Consumerism 101

Hey kids, here's a newsflash: You are being sold. You are being sold every time you walk in the door of your school -- or you soon will be. The marketing business has put a price on your head, to the tune of $300 billion a year -- that's what experts believe that people your age collectively spend, whether it's money out of your own pocket, or the way you influence your parents' spending habits. And now these commercial-crazy headhunters are hunting you in the one place you can't escape -- school. Here are some examples:*From New Mexico to Nova Scotia, Coke or Pepsi will pay schools $10 to $20 per student to get exclusive rights to sell their soft drinks to you. What do you get out of it? Lots of advertising plastered around your school, and if you're lucky, a free Coke or Pepsi t-shirt.*Companies create "free" ready-made lessons for teachers to use on students. Chips Ahoy has a counting game for little kids where you have to figure the number of chocolate chips in their cookies. Kellogs has an art project where you make sculpture out of Rice Krispies. Procter & Gamble sponsors lessons on oral hygiene that include giving away Crest samples. Campbell's Soup created (then shamefully recalled) a science lesson where students compared the viscosity of Prego sauce to rival Ragu. The Consumers Union has stated that 80 percent of these "lessons" contain wrong or misleading information.*Companies profit by changing the way you think. Representatives of the drug Prozac will come to your school to "teach" you about depression. Exxon has ecology curriculum that shows how clean the environment of Alaska is. Some schools actually sell ad space in the hallways, on the sides of school buses, or billboards out in the yard.*Companies collect information about you at school. In New Jersey, elementary school kids filled out a 27-page booklet called "my all about me journal," basically a marketing survey for a television channel. Students in Massachusetts spent two days tasting cereal and answering an opinion poll. ZapMe! corporation puts "free" computers and internet hookups in schools. Then they monitor your web browsing habits and sell the information, neatly broken down by age, gender and postal code, to their customers.*Channel One gives schools "free" televisions and audio visual equipment. The catch is that you and 8 million other students have to watch their daily news broadcasts, including the commercials.*YouthStream has message boards in 7,200 high school locker rooms. They carry product advertisements and try to sell you on visiting the company's website, where even more advertising can be seen. The boards reach almost 60 percent of US high school students.So, maybe you don't like the idea of school becoming one giant rat maze for the marketing lab. But what will you do about it? You could fight fire with fire, using the laser printer supplied by ZapMe! corp. to make your own anti-spam sticker campaign, and jam every company logo in the school. Unfortunately, the see-one-sticker-one approach will get you either the principal's office or jail. But there are other ways.Start by figuring out the chain of command -- teacher, principal, school board officials, state and federal education department officials, and so on. Then complain as far up the ladder as you need to go until you get results. Contact the news media. If you call the local newspaper and tell them you are being forced to watch TV commercials during school, for instance, you'll get attention fast. Jamming meetings, protesting outside schools, hanging banners from classroom windows -- it's at least as much fun as doing homework, and you'll probably learn more.For a detailed, step-by-step game-plan to ad busting at school, you can contact the Center For Commercial-Free Public Education at unplug@igc.org or visit www.commercialfree.org.HERE'S WHAT SOME ADULTS ARE SAYING BEHIND YOUR BACK:"The advertiser gets a group of kids who cannot go to the bathroom, who cannot change the station, who cannot listen to their mother yell in the background, who cannot be playing Nintendo, who cannot have their headsets on." -- Joel Babbit, former company president, on the advantages of Channel One for advertisers."If you own this child at an early age, you can own this child for years to come. Companies are saying, 'Hey, I want to own the kid younger and younger.'" -- Mike Searles, former president of Kids-R-Us, a major children's clothing store, on the business of marketing to kids."Because physical education is required for high school students, over 70 percent of students see GymBoards every week." -- promotional material of YouthStream Media Networks, makers of school locker-room advertising boards."Teens will get your message when they see your logo within the materials ... Depending upon your product, sampling and couponing can often be incorporated into the program... In addition, we are able to gather demographic information about the school and market." -- promotional material of West Glen, a company that distributes corporate-sponsored "teaching" materials to schools.A FEW ADULTS COME TO THEIR SENSESCalifornia has passed a law prohibiting schools from selling exclusive vending rights to soft-drink manufacturers unless public hearings are held first. Another recently-passed law prohibits the use of product placements in school textbooks. A third bill in the works would place limits on electronic advertising in schools.Rep. George Miller has introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives that would prohibit companies like ZapMe! Corp. from collecting marketing information in schools without written permission from parents.In Canada, the provinces of New Brunswick and Manitoba have declared that the Youth News Network, a Canadian version of Channel One, will not be allowed in public school classrooms.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.