is saving his allowance to buy a pair of Nike shoes that cost $68.25. If Will
earns $3.25 per week, how many weeks will Will need to save?"
the McGraw- Hill math text book currently being used by 11-13 year old
schoolchildren. In an effort to make abstract mathematical concepts easier to
understand, teachers often use "manipulatable objects," and/or give
the math problem a story line. But now, kids get anchored to reality via brand
names. Another math problem asks you to figure out the total grams of fat in a
Burger King Whopper with cheese if you know the total number of fat grams in the
meal and the fraction of the total represented by onion rings. Yet another
problem asks you to express the diameter of an Oreo cookie as a fraction in its
simplest form, but not before it reminds you that "the best-selling
packaged cookie in the world is the Oreo cookie." (See the July/August
issue of Adbusters.)
the Oreo’s rank in terms of worldwide sales of packaged cookies is completely
irrelevant to the problem of expressing its diameter, but that doesn’t matter.
What matters is that kids know, recognize, are intimately familiar with, and
feel allegiance towards brand names. What matters further is that kids learn the
rules of being a good consumer: that is, they ably juggle irrelevant bits of
information as if they are important.
to the "Education and Consumerism" issue of Radical Teacher, a major
battle has heated up in the last year between Coke and Pepsi, and it’s taking
place in U.S. public schools. These multi-million dollar soda companies want to
pay schools to exclusively market their product. For the soda marketers, it’s a
good use of advertising dollars: pay the school to make their brand name central
to kids’ lives all day everyday. For the school, it’s an easy source of much
is becoming ubiquitous in schools. In Colorado Springs, the side of a big yellow
school bus becomes a bill board for just $2500. A six-foot commercial banner
hung inside the school for one calendar year costs only $700. In Toronto,
schools are using screen savers on their computers that mix motivational
messages with sales pitches from fast food and soft drink companies. The
Pepsi-sponsored screen saver advises kids to "develop a thirst for
knowledge." In Braintree, Massachusetts, a company called Cover Concepts
has made a multi-million dollar business out of giving away free book covers
that are decorated with corporate advertising.
spaghetti sauce sends out free educational materials about viscosity and samples
of its sauce so that kids can see for themselves just how thick and rich it
really is. Gushers fruit snacks are sent out to teachers along with an
educational packet that promises to motivate students’ interest in Geology and
the Earth Sciences. The teachers are urged to "have each student put [a
candy] in their mouths, and discuss the process needed to make these fruit
snacks `gush’ when you bite into them. Then teachers can ask the kids to
describe how the biting process differs from the process that creates erupting
geothermic phenomena." [Stay Free! Marketing to Kids issue. Spring 1997.]
One — the advertising-driven, in-school TV network — is in about 40% of the
country’s secondary schools. It got there by giving free video equipment to
financially strapped schools. Schools give their students as an audience in
exchange. According to Roy F. Fox, author of Harvesting Minds, Channel One now
has daily access to 8 million kids in grades 6-12.
ever lost your way in a kid-oriented web site? What appears to be an
"exit" button, links you to an ad. Fake "back,"
"forward," and "home" links shoot you straight to an
advertiser’s web site. Even the little "x" symbol in the upper right
hand corner of the screen – the one that typically closes down the program in
all the main operating systems in use these days – is a disguised hyperlink to
somebody who wants to sell you something. The stories, games, and attractive
cartoon characters featured in kids’ web sites are all gateways to commercials.
America is saying to kids: you can’t escape. Every door, every pathway…even
every math problem…leads to a consumption experience. You may not make the
purchase, but you will at least take in and store bits of information that are,
in fact, irrelevant to meaningful existence, but highly relevant to the
continued existence of profit-making. Even if you can’t express the Oreo’s
diameter as a fraction, at least you might retain knowledge of its worldwide
sales. And this is a boon to makers of packaged cookies everywhere.
cookie-makers and soda marketers have other concerns besides getting their brand
name implanted in kids’ brains. They also hope to teach children to pay a lot of
attention to irrelevant choices. They want to accustom children to the notion
that it matters which soda they drink, which athletic shoe they wear, and which
cookie they dunk in their milk. They want kids to engage mightily in the minute
consumer decisions that collectively result in corporate mega-profits. And they
want kids to be prepared for a lifetime of consumption. So they have to start
working on them young: both to develop brand loyalty and to foster the belief
that it’s important.
cause for optimism, however. The massive human effort and limitless reources
that go into marketing should be an indication of how corporate America views
the object of its jingles, icons, catchy slogans, and admonitions to buy/belong.
Namely, as a challenge. Kids are complex, imaginative thinkers. To have an
impact on them, you have to hit them with a steady stream of images, stealthily
slip your coroporate message into every nook and cranny of their lives, sneak
advertising into their schools, their curriculums and their math problems, and
lock them into web sites with no obvious way out.
challenge for progressives is not just to teach kids to be media literate,
recognize advertising for what it is, and resist its basic messages. Our true
challenge is to create real and relevant ways kids can participate in life, make
choices, exercise autonomy, and express themselves. And this must be a global
effort. Because while our children are locked in the no-exit fun house of
consumer culture, many Third World children are locked in factories, making the
meaningless irrelevant objects that stock the First World fun house.