate that to those who don't.

On Feb.16.2004 at 11:29 AM
ps’s comment is:

if government, (national, state and city) would figure out a way to include enough money for education related expenses in their budgets, we might not have this topic at all. so while i understand the concerns and understand that corporations take advantage of the situation, they are also providing much needed funds. i'm not saying what they are doing is wonderful, but i also understand that from their perspective they are looking for some sort of return.

On Feb.16.2004 at 11:31 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

I just started doing some teaching again and was really struck by how anti-marketing and anti-gimmick the students were. It almost seems as if the more a brand is "targeted" to them, the more wary they are of it. These students (college age) seem to have a very well-tuned bullshit-meter, and seem to be much more oriented to things that strike them as more authentic or original. They almost immediately reject anything they view as being "pushed" on them.

On Feb.16.2004 at 12:20 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Regarding school-corporation agreements, No Logo also touches on Nike, Reebok and Adidas giving high-school's sports teams uniforms (shoes, shorts, bags, jerseys, etc.) in exchange for their logo being drawn on the basketball court or the gym being named after the company — I can't remember the details exactly, I read it a while back. This was during the time that Nike was going through all the sweatshop lawsuits so many teachers did not want Nike's blood money in their school… but the offer was hard to reject.

Like PS says, if there was more money going towards schools these situations would be avoidable, but given all the things that a school gets in return it must be a very hard decision. What matters most (in the case of the claim to Nike's blood money): Ethics and sending a strong message or getting the right equipment into the school that could probably help more directly students' education?

On Feb.16.2004 at 12:29 PM
bryony’s comment is:

When I was in school in Mexico, the cafeteria prided itself on not carrying any brands or junk food. I was in this school for 12 years, and not once could I by a soft drink or chips or anything of the sort. As you can imagine us kids were not all that happy, but we had to live with it or bring stuff from home.

Every now and then, I would spend a semester in the US, attending a local public school while my dad taught at the university. I was bewildered when I walked into my high school in Albuquerque (yes, Albuquerque) to find not only the biggest cafeteria I can ever seen, but it was overflowing with brands. It took me a few months to get used to the idea, and soon after I left.

A few years later, when I happened to be in Mexico at the same time that a school reunion, I was very sad to see that my old cafeteria had finally succumbed to branding and was selling all kinds of unhealthy foods, just to make ends meet (kids were just not into cucumber and carrot sticks, and parents did not object).

On Feb.16.2004 at 12:30 PM
justin m’s comment is:

I seem to have missed out on this, but when some angry students burned down our school, various companies took the opportunity to get their message out. We had to go to school in an old strip mall the school district had purchased several years earlier. Due to the fact that we no longer had a cafeteria to eat in, they rolled in the vending machines.

I remember the machines and the companies that served us changing several times depending on who offered the most money on any given day.

When the school first burned down, the companies that came out to suport the school ranged from the golden arches and the chicken place to a smaller bagel shop and gas stations. I think large companies sponsoring schools and their activities is not only directed at students but parents as well. Think of Target donating a percetage of your credit car purchases to the school of your choice.

Awww, how sweet! The average person is going to see this as a good deed performed by a large corporation, when Target is able to use it as a tax write off. I believe most corporate sponsorships of any school is directed more towards parents than the students. As debbie mentioned, students (especially today's students) are quick to reject anything that is so openly marketed to them.

On Feb.16.2004 at 12:43 PM
Adrian’s comment is:

I was in High School from '90-'94, after my freshman year my parents and I moved to another state. I went from a school district that had 1,600 total students K-12 to one that was reaching 5,000. One of the biggest changes for me was the cafeteria.

My old school had cooks and our lunches cost 85�, extra food was an additional 35� no matter what you got. Our drinks were provided by local companies and the largest brand name to enter our lunch room was TastyKakes. God bless those TastyKakes. Our sports teams were not sponsored by any brands either. I think they are now.

Now the new school I went to had meals from McDonalds and other fast food chains or you could get a normally prepared lunch for $2.35. Our sports teams were sponsored by Nike.

