So what did you learn in school today, honey?

cub foods ad

The entire premise of advertising is to deliver a compelling message to a captive audience, right? Well, how much more captive can you get than being in school for seven hours a day?

Last week was the first full week that locker billboard ads were placed in five Minnesota schools (one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools) as part of a pilot program by food retailer Cub Foods. A tough economy and budget cuts prompted the St. Francis, MN school district to resort to innovative ways to generate revenue for its schools. The potential of generating nearly a quarter of a million dollars in revenue would help cover the cost associated with hiring three to four additional teachers and/or fund technological upgrades.The guidelines for this program are that advertisers must focus on nutrition, education or health & wellness. A six-member school district board will review the content to make sure the ads meet the guidelines. Some of the billboards will include ads from local retailers, anti-texting and driving public service announcements, northern Minnesota travel, and the zoo. Sounds like they meet the guidelines, right?

I don’t know about you, but I have a 13-year old boy who even sees a picture of food and gets hungry. I can guarantee that after he puts his physics book in his locker, he is not running over to the cafeteria to grab a grapefruit. So looking at food all day (and I don’t care if it’s corn or not), will just make him want to eat more.

Or take  a look at this one.

Not nutrition? Not Health & Wellness? Educational? Hmmm… not so sure. Harmful though… not really. But guaranteed, my 10-year old will come home and ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE that Grip Pen and the Note Tabs. So yes, the ad will do its job.

Nearby Centennial, MN has also agreed to install the locker billboard ads in hopes of potentially generating over $300k in revenue. Centennial officials say that the district will keep students’ best interests in mind and that a review board will also be allowed to turn down ads deemed not suitable for kids. So a Nike or Under Armour ad probably isn’t unsuitable but, after looking at it for 35 hours per week, someone’s son will definitely need the sneakers because they will make him jump higher in basketball and the cold-weather gear will make him score more touchdowns in football.

I personally have to give the school districts – and media supplier School Media – credit for thinking outside the proverbial box. But, I am interested to see how this new initiative intertwines with The Council of Better Business Bureaus initiative. With 17 corporate participants it seeks to address the problem of childhood obesity by self-regulating advertising to children under 12. All participants pledge not to use product placement in child-directed editorial or program content or advertise food and beverages in schools, from Pre-K through Grade 6.

Now, I don’t live in Minnesota and my kids do not go to public school. But being “in the business,” I am very interested to see how this pilot program plays out over the next year.  However, I am skeptical about how stringent the review board will be with “what is suitable,” especially with so much revenue at stake.

Time will tell whether this use of alternative media will be a huge and positive opportunity for consumer brands… or just another example of advertising creep.

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