Algebra 2 Is Brought to You by . . .

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

In this month’s cover story, societal watchdog Ralph Nader likens ZapMe’s installation of 100,000-plus computers in high schools to the arrival of Big Brother in our midst. He may be exaggerating a touch, but I tend to agree with him, and I’ll wager that the vast majority of educators and parents who invited ZapMe into their schools do, too.

We, for the most part, are the Baby Boomers who 30 years ago called for the overthrow of the “Military Industrial Complex,” who sang “One, two, three, what are we fightin’ for,” and “Imagine no possessions,” who fretted over everything from overpopulation to ecology, and who instinctively pointed at the nearest cigar-smoking, corporate fatcat when there was blame to assess. Yes, we were young and inexperienced then and, yes, we’ve since risen to fill the chairs and the humidors of all those fatcats. But sensibilities forged in youth are not easily broken down, and I can’t help but believe that if the choice of free computers with or without advertising were given to America’s high school parents, they would vote “without.”

There being no free lunch, however, the choice is not being given, and parents and boards of education are readily accepting gifts of equipment and athletic funds, trusting that their bright and individualistic young offspring will not be influenced by the commercial messages and offers that come with them. This is happening not just in poor school districts, but in affluent ones as well.

Even people who seemingly have everything they need possess the uncanny human ability to unearth further necessities that their lifestyles and self-images come to depend upon. They’d just as soon have Pepsi pick up the tab for their kids’ football uniforms and use the tax savings to pay for that trip to Vail. In-school marketing’s success proves that the time has never been riper, the medium never richer or more balanced, for the cultivation and proliferation of relationship marketing.

Trust me on this one, for I myself was amazed at the reaction of the residents of my own town to a deal Coca-Cola recently did with the local high school. When details of the pact – scoreboards with Coke logos and a percentage of sales for the school in exchange for exclusive vending rights – hit front-page in the local newspaper, I said to myself, “This will never happen.”

Our town is a fairly well-to-do rural suburb peopled with doctors, lawyers, and college professors, plus a goodly number of scientists and executives from nearby pharmaceutical and financial companies. Citizens are aware of and active in local issues. A plan to extend sewer service set off a firestorm among conservationists. A political faction emerged in the last year to battle the construction of a headquarters for a large financial services firm. Those corporate tax dollars they didn’t want, but Coke in the gym? Come on in!

The story in the paper caused a Board of Education meeting to be called, but only to set policy standards for the Coca-Cola arrangement and future commercial deals in the schools. Since much-needed increases in the town’s education budget have been voted down two years running, I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised by this benign acceptance of commercial encroachment. I can’t explain it, but here were all these socially conscious folk saying, “Pass the Coke, and strap that ski rack to the SUV.”

So, hey, if America’s affluent elite are poised and ready for more profitable relationships with brands, go get ’em. Far be it from me to pass judgment on their mores. You can start with school sports and computer programs and then go to individual subjects: “This accounting class brought to you by H&R Block.”

Soon you could get rid of the teachers. We parents pay them all this money to work nine months a year, and all they do is give our little future Harvard med student C’s, the morons. So yeah, Board of Ed, do the deal with History Channel to install monitors with custom program feeds into the classrooms.

And keep those free Gorditas coupons coming from my kid’s Yo Quiero Taco Bell Spanish class. We may be doing a deal with the devil, but everything tastes better with Border Sauce – um, better make that the Hot, not the Fire variety.

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