The 85� meals tasted better and the sports teams on average did much better. I got a better education from the small school than I did from the larger one. When I transfered I was mainly in the advanced science and math classes ahead of the rest of the students.

The smaller school was always having fundraisers and finding ways to cut costs to keep it running the way it was.

I am not bothered by the branding of schools, I know the money put towards the school is needed. Many school systems do not know how to budget their money and are forced to cut programs (art/music), have corporate sponsors and have pay to play sports programs. If a little coporate blood money goes out to keep some of the art and music programs alive, so be it.

I am opposed to forced support of brands like the Coca-Cola/Pepsi shirt thing. If we want to change what is going on we need to have more money going to schools and have better budget requirements.

Before I end this long message, I ask:

What of the computer sponsors like Apple and Dell that donate and discount their computers to schools? Do you agree with their sponsorship?

On Feb.16.2004 at 12:58 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I recall Channel 1 vividly. It was not disturbing at all. Our educators stressed that it would help cultivate us, since reports cited high school students lacking background in history, geography, and social sciences. During 1989, Channel 1 became part of our morning ritual in homeroom. Then with the Gulf War, it showed us the politics and strategies behind the US involvement. Yes, commercials were a big part of the Channel 1 broadcast. That's how they subsidized costs. Stations that work without commercials are called public television. Do not be surprised at all if they phone viewers like you and beg for donations or dump direct mail into your mailbox. Or they would have asked the students to go out and raise money for morning television. Which one would you rather have?

There are no good or bad advertisements, no evil brands. This is America, goddamnit. Other countries look great, but I'd rather be here than in some socialist or communist dictatorship where there's one kind of bread you eat, and it's the one given to you by the government at food lines. Something to drink with that bread? Sure. Give me a diet soda. I'm thankful I live in the US where I can choose between Coke and Pepsi instead of walking 26 miles to the water hole that's shared by 500 villagers, who use a second hole next to it for relieving themselves. Do not be surprised at all when once you get outside of this flipping country, and see the world, you'll understand that we have it pretty goddamn good, brands or no brands.

All these devices used by the merchants of cool don't anger me as much as they used to. More and more, I find it's important to educate oneself. Be a smart consumer. I may not know all about what the corporate megalopolies are up to. But I won't be dupped. I'm not their toy. I won't be part of their scheme. Choosing wisely is what matters. Don't want to choose between brands? Don't like brands? Move to an island. Do not be surprised at all if you'll find me someplace in the Mediterranean in 30-40 years when I'm tired of crusading.

On Feb.16.2004 at 03:22 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Were the ads in Channel One the same as those you would see on TV? Or were they somehow specifically targeted?

On Feb.16.2004 at 04:43 PM
Jason’s comment is:

I don't remember the nature of the ads. However, I do remember a lot of soda ads, I'm sure it was Pepsi. 1989 was a long while ago.

On Feb.16.2004 at 05:34 PM
Steven’s comment is:

I wanted to bring up something that han't been discussed yet.

If I'm not mistaken, I think all of these strategic marketing efforts by the fast food industry are being undertaken in lower to middle income public schools, and not in upper-middle to upper income public and private schools. Additionally, there is an enormous increase in childhood obesity, and complications such as diabetes, that disproportionally affect lower income children.

To this, I would also bring up the recent god-awful McDonalds "I'm Lovin' It" TV commercial, in which the ostensibly African American voice-over states, "I don't know how to cook, so I come to Mickey D's," to loosely quote.

Doesn't this point to the disproportionate exploitation of lower income, non-white populations?

BTW, I went through elementary and middle school in the 60s and 70s in California, before Proposition 13 destroyed public schooling, and I'm always so disheartened when I see what has become of our once best-in-the-country schools.

I am also a big believer in the Slow Food movement and the importance of locally and sustainably grown food. I don't eat fast food.

On Feb.16.2004 at 07:57 PM
JT Helms’s comment is:

When I originally sent this topic request to Armin, I was at the beginning of a "socially" driven project for my design concept class. The idea is to take a problem we are concerned with in society and "steer" the minds and actions of an audience to positively effect the issue. I say "steer" because there obviously isn't one definite solution here.

