The past year was a challenging one. September 11, the war on terrorism and the recession have had a major impact on all of us, and children are no exception. This is especially evident in the place where kids spend half of their waking hours–in school.
All this adversity hit an educational system that was hoping to emerge from a long period of increased class sizes, low test scores and shrinking budgets. Instead, bad times have gotten worse, and many schools are now being forced once again to increase class sizes, trim teacher bonuses, delay purchases and scale back after-school programs and field trips. Meanwhile, States and school districts are demanding greater academic performance, insisting that schools make the grade on new standardized tests, while diminishing the resources and financing needed to accomplish these goals.
In this environment, educators are increasingly turning to the business community for assistance, especially in the form of free, high-quality curriculum materials that will help students deal with current issues. As a result, for marketers eager to find new ways to reach the ever-important youth audience, a doorway has opened into the in-school marketplace–an environment that has traditionally kept the business community at arm’s length. The trick to getting your foot through that door right now is to create programs that address the new issues kids are grappling with in the wake of September 11. Let’s look at some marketing initiatives that meet these needs:
Diversity and tolerance
On September 11, the U.S. melting pot reached a boiling point, threatening to expel anyone who ‘looked like a terrorist.’ Schools responded quickly, instituting lessons about different religions and people from other countries. Ethical and moral grounding have become important features of everyday school life.
Marketing initiatives: Disney’s release of the large-format version of Beauty and the Beast this month brings a multicultural message to millions of kids through two curriculum guides, one for elementary students and one for middle-school students. The lesson plans and student activity sheets use the film’s themes to teach lessons in science, social studies and literature, as well as addressing current issues such as the similarities between people around the world, which is reflected in the movie’s folk tales and stories.
The global in-school program for Twentieth Century Fox’s feature Ice Age (which debuts March 15) consists of two sets of lesson plans and activities–one for kids ages six to eight, the other for kids nine to 12. The packages instruct kids to work in teams and practice problem-solving skills in situations similar to those confronted by the diverse characters in the film, who don’t get along so well in the beginning. Just as these characters come to realize they need to put aside their differences to accomplish common goals, students in schools will learn more about tolerance and cooperation.
School as a haven for safety and action
Kids are creatures of habit and routine. Disasters, by their very nature, are events over which there is no control, and which affect the daily routines of living and learning. Teachers are helping to combat this sudden and profound feeling of vulnerability by encouraging children to write letters to families of victims, talk with individuals and visit organizations involved in rescue work–an engagement in community activism not seen since the 1960s.
Marketing initiative: Newman’s Own, the 20-year-old company started by actor Paul Newman that contributes all of its profits to charities, is spreading the word by empowering young people to ‘Cook Up a Better World.’ This in-school program asks high-school students to come up with and fund a community-action plan to make a difference in their schools, their communities or the world.
Educators are putting a renewed emphasis on making sure students know the foundations upon which the United States was built and why living in a country that respects individual liberty remains important today.
Marketing initiative: As part of its sponsorship of Ken Burns’ latest portrait of American life, Mark Twain, a two-part documentary airing on PBS this month, General Motors has provided English teachers in every secondary school in the U.S. with a study guide that brings the wit and wisdom of America’s most enduring social commentator to millions of teens. The program has been so successful in schools that GM initiated a similar outreach in public libraries.
These marketers and more are successfully reaching the youth audience with the important messages needed today, through carefully conceived and executed in-school programs that enrich the curriculum, help educators and achieve their marketing objectives. Business as usual has an all-new meaning now, and we should take it upon ourselves to try to help those most important to all of our futures–children.
Roberta Nusim is president and founder of Youth Marketing International, a Monroe, Connecticut-based outfit that works with business clients and schools to facilitate the planning and implementation of in-school marketing initiatives in the U.S. and abroad.