Thursday, April 19, 2012

Of Mazdas and Loraxes

Source: Campaign for a
Commercial-Free Childhood
Many of us are familiar with the children's movie The Lorax, based on a Dr. Seuss book and a giant stab at corporate greed and its destruction of the environment. The biggest of ironies is that the movie has more than 70 corporate and nonprofit sponsors from IHOP to HP to Mazda.

Through cross-marketing with the movie, Mazda is promoting its 2013 CX-3 to children. We all know that kids don't have drivers licenses, but they do have the keys to their parents' wallets.

Representatives for the company - and the movie - are hosting events at schools called "Read Across America Tour - Driven by Mazda." At participating schools, kids are treated to a book reading by a costumed Lorax (giant movie plug), and an up-close viewing of two different Mazda vehicles (giant car sales plug). Schools get a $1,000 check for their participation, in addition to $25 for every kid that persuades a parent that takes a test drive of the Mazda SUV - which, by the way, is entirely fueled by gasoline. (See The Horrible Marketing Campaign For The Lorax Just Gets Worse, a report by FastCompany.)

This is outrageous.

How is it that corporations can masquerade as do-gooders for our schools, when the reality is their motives are less than pure? This is a blatant marketing campaign targeted at kids in an environment where they should focus on the task at hand (education) and where they should be free from targeted advertising.

This story reminds me of an annual fundraising event that comes to our elementary school every September. It's called the Boosterthon Fun Run. Although reportedly the highest-grossing fundraiser our school has, the strategy of the program is to tempt kids with cheap toys to talk their parents and grandparents into donating money. Every morning during the week of the event, the Fun Run staff walks from room-to-room, awarding prizes to those children who have earned pledges. Everyone else feels left out - and naturally jealous. And they go home and put more pressure on the parents. The parents, in turn, don't want the kids to feel left out and jealous, and they (we) pony up more money. After the kids run their laps, they get the equivalent of a plastic ball for a $100 donation. And the Fun Run corporation keeps nearly 50% of the proceeds. The shame of it all is that to the kids, the program is far more about the toys than it is the cause.

Through everyday marketing practices in schools, adults purposefully put kids in a social pressure cooker. And cash-strapped schools are in a tough situation, too. Those that raise more money - through using kids to sell everything from cars to movies to plastic balls, or through ads on school buses - might be more successful. Those schools that stand up against such practices may lose out financially. Which is better? I'm not sure that the kids win either way.

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