So after becomming more familiar with the subject (through reading, and conversation like this blog and my new forum Uncommon Dialogue Between Artists) I began looking for any ideas for solution that may be put out already.

In Design Issues: How Graphic Design Informs Society Carolyn McCarron offers the most distinct (yet still broad) concept for possible solution to this problem in her essay "Your Education is Brought to You by Our Sponsors". She establishes the fact that corporations do make positive contributions to schools, sadly, when the government either can't or won't. This isn't something that needs to cease entirely, but definitely needs regulation so examples like some of you have shared won't continue to happen (which I will say are very small in comparison to some of the wild happenings Klein mentions in No Logo).

Marketing is part of our society, and our jobs as Graphic Designers. I don't dissagree with Jason's opposition to this cynical look at what corporations do. However, how long will it be before we have to ask corporations to step back...and will they listen if we wait much longer?

I believe marketing in education is only growing, and what we have seen of it may not be the worse yet to come. A school is a place where you send your children to learn FACT, TRUTH, and common social interaction. How much truth is there in advertising?

McCarron opens her essay with this question:

"Solve this problem: The best-selling packaged cookie in the world is the Oreo cookie. The diameter of an Oreo cookie is 1.75 inches. Express the diameter of an Oreo cookie as a fraction in simplest form"

An actual math problem in a McGraw-Hill textbook for sixth graders. Did the student learn a new method of calculation? Or did they just decide what to ask there parents for when they get home today?


On Feb.16.2004 at 08:56 PM
JT Helms’s comment is:

I overlooked one of the links Armin posted with the initial question. It offers a solution similar to McCarron's with a few added. Go to the "What You Can Do" section. Very helpful Armin, thanks:

Branded Schools


On Feb.16.2004 at 09:15 PM
Patrick’s comment is:

A few years back, when Silicon Valley was trying to spread the Internet far and wide, there was a company called ZapMe! (exclamation point included). I actually did their one, and only, annual report. What they did was give a whole computer lab to schools (something like 13 computers, broadbad connection, a printer, etc.). Subsidized by advertising, of course. The bottom left corner of the screen was constantly occupied by rotating ads (in a hideous "teen-focused" UI).

Realizing the need for computers, but unable to afford the start-up costs, many schools signed up, unable to resist the free offer. But there was a huge backlash, led by Ralph Nader, and they quickly found their business model unsustainable. The schools got stuck having to pay for the equipment or give it all back.

Personally, I was torn throughout the process as to whether it was a good idea or not. Does the free access to the vast information on the internet offset the harm done by the advertising? Is a computer lab with advertising better than no lab at all? I was (and still am) not sure. There are now similar ventures to bring technology to schools with more solid business models. For example, my wife used to be an editor at Power to Learn, run by Cablevision. They sell discounted broadband service to schools, packaged with a portal site the provides resources to students, teachers and parents. And no advertising.

On Feb.16.2004 at 11:13 PM
priya’s comment is:

i didn't mind Channel1. in fact i actually sort of enjoyed it. (might have a wee bit to do with my not-so-healthy crush on CNN's Anderson Cooper, ex-Channel1 reporter.) the TVs in all the classrooms seemed to give our teachers incentive to incorporate A/V teaching aids into the curriculuum and they were often used to show videos during history or dissections during biology. A journalism class was added to the school curriculuum which used the closed circuit television system to broadcast a daily school news / announcements program everyday after Channel1. None of this could've happened without Channel1.

a lot of people tried to cause a big stink at my school over the ads broadcasted during the show but nothing much came of it. i personally, found thier arguments to be baseless. the commercials were the same shown on network television. nothing offensive, mostly reminder ads for well-known soft drinks and candy. (i'm talking 1993-1999... our junior and senior high schools both showed Channel1.) some people argued that advertising is best kept out of schools. when we have computing deals with Apple and Microsoft, free bookjackets from various brands such as Reebok, and Coke vending machines that argument is pointless.

if corporations choose to invest in an educational tool such as Channel1, i totally support it. watching two minutes of commercials for products i am already aware of isn't going to harm me or negatively influence me.

