Ethics of Marketing to Schools in America

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Marketing in Public Elementary Schools
Public schools across America are struggling with their budgets and looking to outside corporations for help. Conveniently, private corporations realize the potential buying power of students and have decided that elementary schools are the best channel to reach them. It has become routine for corporations to market there products in schools, and in exchange these schools receive various financial benefits. This new partnership has become the focus of much controversy as 80% of Americans feel that corporations should have no place in schools (). The two most cited concerns are the health of children and the growing commercialization of schools. This paper looks at this issue in detail by answering the following two questions. Is it ethical for corporations to market products in schools? What is the most socially responsible course of action for corporations to take? This paper will use a utilitarian and distributive justice framework to prove that marketing in schools is unethical and propose that the most ethical arrangement is to make schools commercial-free zones. This paper will also discuss the issue of corporate social responsibility through shareholder and stakeholder lenses to prove that there is a strong business case for corporations to…

Children in schools are marketed to in a variety of ways. Schools can participate in incentive programs where a school receives funds to take part in a specific activity such as collecting box tops (). Some corporations offer free educational materials to schools that promote their corporate message. Pepsi encourages a "thirst for knowledge" on a popular textbook cover(). Each year over half of the students in schools in the United States receive free textbook covers(). McDonalds, Burger King and Dominos sponsor reading projects in schools with free meals(). Other schools receive free electronic equipment like computers and satellites for participating in programs like channel one. This is an arrangement where school receive free electronic equipment for having their students watch a 10 minute broadcast of which 2 minutes are corporate sponsored commercials ().

All of these marketing techniques pose there own unique ethical dilemmas, however the most controversial type of marketing in schools today is the use of exclusive agreements. This is when corporations give schools a percentage of their profits in exchange for the right to be the sole provider of a product or a service(). The most prominent example of this is the soft drink company, Coca-Cola and their exclusive distribution rights with schools. As a result, Coca-Cola advertisements have become the most visible types of advertisements in schools today (). A US National School Health Policies study found that students could purchase soft drinks in 60% of elementary schools and 83% of middle schools (). Of these schools over 85% were under an exclusive contract with the Coca-Cola company (). For the aforementioned reasons the remainder of this paper will use the soft drink giant Coca Cola as a symbol to make it easier to understand the larger debate of marketing in elementary schools. A deontological framework can not determine whether this issue is ethical or unethical.

In 1990 under $100 million was spent on advertising targeted at kids, just a decade later that number was up more than twenty times to over $2 billion (). This large increase in spending indicates that there is a strong motivation for corporations to market to youth. One way to determine if marketing in schools is ethical is to deconstruct these motivations through a deontological framework. The motivation for companies to market in schools could be a philanthropic opportunity to contribute to education. However, I do not believe this because companies like Coca-Cola make schools sign exclusive agreements, which means that they block competition and are profitable. I believe the main motive for companies to...
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