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When Your Teacher is a Brand Ambassador for a Private Firm

BOULDER, CO (January 17, 2019) – Marketing in schools has a new twist, and teachers are at the center. Corporate firms, particularly those that produce education technology products, have begun to contract teachers to become so-called brand ambassadors. This new phenomenon has been touted as a win-win-win for firms, teachers, and students. This assumption, however, neglects to balance potential benefits with potential costs, as explained in a research brief released today.

A brand ambassador is an individual who receives some form of compensation or perk in exchange for the endorsement of a product. Unlike celebrity endorsers, however, teachers can be thought of as “micro-influencers” – individuals who give firms access to their network of social influence. For teachers, this network includes school and district administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students. This “micro-influencer” strategy supplements, or in some cases outright replaces, more costly and risky forms of marketing relying on popular athletes or celebrities.

In Examining the New Phenomenon of Teachers as Brand Ambassadors, Christopher M. Saldaña, Kevin G. Welner, Susan Malcolm, and Eleanore Tisch explore the ethical, legal and policy issues associated with the recruitment and hiring of teachers as brand ambassadors. They: 

  • Consider the use of brand ambassador marketing outside of schools;
  • Reflect on the larger economic contexts – for teachers and for schools – within which the school-based micro-influencer brand ambassador strategy has grown;
  • Explain how teacher brand ambassadorships fit within broader marketing trends and within earlier instantiations of marketing in schools;
  • Note the potential benefits that these relationships provide to teachers and their students and weigh these against the potential concerns, conflicts, and costs to teachers and students; and
  • Consider the need for potential protections of students’ interests, as teacher brand ambassadors programs grow as a presence in public schools. 

The authors conclude with the following four recommendations:

  1. School districts should review current codes of ethics and conflict-of-interest policies. Where necessary, states and districts should update these policies to reflect the challenges posed by new technology – such as social media – and brand ambassador programs.
  2. Districts should include teachers and parents in this process of reviewing ethics and conflict-of-interest policies and, more broadly, in the process of purchasing and researching curriculum.
  3. These policies should provide teachers and other public employees in the school community with ample and clear guidance on the ethics of their roles.
  4. Most importantly, schools should be adequately funded, so that every student receives the necessary resources to learn and teachers receive appropriate compensation for their work without relying upon corporate sponsorships or funding.
     

Find Examining the New Phenomenon of Teachers as Brand Ambassadors, by Christopher M. Saldaña, Kevin G. Welner, Susan Malcolm, and Eleanore Tisch, at: 
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/brand-ambassador

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu