The corporations that make up the food and beverage industry continue to target schools as venues in which to market their brands and products to children. Despite progress in recent years restricting junk food marketing to children through schools, the practice remains common because many school districts lack strong regulations, and because corporations exploit loopholes in the policies that exist. Among the most common and egregious practices are so-called “fundraisers” like McTeacher’s Nights, in which McDonald’s exploits school funding shortfalls to make teachers promote its brand and products—directly selling McDonald’s to their students. School districts can protect their students by passing strong policies that restrict marketing to kids and close the loopholes that corporations exploit to target children. Below are the elements necessary to ensure a strong policy. [i]
- Does the policy prohibit advertising, promotion, and sponsorship by corporations that market, sell, or produce unhealthy foods and beverages?
- Does the policy prohibit advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of unhealthy foods and beverages and any associated brands?
- Does the policy to prohibit advertising, promotion, and sponsorship include the prohibition of branded fundraising?
- Does the policy apply to all schools and school personnel at all times (during and outside of school hours) and in all locations (on- and off-campus)?
- National Education Policy Center’s “Policy and Statutory Responses to Advertising and Marketing in Schools,”[ii] and “Promoting Consumption in School: Health Threats Associated with Schoolhouse Commercialism.”[iii]
- Corporate Accountability’s “Slowing Down Fast Food: A policy guide for healthier kids and families.”[iv]
- The Los Angeles Unified School District has strong Sponsorship Guidelines.[v]
- Minnesota workbook on developing a local school wellness policy.[vi]
- The State School Health Policy Database contains a list of laws and policies from all states on student health topics.[vii]
- The Center for Science in the Public Interest on supporting healthier snacks and beverage rules.[viii]
SCHOOL MARKETING POLICY: ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS
- The policy should prohibit advertising, promotion, and sponsorship by corporations that market, sell, or produce unhealthy foods and beverages.
|Rationale||The sponsor and the product are inexorably connected. For example, when McDonald’s promotes an event for a school district, and the school district responds, “Thanks to McDonald’s for the support,” McDonald’s products–such as Big Macs and its fries–are also promoted. By prohibiting advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of and by corporations like McDonald’s whose products are harmful, the school district avoids both helping McDonald’s to healthwash its brand and sending students the wrong message about health.|
|Sample language||“The District will not seek or accept advertising, promotion, or sponsorship from or by corporations that market, sell, or produce products that may be harmful to children including, but not limited to, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, gambling, or high-fat and calorie-dense foods and drinks.“|
- The policy should (1) recognize that advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of a brand promotes products under that brand, and (2) prohibit any advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of brands associated with unhealthy foods and beverages.
|Rationale||Corporations sidestep product marketing restrictions by promoting their brands rather than their products. In fact, studies have shown that fast food corporations often use brand promotions like toy giveaways, tie-ins to popular movies, and mascots to market to children rather than the food itself. [ix] But at the end of the day, the majority of McDonald’s sales still come from its staple products, so when a child enters a store, it is to order burgers and fries, not fruit and a salad. The best way to protect students is to restrict not only the marketing of unhealthy products but also of brands.|
|Sample language||“Because advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of a brand promote its associated products, any marketing of brands related to unhealthy foods and beverages is prohibited.”|
- The policy should make clear that prohibiting advertising, promotion, and sponsorship includes the prohibition of branded fundraising of foods or beverages and their related brands.
|Rationale||A significant percentage of marketing in schools is disguised as “business partnerships with schools.”[x] In fact, corporations exploit school budget shortfalls by positioning partnerships and branded fundraising as solutions to increase sources of school funding. In doing so, the corporations gain an additional avenue through which to market to children.[xi]|
|Sample language||“The District will not seek or accept business partnerships for sponsorship, including branded fundraisers, from corporations that market, sell, or produce products that may be harmful to children including, but not limited to, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, gambling, or high-fat and calorie-dense foods and drinks.”[xii]|
- The policy should extend to all schools and school personnel, at all times and in any location, in interactions and communications with students.
|Rationale||Some school districts’ policies specify that fundraising rules apply only during school hours and on school premises. This leaves loopholes through which otherwise prohibited promotion and sponsorship, including branded fundraising, can take place. For example, one of the most egregious forms of marketing known as McTeacher’s Nights take place off-campus and outside of normal school hours.|
|Sample language||“The prohibition of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of unhealthy foods and beverages and their related brands applies to all District personnel in their communications and interactions with students, on and off of school grounds and during and outside of school hours.”|
[i] This draft policy guide does not constitute legal advice and must be tailored to circumstances for specific use. Any action on the basis of this document should be taken in consultation with a legal professional.