Tough times demand imaginative marketing strategies in the search for new customers. The supermarket chain, Sainsbury, which has recently reported disappointing results, is promising extra funding for schools when parents collect shopping vouchers at it's stores. But it's not just parents the advertisers are after. What better way of promoting a brand name than making it familiar to children - as young as five. Teachers are being bombarded with free educational material, sponsored by household names like McDonald's or sega. Jane Renton investigates whether companies are contributing to the curriculum or just harnessing the pester power of kids.
ACTUALITY/CHILDREN: (singing) A Pizza Hut, a Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut. McDonald's, McDonald's...
There was a time when nursery rhymes told of tuppeny rice and treacle. Today it's international brand names that trip from the lips of these London children.
ACTUALITY/CHILDREN: (singing) Chicken. Chicken. Burgers. Burgers. Yum!
As schools struggle for funds, business is being encouraged to play a greater role in the classroom. Simon Yaxley's school, Sprowston High in Norwich, is no exception. It's been officially adopted by the local Sainsbury's. That's meant a welcome £200 on extra books for the library. Sainsbury's has just launched another scheme for schools, it's nation-wide, and linked to the weekly family shop. The Yaxley's have to buy their groceries here if Sprowston is to get vouchers for vital school equipment.
ACTUALITY/BELINDA YAXLEY: Claire, free range eggs? There, look on this top one there.
BELINDA YAXLEY: V/O:
Well I do shop at Sainsbury's from time to time, but recently, instead of going maybe once a month, everybody would like me to go there every week and do every shop.
The Yaxley children are enthusiastic supporters of the scheme. They want their mother to buy as much as she can in their store. She finds it exasperating.
They say it's a voluntary scheme, but it's not particularly voluntary when you've got children who are pulling at your heart strings and your purse strings to go and spend money in a particular store.
JANE RENTON: Sainsbury's says the scheme is an extension of it's work with schools. It is also encouraging customers to use fewer carrier bags. Recycled plastic bags are filled with Sainsbury's groceries by parents like Belinda Yaxley. Each bag qualifies for one voucher.
ACTUALITY/BELINDA YAXLEY: Seven?
Would you like...penny back or would you like...vouchers?
By vouchers please.
This time the family is entitled to seven, after spending £75.
S/I Cap: BELINDA YAXLEY BELINDA YAXLEY:
Well it's the pressure that I believe is put on me as a parent to change my shopping habits, but equally the pressure that's put on my children to take into school vouchers, that they are not only in competition with their school friends for, but in competition with each other.
Sprowston has over fourteen hundred pupils, but insufficient funds to provide all the computers they need. They've already acquired extra equipment through a voucher scheme run by Tesco's. Now Head Teacher, Geoff Best, is hoping to do the same with Sainsbury's.
ACTUALITY/GEOFF BEST: Hello Malcom. We've got the Sainsbury's catalogue for the purchases through their voucher scheme, and like the Tesco's one, there's quite a lot of IT equipment in. There seems quite a range here Malcolm - what sort of things are on offer?
The school is aiming to get enough vouchers to buy £2,000 worth of new computers.
ACTUALITY/MALCOLM: ...and printers.
And a computer is round about 20,000...
This represents about £360,000 spent in Sainsbury's. Many parents feel duty bound to help. S/I Cap:
GEOFF BEST Head Teacher, Sprowston High School
We can't pretend that we are innocents abroad. We are well aware that by saying that we are collecting these vouchers, that is putting some degree of pressure on youngsters and their parents to shop in particular stores. And by indicating the sort of equipment we hope to get from collecting the vouchers, we are adding to that pressure. I feel uneasy. But the reality is, that is one way I'm going to get equipment into the school that otherwise I couldn't afford in the very straight and circumstances that I'm operating within.
Sainsbury's schools offensive coincides with falling profit margins and cut throat competition. Some believe schemes like this are all about poaching customers from rivals.
The purpose behind it for the companies is to actually get people to switch their shopping patterns.
S/I Cap: JOHN WARD Director, National Consumer Council
This is a market place and the object of this exercise is to encourage people to shop in their particular store rather than somewhere else. They want to build a market, they want to increase their market share.
S/I CAP: MIKE SAMUEL Marketing Manager, Sainsbury's
No we don't see it like that. We see it purely as encouraging our customers to stay loyal and to continue shopping in the normal way that they have done, but just to change their shopping habits, to reuse their carrier bags.
But isn't this just blackmailing parents to shop at your stores?
Not at all. Not at all. As I said, I think all we are asking customers to do is to continue to do their shopping in the normal way. And hopefully they will do a little more of their shopping with us than they otherwise would have done. We're not asking new customers to come in.
Belinda Yaxley's youngest child, Megan, goes to Arden Grove.
ACTUALITY/BELINDA YAXLEY: (kisses daughter) Have a lovely day.
Many companies want to do more than just raise their profile at primary schools like this. Megan's head mistress is praying for money. For the first time Avril King has had to ask parents to pay for basic text books. But now...(?) Knocking at the door. Companies are spending more than 300 million pounds a year on educational promotions. That's a twenty fold increase in less than ten years. The first job after assembly is opening the post. Hardly a day goes by without a letter from a company keen to offer it's services.
