Posts Tagged ‘commercial alert’

Breakfast cereals equivalent in nutritional value to Twinkies are heavily marketed to children using cartoon mascots and online “advergames.” Schools display advertisements for everything from fast food to the U.S. Army on every available surface, from lockers to flat-screen televisions in cafeterias to report cards. Corporations hire student “brand ambassadors” on college campuses to subtly push their product on classmates and friends. Public art galleries, subway stops, and roadways are named for the highest corporate bidder. Historic bridges and parks are draped with advertisements. Infant formula makers market their products in doctors’ offices and hospitals.Photo by Christopher Chan, Flickr

These examples are all evidence of the rapidly growing space that commercial culture has come to occupy within our society. As large a space as they may already inhabit in our lives, corporations are seeking still more facets of our society that can be put up “for sale,” never mind the higher values that get trampled in the process – values like family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy. That’s why Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen, has no shortage of work to do.

Ralph Nader and Gary Ruskin founded Commercial Alert in 1998, seeking to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere. Since then, Commercial Alert has fought to lay down boundaries that preserve crucial spaces in our culture as commercial-free. Commercial Alert has stood up for children’s rights to be free of commercialism in schools, parks, libraries, and other public spaces. We’ve demanded that government be a vehicle for democracy, not commercial advertising, fighting back against plans to advertise on government vehicles, history-laden bridges and buildings, and in cultural institutions. We’ve decried the number one public health disaster of our times – marketing-related diseases, including obesity, smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, and many more.

Despite successes along the way, the fight is far from over. As those intent on putting everything and everyone up for sale wage their war on our culture, Commercial Alert continues to resist the spread of commercial culture – now as an important part of Public Citizen. We’re confident that supporters of Public Citizen will find that Commercial Alert’s upcoming campaigns address crucial issues that are important to them – issues that fit well with Public Citizen’s historic concerns about unchecked corporate power and consumer protection. And supporters of Commercial Alert who have been eagerly awaiting our return to action after a brief hiatus will be excited to see the powerful connections between Public Citizen’s work and Commercial Alert’s goals, connections that will enable us to combat excessive commercial culture even more effectively.

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Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project monitors the spread of commercial culture, fighting back against its expansion into evermore spheres of our lives. As we track tales of governors selling naming rights to highways and bridges and online games pushing junk food on children, a perennial story we encounter is that of increasing commercialism in our public schools. Not a week goes by without at least a handful of stories of school districts selling students short by allowing (or considering allowing) advertising on their campuses, whether on lockers, school buses, cafeteria trays and menus, sports fields, or right in the classroom.

With massive state budget cuts, school districts are facing tough times – there’s no doubt about it. So when they claim that allowing school advertising will help them manage their budget shortfalls, many parents and community members believe that, distasteful as advertising to kids may be, such measures might just be worth it. But is it? Our just-released report, School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues, debunks these claims, highlighting the miniscule revenue that these programs actually bring in.

How much money are school districts bringing in? Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh-largest in the country, has a total budget of $1.58 billion for 2011-2012. In 2010-2011, HISD raised only $62,250 from a combination of signage, scoreboards and school bus advertising. That’s less than 0.01 percent of its budget – and a far cry from the $100 million in cuts the district faced last year.  Also in Houston, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, the eleventh-largest district in the country, raised only 0.03 percent of its annual budget through in-school advertising. And in Florida, Orange County Public Schools has allowed advertising from Pizza Hut, the U.S. Army, Buffalo Wild Wings and other, raising just 0.02 percent of its annual operating budget.

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It’s just Monday and we have already been so busy! Earlier today, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program issued targeted warnings to a number of different school districts and school boards, including the State of Hawaii School Board, "Public Citizen Lady Liberty"that are currently considering in-school advertising proposals to raise revenues.

“Children already are surrounded by near-constant advertising that promotes consumerism and commercial values,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But the ubiquity of advertising is not a reason for allowing corporate naming rights and in-school advertising to persist; it is a reason why children need a sanctuary from a world where everything seems to be for sale.”

Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, which you can follow on Twitter @CommercialAlert, added:

In-school advertising and marketing schemes convey market rather than civic values and impede the ability of schools to function as open spaces where ideas are freely exchanged and the next generation of public-minded, conscientious and virtuous students can grow.

Meanwhile, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines director Peter Maybarduk is gearing up to speak about patent rules tomorrow at the Georgetown University School of Law. Lady Liberty hopes you’ll make note that the folks at Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program are now on Twitter! Please follow them at @PCMedsAccess to catch their take on today, the 10th anniversary of the Doha Declaration.

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Today is the first ever Food Day, a national event created by our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Day presents a great opportunity for us to think about what we’re consuming, whether it is food itself or the Food Day Logomassive commercial culture that shapes our food choices. Because food is central to meeting our basic needs and sustaining life, we sometimes lose track of the constellation of powerful interests that surround the economics and politics of food. But food and powerful corporate interests are all too intertwined today. Moreover, the massive, profit-hungry, food industry fuels the ever-growing commercialism that afflicts our society. In pursuit of sales, food industry commercialism encroaches on our children, schools, family lives and public spaces.

Food can be a crucial source of community, health and pleasure. However, powerful marketing campaigns teach us to associate it with nothing more than brands, logos and slogans. Perhaps the most devastating results of food marketing are its insidious effects on children. Confronted with advertising for highly processed and unhealthful foods at every turn, children grow up to see food not as nutritional sustenance derived primarily from nature, but as a series of status-conferring products with flashy packaging. Indeed, the food industry has a lot riding on children’s induction into the world of food marketing. This is more obvious than ever as we watch industry lobbyists scramble to resist proposed guidelines by the Interagency Work Group on Food Marketed to Children – and, unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seems to be heeding its calls for leniency.

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Our schools are for sale and the paltry profits they generate can’t even begin to compensate for the resulting damages.

Picture these scenarios:

- A Pennsylvania high school student stares intently at her classroom’s new interactive whiteboard, trying to absorb her math teacher’s lesson. But soon she’s distracted by the logo of the fast food restaurant that paid to have the whiteboard installed – she’s thinking about artery-clogging cheeseburgers and onion rings instead of algebra.

- Rushing to his locker between classes, a student in Minnesota is confronted with a wall of advertising. Instead of a place to store his books and notes, the student’s locker and those around  it have become prime marketing vehicles.

-Waiting for a school bus to pick up his young daughter, a New Jersey father is greeted by a large advertisement for a national pizza chain on the side of the bus.

Unfortunately, these scenes are all too real. In Upper Moreland, PA, fast food peddler Sonic paid to have newfangled whiteboards installed in classrooms, and school board members have just appro"school advertising"ved guidelines for corporations to purchase “naming rights” to the board’s properties. A Minnesota school board came close to approving ads on lockers and other school surfaces, but, thankfully, the proposal that would have covered 10% of available spaces in schools with sales pitches was recently quashed. And New Jersey is only the most recent of seven states to allow advertising on school buses. In fact, many other states and localities are considering selling educational space to corporations to pay for what public dollars ought to fund. From school bus ads in Guam and Philadelphia to naming rights in Ambridge, PA, and Gloucester, MA, to stadium ads in Guildford County, NC, to school website ads in Providence, RI, school administrators desperate for funds are ready to put our kids’ education up for sale.

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