When my son was in reception, he made a Mother’s Day card for me at school. On the front was a teapot. Outside the teapot was a tag belonging to a teabag, which was hanging inside the card accompanied by a little rhyme encouraging me to put my feet up (yes, I still have it…),
The teabag was Tetley’s Drawstring. I was impressed. How clever of them to engage with schools and provide the materials for this, I thought. Imagine the emotional resonance as mothers all over the country open their Mothers Day card to find a Tetley teabag swinging sentimentally within their child’s heartfelt message.
The following week I asked the teacher if Tetley’s did this every year. Her response surprised me, ‘if only! I go to Asda to buy a box of teabags and spend the night before cutting out 30 teapots!’
The activity is on Tetley’s US Facebook page, so I know they are aware of it – so what is stopping them from working with schools in this way? It seems they’re not alone. In spite of Michael Gove’s encouragement and agencies dedicated to producing some great work in schools, there is still reluctance from some brands to a) get involved with schools or b) admit to it.
Do they fear press accusations that they are cynically exploiting schools that should be commercial-free environments? Has the Bailey Review stretched its net too wide in corporate consciousness?
I have spoken to several teacher friends who would welcome more brand-sponsored materials in class. As long as junk food brands are kept away, there is no overt advertising message and the content is shaped to deliver a lesson, they see no problem. Although there are no regulations in place about the level of commercialism allowed, they said these were unnecessary, as they would reject anything that they felt pushed the boundaries.
Neither is there an issue with parents. A quick ad hoc assessment of my own peers’ opinions supports research in 2004 by Edcoms which shows that parents also view this kind of corporate help positively, viewing it not as an abuse of commercial power, but at best ‘giving back’ and at worse an acceptable ‘long-term brand building exercise’.
In the light of this, it’s very frustrating that a minority voice seems to be forcing brands to shy away from this much appreciated form of CSR. With reduced funding and squeezed time in schools, surely well produced materials carefully developed to link with the curriculum (and only subtly branded) can perform a valuable job.
However, the issue goes deeper than that. There are also brands that I suspect are using the ‘hot potato’ excuse and not engaging with schools when they morally should.
I’ve touched on this before when asking why technology companies don’t take some responsibility and produce school delivered programs which tackle the actual health and social issues raised by their products. I do not believe there is one parent who wouldn’t welcome a corporate message warning of the dangers of addiction to Playstation, Facebook etc. The positive PR received on the back of it would surely drown out the dissenters.
So let’s accept that our kids are exposed to brands everyday, and at least show them that they can be positive forces for good. At the vey least it can stimulate a lively and honest discussion around the practice of marketing, perhaps giving the kids tools to – shock horror – make their own minds up….
Where do you think the boundaries lie with schools and brands?