Advertising in Schools: In the digital age, district approval is irrelevant

Chris Barrett, Staff Reporter
Originally published June 22, 2017


Kids have always been a hot market for advertisers. Developing minds mean an impressionable audience, and kids literally live with their parents: the perfect pipeline to the consumer. Children directly spent or influenced the spending of 1.2 trillion in 2012 (Packaging Digest).

Naturally, advertisers turn to where they know they can secure this audience: schools. In a country where we spend more than eight time more money on defense than education (National Priorities Project), it makes sense that educators would be open to – if not desperate for – alternative means of funding. “Really the need for funding in public education is so great that some school districts would be very open to it,” Says marketing teacher Mary Jereczek. “They don’t have enough money to provide what they need to students – it’s kind of a necessary evil.” This is why we see so many of these ads. According to a survey in Pediatric Digest, 80% of public high schools have a contract with either Coke or Pepsi.

Of course, there’s a healthy number of critics of student-targeted advertising. Most children lack the media-literacy and critical thinking to understand the motives of advertisements and the persuasion techniques used. “They’re hoping that if they can get to you while you’re young, their hope is their going to have you for life,” Says Jereczek.

But now we’re reaching a point where the debate doesn’t matter.

In late May Ballard students were greeted with a very odd snapchat filter: a McDonald’s logo and a slogan promoting their flexible hours for “Ballard High School students.”

A Snapchat Geofilter is an image you can overlay any picture taken on Snapchat. Implementing one costs about $15-$20 per acre affected, anyone can buy one, and they go into effect within one business day. The landowner is not contacted about this filter and the money goes directly to Snapchat.

“It would seem like something you couldn’t do,” Says Assistant Principal James Slaid. “The school as an entity… you’d think it’d have a right to choose if it’s name was in branding or marketing.”

In the digital age of advertising, it’s no longer a question of whether it’s ethical or not but whether it’s possible to avoid it at all. “I think in public schools, I view it in kind of the same way I view separation of church and state… I think that if you’re advertising to [kids], this isn’t the place to do it.”