Schoolhouse Marketing Continues Unabated

Marketers strive to make classrooms part of a ‘total advertising environment'

Alex Molnar - (480) 965-1886;
Faith Boninger - (480) 965-1886;

BOULDER, Colo., and TEMPE, Ariz. (October 6, 2009) -- Marketers are attempting to construct a "total advertising environment" and making heavy use of digital technology to do so. Schools and classrooms have become a significant venue for their efforts, according to a new report.

Click: The Twelfth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism Trends: 2008-2009 , by Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Gary Wilkinson, and Joseph Fogarty, explores the many ways in which marketers attempt to sell to children in the digital era, and the many ways in which schools remain deeply involved in those efforts despite a decade of objections from citizens and parents.

The report is jointly released today by the Commercialism in Education and Education Policy Research Units at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In particular, the report explores how schoolhouse commercialism subtly helps to shape children's socialization into values associated with commercialism," the authors write.

"Parents have always been sensitive to the idea that schools might inculcate religious, social, and political values with which they disagree," says Alex Molnar, the report's lead author and a long-time scholar of schoolhouse commercialism. "Yet every day in schools across the country, marketers use television and sophisticated digital technologies to sell products and promote commercial values. These practices undermine the integrity of academic programs and turn schools into agents of self-serving corporate interests."

Click examines how marketers exploit children's use of digital communications and entertainment, from cell phones and video games to social networks on the Internet, in order to fill children's days with marketing messages. These messages are intended to influence children's usage of and loyalties to a wide range of branded products. While Molnar and his colleagues note that much of this digital advertising takes place outside school, "schools serve as a significant portal to digital marketing media and reinforcer of the messages they carry," they write.

Marketing messages tend to associate money and happiness, at the expense of other values; promote foods and beverages of little or no nutritional value, further fueling concern about childhood obesity; and encourage hypersexuality through products that reinforce stereotypes about roles and appearance, especially for girls. Through products such as the popular "Bratz girls" dolls--which until this year Scholastic Inc. promoted in its in-school book fairs and catalogues--"children are taught by marketing messages that ‘hypersexuality' is normal and appropriate, that sexuality is a commodity that can and should be bought," the report's authors write.

The authors also discuss a number of advertising and marketing industry self-regulation programs and point out that there is little or no data to suggest that such programs are effective.

The report also includes brief sections on school commercialism in England and in Ireland. 

Click concludes with a recommendation that the Federal Trade Commission launch a marketing registry of advertisers to children, to enable the collection of accurate data about marketing practices that target children.

Find the report, Click: The Twelfth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism Trends: 2008-2009, on the web at:

Alex Molnar, Professor and Director
Commercialism in Education Research Unit
Arizona State University
(480) 965-1886

Faith Boninger
Commercialism in Education Research Unit
Arizona State University
(480) 965-1886