Monday, June 11, 2007

Schools sell out your kids just a little bit more...

It is bad enough that schools sell your kids out to a multitude of corporations for on campus snacks and drinks. Notice that your local high school only has 'Pepsi' product vending machines? Read "Consuming Kids" by Susan Lin. One such story she writes involves a student that attempted to sell bottled water with a school activity logo on it, and was banned by Pepsi - that's right, PEPSI CORPORATION stopped a student from running fundraiser in her school because it competed with their product - and the school forced her to sell the fundraising bottles off campus only.

The NY Times has written a disturbing article full of buzz words and featuring photos of kids drinking 'Propel Fitness Water', which is no better for you than any other water but costs thousands of percents higher than regular filtered tap. Bottled water alone is ridiculously overpriced, now imagine a water sold by Gatorade. The article may be confusing to read, so I've provided some translations.

“High school kids are more sophisticated than a generation ago,” said Mark Ford, president and publisher of Sports Illustrated in New York, “and brands like Nike and Gatorade are on this, reaching athletes at a much earlier stage than they previously have.”

No, they're not. Studies show they are not, but marketers need to advertise to children earlier in order to commit them to brands. High school kids have no need for flavored salty beverages when they exercise, nor do they need expensive designer shoes.

Many high schoolers shop for the family while their parents work, so they may be buying groceries along with items for themselves.

This exactly why they claim kids are more "sophisticated", so they can start directing advertisements for a variety of products not necessarily appropriate for their age group.

“We’ve spent more than 30 years building our relationships with customers,” said Jeff Webb, chief executive at Varsity Brands in Memphis, which specializes in goods and services for high school cheerleading and dance teams.

In other words, they are hard focused on manipulating your children to believing that one product is better than another, not by critically evaluating that product but by taking what they are told at face value. Nike must be good because kids a little older than I am, more "sophisticated" are wearing it. Secret deodorant must work better than the other brands because that girl is popular! Their 30 years of 'building relationships' has resulted in programs like "Channel One" that gives TV equipment to schools in exchange for forcing your kids to watch commercials in the morning, or faux news programs that as the article says "weaves brands" into their stories. Any parent has to be in a coma not to see its impact on their children's purchasing preferences.

And by sponsoring local teams, advertisers “get the benefit of seeming to be part of the community,” he added, even when they are not.

Of course they are not. Do you think Pepsi cares about your kids? They are there for one reason: the money they give to your schools is inevitably returned to them by convincing your children to buy products, either of a certain brand or to buy products they normally never would - or in larger volumes than they usually would. In addition, these sponsorships and deals come with exclusivity contracts that locks competitors out of the school, as well as quotas that force schools to encourage consumption of the product in order to meet the contract terms. They are profiting off your children's manipulability. That is why they are sponsoring sports programs.

“We don’t want to be too intrusive,” said David Birnbaum, chief executive at Takkle

Of course they don't. If they are too intrusive, it generates a negative image of their product. Their message is clear: Our product is the best, you need it, and our company is sensitive to your needs.

For instance, no ads appear on the home page, Mr. Birnbaum said, because “it’s not just about the dollars.”

What this really says is that they have enough revenue generated by the increased consumerism thanks to their sponsorships that they don't need to put ads on the site to cover its operating costs. But even this is too simple. The entire website is an advertisement because of its association with its corporate sponsors and the ads it displays outside the website itself. There are no ads in Shrek for McDonald's hamburgers, but the association that children have with that character draw kids into the fast food joint when they put Shrek's face on a happy meal. By selling the license to use their characters, the movie itself becomes an advertisement for whatever company also use the characters to sell products. Just because there are no direct ads on the website, savvy consumers know that the site is not "ad free".

And although “I’m not going to say we wouldn’t” ever accept sponsors that peddle products like candy or soft drinks, he added, the intent is to run “the ads that the athletes want to see, that speak to their passion and engage them the way they want to be engaged.”

Of course they would! So long as the presence of the ads would not hurt their reputation or reduce visitation to the site, they would absolutely sell ad space to anyone with a checkbook. "Speak their passion" and "engage them" are buzz words for ads that use children's existing interests to turn them in the direction the company wants, towards their product.

(When Varsity Brands works for PepsiCo, employees distribute Propel Fitness Water to high school cheerleaders rather than soda.)

So? This isn't just about the nutritional value of your product. Propel Fitness Water does absolutely nothing that ordinary water wouldn't do. It hydrates, that's it. Vitamins and minerals are good for a healthy body, but a healthy diet would already be delivering those vitamins. Downing a bottle infused with vitamins doesn't give you more energy, or revitalize you in any way because those vitamins are slowly metabolized by your body. Unless they sneak in some caffeine to give them an artificial high?

And, I wonder given the production costs and higher expense of Propel water verses a bottle of soda, if Pepsi isn't making more by peddling water than its classic soda.

Female high school athletes were assembled in focus groups to gather opinions, he added, which led to changes in marketing approaches.

In other words, they took your kids time, free of charge, to gather data that will help them better sell their products, convince your children to buy more of their products, and inevitably take more of your money. And we should feel good about that?

What about going even younger? “I don’t think we’re looking to go into middle school or younger,” Mr. Bedol said.

Why bother? You're making plenty of money by marketing to those younger children in other ways.

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