There was a time when the schoolyard was a place of sanctuary, a
refuge from the stresses and pressures of commercial life, one place
where the sponsor’s message simply couldn’t reach. But no longer, at
least in the US.
Schoolchildren of the very near future might find that their gym lessons
are suddenly taking place in ’Just Do It’ hall, while their choice of
cola in the ’Just for the Taste of It’ school canteen might suddenly be
severely restricted. Because in the US, major advertisers have for the
first time started to cut deals directly with local education
authorities. The aim is to get to the kids in the most captive of
environments: the schoolyard.
Coca-Cola, for example, has just agreed an dollars 8 million ten-year
deal with one Colorado school district that gives it exclusive vending
and advertising rights in its schools and colleges. Pupils with a
penchant for Pepsi had better look elsewhere. Dr Pepper-Seven Up has
done a similar long-term deal in Texas. It has paid dollars 3.45 million
for ten years’ rights to this smaller district. The cash gives it
permission to advertise in gyms and sports stadiums and even on the
outside and roofs of school buildings.
And now the sports shoe manufacturers are making encouraging noises
about getting involved in what observers think could be a fast growing
and lucrative new advertising market. It’s the first time, even in the
commercially open US, that advertisers have been let anywhere near the
schoolyard without at least pretending to be offering some sort of
educational service. Channel One, which broadcasts schools programming
in the classroom, runs tailored ad breaks but children have to sit
through its output to reach them.
The schoolyard sponsorship deal looks like one American export that
might not be embraced so willingly elsewhere. Tentative moves in the UK
have so far been met with rejection and even hostility. ’I don’t think
there’s anything actually to stop it happening in the UK,’ says Maiden
Outdoor’s managing director, Francis Goodwin, ’but then I really think
and hope it’s not the sort of thing people over here would want.’