As far as pop culture or product placement in textbooks, I find no problem with that either. i remember reading similar problems in my own texts in high school and i don't recall it ever prompting me to demand Oreos from my mother. (and even if i did she'd say, 'No'.) it's math! incorporating products or objects that are familiar to kids helps them engage in the problem. do companies pay textbook writers to get thier brands in the book or do writers, in an effort to arouse the interest of children, use popular brand names and pay for the permission of using the name? does anyone know?

Teenagers have tons of buying power but it still doesn't mean that they have definitive influence over thier parents. Just because a teenager may buy a Coke with thier own money doesn't mean they will influence thier parents into buying it as well. (Mine, for example, didn't allow junk food or anything with artificial flavors in our home... i hated the rule growing up but now i'm sort of glad they did that. i developed no taste for Twinkies or sugary cereal due to this, i make healthy choices taking cues from what they taught me growing up.) As far as McDonald's for school lunch, parents can accept it and send thier kids to school with lunch money to buy fast food or do something else about it. My mom dissapproved of the menus for school lunches and thus we were never allowed to buy lunch. She always packed it for us the night before. Sometimes we'd just take leftovers from dinner. (Try explaining cold Indian food to a bunch of kids who have never seen such cuisine.)

Blaming corporations alone for our spending habits is a bit much. I don't see many people who say, "Take the corporate sponsorships out of school and I'll keep the programs afloat by paying the difference out of my pocket." Public schools need the help from corporations. Parents still can regulate what comes into thier homes. Parents need to take responsibility for thier children's education by getting involved. They can't rely on schools to educate and raise thier children.

On Feb.17.2004 at 12:13 AM
priya’s comment is:

oh weird... is Primedia Inc. (ChannelOne's operator) part of Viacom? I just clicked on the ChannelOne website link Armin provided and it looks just like mtv.com.

On Feb.17.2004 at 12:22 AM
len’s comment is:

funny how "outraged" parents get when brands "invade" their schools... almost as outraged as they get when the disticts turn that "dirty" money down and need to raise taxes.

we live in a branded society. fact. no turning back. people are certainly free to make their own informed decisions, however.

really, you only have 2 reasons to protest this dirty money.

1. when adeqated media awareness is not presented along with the branded messages. high schools (and probably younger) need to add media studies to the curriculum.

2. when branded cafeterias limit choices rather than add them. i.e. exclusivity contracts.

dont' get me wrong, it pisses me off that when i have kids, their preschool naps will be sponsored by sealy and their snack breaks will be "got milk?" snack breaks. but if it's a choice between having an adias-sponsored team and no team...

On Feb.17.2004 at 09:00 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Until we start treating children as a valuable assets and something we should protect, nurture and fully support, they will just continue being seen as 'target demographic x'.

But, of course, I say that with a lot of hypocracy, as I've already let my 2 year old be brainwashed by the likes of SpongeBob, Dora, and Nemo.

On Feb.17.2004 at 09:32 AM
Steven’s comment is:

Taxes are not necessarily a bad thing, especially when they support public education. If schools were funded properly, they wouldn't be forced to whore themselves to corporate America.

Or we can just slowly become a caste society, where the privileged elite are given a quality education, and the rest of us just have to cope as best we can.

Yes, I'm a Democrat. ;-)

On Feb.17.2004 at 02:30 PM
Jason’s comment is:

Of related matter. In the not too distant future, the government may be asking corporations to step back. With obesity being linked to junk food and cheap snack foods, they're being targeted by many health industries; it looks like junk food industries are under a similar scrutiny suffered by big tobacco. Already, there's a string of campaigns by the CDC promoting "what's your verb" to get kids moving instead of snacking. The CDC not only battles cancer and heart disease, but also obesisty, which is now an "epidemic."

JT, I'd like to talk more about this with you or get some of your suggested reading---the Oreo quote is dynamite. Please email me any further reading you may have on these "branded matters."

Thanks for the insightful posts.