AVRIL KINK: V/O:
Well some days the post does carry a fair amount of items that I could happily do without, I have to say. I think companies bombard us because they think we're very hard up, and in that they would be right. I think they feel also that they want to market their products and bring them to the attention of our pupils.
But advertisers know the potential of catching their audience young.
S/I Cap: Tamara Ingram
Saatchi & Saatchi:
Companies want to target small children because loyalties to brands are formed very early. I mean, certainly we know, for example, in advertising experience, that young children recognise brands at a terribly early age, certainly before two. And they have points of view about them, and advertising can affect them and how they feel about those brands.
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, schools have been inundated by teaching packs.
ACTUALITY/CHILD: (singing) McDonald's, McDonald's...
One of the latest is produced by McDonald's, for five to seven year olds. It's a work book covering core subjects in the curriculum, like Maths, English, and Geography. The pack has been sent to a thousand schools so far, though not Arden Grove. We asked Avril King, a teacher with forty years experience, to take a look at it.
Well this is directed at the youngest children who are learning to make what we call a one to one correspondence. And the overt advertising, I would say, would make most teachers judge that they would be unwilling to use it. I mean this is a word search, and certainly children of this age love to do word searches. But, again, all the words are associated with the things that they would be having if they were at McDonald's.
So what's your verdict on this pack?
Well I personally would not use it in my school. I do believe that there are ethical considerations here for schools. We do have to aquaint children with the power of advertising. And this pack is so overtly advertising McDonald's product, I wouldn't use it, just from that point of view.
McDonald's says the pack brings real life to the classroom. James Graham, the company's Head of Education, argues it's about making lessons relevant to kids, not pushing brands.
S/I Cap: JAMES GRAHAM Head of Education, McDonald's
It's certainly not advertising. We have a Marketing Department and an advertising agency that spends a lot of money on advertising. It is very much being part of the community. It's very much enhancing the image of the company within the community. You cannot, and I defy anybody to say that, okay, we've worked with 6,000 teachers over the last three years, and that equates to X numbers of hamburgers being sold or has increased our market share or has increased our profits. It would be very difficult to show that.
But many schools believe the material they're sent is not just educational. Karen Sillett is a PE teacher in Norwich. She often receives free teaching materials.
VIDEO/V/O: Water is dangerous...
One of these was the Royal Life Saving Society video sponsored by the electronic games company Sega. It's been delivered to 25,000 primary schools.
What I find most distasteful about this video is that there's a very strong brand image, which is interspersed with very valuable information that I'm trying to get over to the children. That sort of Sega skull is very easily identifiable by the children. They all know it, and they relate to it. And it really detracts from the type of thing that I'm trying to get over to them. And the next thing we have, and here it is, look, you can see they've established Echo The Dolphin. And this is actually a game, a video game, that Sega are marketing at the moment.
S/I Cap: John Ward Director, National Consumer Council
Why couldn't they have actually handed the money over to a safety organisation and said: Here, go and make as good a film as you possibly can on this particular topic. We'd like a mention at the beginning and we'd like a mention at the end. But as far as we're concerned, that's all we expect of it. But they didn't. They haven't exercised sufficient restraint. And they've managed to work into a very powerful message about safety a lot of very subtle marketing, almost subliminal advertising. It's really rather worrying.
Sega declined to be interviewed but told us teaching children basic life saving was a worthwhile exercise, the video was a change to give something back to the community. But Karen Sillett is uneasy.
S/I Cap:KAREN SILLETT
For years teachers have been supporting the education system by scrounging, but now they're actually being given these materials on a plate and said: here you are, use them. The dilemma is that we are then becoming tools for the company, we're actually promoting their product. And quite frankly, I resent being used in that way.
ACTUALITY/AVRIL KING: D - I - N.. Good girl, that's the way. Dot at the end.
The Government backed quango of the National Consumer Council believes that lessons like this should be free of all advertising.
Too many parents really don't realise just how far the commercial interests have began to spread into the schools.
They are keen to encourage companies to help schools, but they're drawing up guidelines to prevent the hard sell.
All we can do at this stage is develop some voluntary guidelines which, in fact, will, we hope will be observed by the greater proportion of the sponsors. And we.... why we subscribe to that. And we think that if they're prepared to observe some of these guidelines and exercise some restraint over their commercial interests, then they will, we'll get maximum use of the products. And this is both efficient and effective.
S/I CAP: Tamara Ingram
Saatchi & Saatchi
I think the market can regulate itself very well, and I think that is to do with the fact that parents do have a powerful voice and that schools are very careful and are very considerate towards their pupils. So, as I said, I think the school will become the discriminator. And if they go a step too far, the parent will then become the discriminator, So I'm certainly not in favour of rules and regulations.
ACTUALITY/CHILDREN: (singing) Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut...
Schools are actively seeking a helping hand from business. Without it they can't hope to meet the aspirations of parents. But they'll have to ensure that the stranger bearing gifts doesn't turn out to be the wolf at the door.
Jane Renton with the consumers of the future. In next week's programme, the jet that's easy on the frills and easy on the pocket. But can easy jet really make boarding a plane as simple as boarding a bus? For now, from The Money Programme - good-bye.