Cash, Schools Eye Bus Ads
Several Michigan Districts in Talks to Accept Ads
on Kids' Transportation
Emily Bryson York
CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In addition to the usual
yakking, fighting, kvetching and comparing of lunches,
kids on Michigan school buses may soon be gawking at
ads. A number of the state's cash-strapped school
districts are in talks with marketing groups to broker
deals to sell ads on buses.
"Times are hard," said Mike Gwizdala,
director-transportation at Bay City public schools. "The
fuel prices are definitely affecting all transportation,
whether it's a school bus or a metro bus. It's
definitely having an effect on a lot of people, and
school districts are in that boat."
Terry Prewitt, executive director-financial services at
Saginaw public schools, said he's reviewing several
vendor proposals. He added that any ads would have to be
"age-appropriate" and "subject-appropriate." Saginaw
transports nearly 1,000 children every week. The vast
majority of them are under age 12.
It is illegal to advertise on the outside of school
buses in Michigan. Any ads must be placed inside.
Mike Eichhorn, president of Crossroads Marketing &
Consulting in Davison, Mich., is one of the vendors
competing for the Saginaw contract. He hopes to score
business with major national advertisers by creating a
cooperative of Michigan school districts. He also has
had discussions with representatives of Bay City and
Goodrich public schools and is meeting with Detroit
public school representatives this week.
As a father of three, Mr. Eichhorn added that he is
sensitive to parents' concerns about advertising to
kids. He said he was surprised to see an ad for Tyson
chicken and a Pepsi machine in the lunchroom when he
recently dropped off his 6-year-old.
Michigan school districts have tried school-bus ads in
the past, but the returns were disappointing. A
spokeswoman for Michigan's Ypsilanti public schools said
the district discontinued its advertising program
because "it was not as successful as we had hoped." The
district partnered with a credit union, a health center
and a cellphone provider.
School-bus advertising has sprung up in other areas as
well. Cherry Creek public schools in Colorado brought in
$54,000 in bus-ad revenue last year. That was a little
short of projections, said district spokeswoman Tustin
Amole. The money was used to purchase GPS's and cameras
for the buses.
Cherry Creek's major advertisers include local TV
stations, recreational centers and even the U.S. Army.
Ms. Amole said the school district avoids "junk food and
other kinds of advertising," and that there have been no
parental complaints since the program started in 2006.
The ads, however, are on the outside of buses, not the
Advertising to children, particularly in a captive
environment, remains a thorny issue, especially
considering pledges among food marketers blamed for
America's obesity epidemic to limit marketing
unhealthful food to children. The South Carolina School
Board banned school-bus ads last week, and any measure
undertaken in Michigan is likely to be controversial.
"Advertising on school buses exploits a powerful symbol
of education and subverts parental authority by making
exposure to brands compulsory," Josh Golin, associate
director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free
Childhood, wrote in an e-mail.
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