On Feb.17.2004 at 02:44 PM
Sao Bento’s comment is:

I keep seeing people saying that the schools don't get enough money. I think if you look into it, you'll find that they (in the US) are EXTREMELY well funded and also EXTREMELY incompetent / corrupt. The problem isn't that they don't have enough money, it's that it's all being mis-managed or outright stolen. Meanwhile, these same "well meaning" organizations are very actively lobbying against vouchers for private schools and your right to home school your own children.

How many times have you heard that all the profits from the state lottery will go to the schools? Well where is it - I'm still waiting to see the platinum plated schoolbus on dubs that I paid for (via taxes, not lottery tickets).

Thank God they managed to scrape up enough money to incinerate all those books about that wacky "evolution" theory.

On Feb.17.2004 at 06:28 PM
Teal’s comment is:

Welcome to the battle for the future.

None of this is random, none simple. Corporations, which are in essence, very large social groups who channel their dominant benefits to a few members, are fighting along with and against religious social groups, to defeat the groups representing non-commercial values.

The prize is who controls culture (and the benefits of human life).

Government hasn't forgotten schools. They have been lobbied to remove support from schools. Religious groups don't like public schools because they don't teach the religious values. So they too, have lobbied and marketed against schools.

For corporations, the lack of support opens up untapped markets. For religious groups, it gives them a chance to control how their young will be taught. Perhaps it also has the advantage for them that other systems of value will lose adherents.

School has always been a control issue in cultures, as it prepares the young for inclusion into a particular way of thought and of living. For corporations, as they extend their power it is important to 'assimilate' people into their prepackaged form of culture. Starting at a young age improves the effectiveness.

The system previously in place, is I believe, a conjunction of several trends; Humanism, Industrialisation and perhaps the Liberation movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a wierd amalgam of 'everyone deserves an equal chance to a full life' and 'lets prepare people to be good citizens in our less organic, more technological society'. (I.e. make them good workers.)

The situation with schools reflects other changes that are going on. As is mentioned in other threads, who controls what we see and hear (and how often we have to pay to experience it) is a major battle taking place now.

Besides music sharing, the centralisation of media into the hands of a few corporations has a powerful impact on how many views of 'the truth' we get. The Internet, which has created an opening for sharing, is another target. Personal privacy? Another piece of the control puzzle, conveniently tucked into 'identity protection' as a justification for what is basically Digital Rights Management and Market Data collection.

And as long as these changes happen because 'it is necessary', or they doesn't seem worth fighting because they are 'not so bad', then they are likely to succeed. Americans especially, seem comfortable with creeping change, as long as we can sit in front of our televisions.

Farley Mowat once observed that the Russians were very aware that the State attempted to control them, because it was primitive and heavy handed in its methods. Americans, on the other hand, are told they are free by some very sophisticated means, never understanding that they too are subject to control. So what part of the future that we are being directed towards do we like? What part do we not like? How will we choose to participate?

On Feb.17.2004 at 08:50 PM
Jane’s comment is:

Thanks to all of you! I have been out of school for a long time -I am a degree bound grandmother. I am in the middle of writing a paper on Corporate sponsorship within our public schools. I found your comments very enlightening, and informative. You have proven one point that I have been making to my professor and fellow students - that our school children are not "led around by their noses" just because of the ads. I always knew that our children were smarter!!!!!Keep up the good work and use you heads!!!!!

On Nov.21.2004 at 03:20 PM
amy’s comment is:

i hail from the land of pepsi's AND ibm's corporate HQ's and my high school was full of pepsi soda machines...from the late 80s to the early 90s, the cafeteria was adorned with a larger-than-life poster of Michael Jackson during his "Bad"-Pepsi sponsored years hanging out at a diner drinking Pepsi with a group of smiling generic "young people". I don't know if any students necessarily resented this constant brand enforcement on all of us, but that poster surely took beatings by hurled milk cartons and other projectile food products...it was only when Pepsi dropped MJ as their spokesperson after the child molestation allegations did administrators finally remove the weathered, dated poster. It was only after reading "No Logo" that I realized how much corporate sponsorship infiltrated my public education (a plentitude of sugar water and computers) and how (sadly, unfortunately, depressingly) much I benefitted from this...

On Nov.22.2004 at 05:09 PM