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Commercial Alerts Says No to In-School Bus Radio Ads


Some might consider it a good thing to create a company whose business model aims to help advertisers reach a young, impressionable audience early in life. Others might consider the business model of BusRadio, a company that helps advertisers reach young, impressionable minds early by installing a specialized, ad-supported radio system on school buses, to be a horrific abuse of marketing prowess and an indication of an industry gone wild making its last ditch effort to survive while the advertising world crumbles around it. Commercial Alert, and Adrants for that matter, believe firmly in the latter.

Commercial Alert has written an open letter to Massachusetts Governor Romney asking that he put a stop to BusRadio's plans to install its bus radio advertising system into Massachusetts buses as part of a pilot test of the system which will reach 100,000 students. One could certainly argue there's already all kinds of advertising that targets kids but much of it is avoidable in the form of parents turning the television off and monitoring the other media their children consume. BusRadio, baring a parental uprising at the bus stop in the morning, is completely unavoidable. Sure, a kid could slap on a pair of headphones and zone out to Disney Jams or some such crap, but, for the most part, they have no choice but to hear whatever BusRadio and its advertisers decide to tell them.

Have we not yet destroyed childhood already? Is it any wonder 11 year old girls dress like prostitutes and nine year old boys think they have enough responsibility to posses a hand gun? Is it possible kids are being exposed to far too much far too early? Yes, no and yes. Should parent take more responsibility for what their children are exposed to? Of course. Should business and marketers? Absolutely. A serious problem arises when parents who do want to be responsible for what their children are exposed to have no way to do so. This is what BusRadio does. It removes all control from parents and from anyone, save the overly stressed, tuned out bus driver, to monitor what their children are consuming.

Oh yes, we can hear it now. Some buses have had radios in them for over 30 years and those radios carry ads. One might argue BusRadio is the same thing as regular radio. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps but it's yet another unfortunate step our industry has taken to survive as traditional advertising models crumble around us. Certainly the advertising industry has to change to survive and change to meet people's changing media consumption habits but BusRadio feels as though some sort of moving, invisible line between "real" content and "marketer-manufactured" content has been crossed for the sole purpose of brainwashing the American public at an ever-earlier age.

Some people might also say give it up, Commercial Alert. Get off your high horse, Adrants. This is the new world of media It's a losing battle. We're headed, inevitably, toward a 27/7 connected society in which commerical messaging will be delivered Minority Report-style. True but is that a good thing? Should we just lay down and accept it? Does anyone want marketers to have 24/7 access to our brains? For the most part, we're OK with marketers doing whatever the hell they want to reach anyone 18 or older. At that age, supposedly, one has the metal skills to separate the crap from the truth. But, when marketers usurp childhood and treat it as if it were a brand brainwashing camp, it's just not right.

We agree with Commercial Alert and would urge Massachusetts Governor Romney to put an end to BusRadio's infringement on the innocence of youth or, at least, what's left of it in our media-saturated world.

The entire Commercial Alert letter to Governor Romney is below:

Dear Governor Romney:

Every day, the parents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts entrust their children to you for the purpose of education. On no other matter is your duty as an elected official so constant and direct. It is one thing to maintain the roads and sewers. It is quite another for parents to send their children to the public schools - which means, ultimately to you -- as the law requires them to do.

The compulsory school laws exist for one reason: education and the building of character. That purpose, which most parents share, is the basis of the widespread consent to these laws. Public education in Massachusetts is a public trust. As governor, your job is to make absolutely sure that there is no abuse of the trust that parents put in the schools and in yourself.

That trust has been threatened in recent years, as commercial forces have attempted to seize upon the schools for their own ends. These forces are trying to turn the compulsory school laws into a means of corralling a captive audience of impressionable children, for commercial gain. First it was Channel One, which brought television advertising into school classrooms in the guise of a daily "news" show. Now it's BusRadio, which literally is going to turn school buses into a means to deliver the captive ears of children to corporate advertisers.

BusRadio has proposed to install its equipment on school buses throughout the Commonwealth. Beginning this September, the company plans to subject over 100,000 Massachusetts schoolchildren to its advertising scheme. The company says it plans to target children in elementary school, which means children as young as five.

Children would have to listen to music, service spots, and eight minutes of commercial advertising per hour. They would have no choice, and neither would their parents. The compulsory school laws would become a pretext for compulsory listening to commercial propaganda. In addition, you would be intentionally interfering with the ability of students' to read, pray or do homework on the school bus.

The people behind BusRadio do not portray themselves that way of course. They talk about safety, "age appropriate" music and DJ talk, among other things. It is pretty clear they have done their market research, and know what parents and school administrators want to hear. The company's pitch to potential advertisers is more candid. "BusRadio will take targeted student marketing to the next level," it enthuses. Advertisers will get "a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market."

BusRadio has boasted that the ads for one movie it pushed at kids "received recall rates in the 90% range" - that is, over 90% of school children remembered the advertising.

Is this what the schools of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are for - to "take targeted student marketing to the next level" and boost "recall rates" for ads targeting children as young as five? Is it the purpose of the compulsory school laws to provide a "unique and effective way" for corporate advertisers to bypass parents and speak directly to kids in a captive setting? Is this the model of education that you stand for and want to hold out to the nation?

We know that it is not easy to stand up to commercial forces in this nation. They want to insinuate themselves into everything, especially when it comes to kids. But just as we teach our children to say "no," so leaders have to say "no" too, even when it is inconvenient. Education is about character. It is not about enabling the commercial seduction of the kids entrusted to the schools, however beguiling the package in which that seduction is wrapped.

This is an opportunity for you to set an example of moral principle for the whole nation. BusRadio is knocking on the door. Just say no. Expel them from every school bus in Massachusetts.


Jonathan Rowe, Issues Director
Gary Ruskin, Executive Director

Written by Steve Hall    Comments (6)     File: Bad, Opinion, Radio     Jun- 5-06  

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Forget Minority Report. We're getting close to the Futurama marketing, advertising plugged directly into your dreams.

Posted by: jay on June 5, 2006 05:08 PM

Forget Minority Report. We're getting close to the Futurama marketing, advertising plugged directly into your dreams.

Posted by: jay on June 5, 2006 05:08 PM

Tell managing partners of Sigma & Partners, the venture capital firm funding BusRadio, not to invest in BusRadio or any other company that forces children to listen to ads at http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/hq/editValues.jsp?table=campaign&key=4002.

Posted by: marnie on June 5, 2006 08:30 PM

We should totally do this! Next we can sponsor the teachers...wait...how about each lesson?

"Today's writing lesson is brought to us by the Altria Group, Inc. and their wonderful and healthy snack foods from Nabisco and Kraft. Please take out your Triscuit brand Grammar Book and turn to page 37."

This is one of those crazy advertising ideas that makes me cringe and wonder what the hell we are really trying to accomplish here.

But this will probably go through...because the states need the money for the schools. They have to get the money elsewhere while their budgets are slashed every year in favor of other programs deemed more important than educating our future generations.

Posted by: Tmoney on June 6, 2006 04:34 AM

As a mom in suburban MASS. I could not agree with you more regarding BusRadio and crossing the line when it comes to marketing to kids on their way to and from school. Is there ABSOLUTELY no sacred place for kids today? It's enough that students brag about how many gigbytes their new Nanos have, where they are going on the next school vacation and, among the younger crowd, how many Webkinz they own. There is already enough "marketing" done by the kids themselves as they are a strong consumer demographic in their own right. We don't need any more noise on the schoolbuses, and certainly not more marketing noise directed to our children.

Posted by: Nancy on February 1, 2007 11:09 AM

What seems funny about this to me is, in Michigan, it's now illegal to have an AM/FM radio in the bus unless the speakers are three seats back from the driver. Many districts are removing expensive radio equipment from their buses. Yet in MA, they're going to install distracting commercial radio equipment in the buses. Oh how that makes me laugh.

When I rode the bus, I listened to my walkman. I imagine most kids today have iPods that they listen to. If they want to be effective, the schools would have to ban students from listening to their own music on the bus.

Posted by: OmegaWolf747 on August 22, 2007 03:45 PM

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