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Promotional products & school marketing: Field trip to the world of commerce?

18.07.2018 14:51 Uhr PSI
Promotional products & school marketing: Field trip to the world of commerce? | Promotional products & school marketing: Field trip to the world of commerce?

Promotional products & school marketing: Field trip to the world of commerce?

In just a few short weeks, we’ll be going “back to school” again. The next stage of life for the next generation of pupils also is a favourite time of the year for the deployment of promotional products. After all, what’s growing up here happens to also represent the next potential class of consumers. At the same time, scandalous headlines are never far away when certain minimum standards are not upheld on class trips into the world of commerce, as we’ve seen again just this year. Nevertheless: chronic financial problems, teacher shortages and new digitalisation challenges are compelling new ways to think and act. Risks and opportunities – including for promotional products pros. We’ll take a closer look.

School marketing – at first glance, it’s a niche market. But one that’s open year-round. Year after year. And with brilliant long-term prospects. In other words, a billion-euro market that harbours so much potential, it’s difficult to overestimate it. Children are highly attentive and grateful customers, open to being shaped by patterns of behaviour.

Businesses, of course, are well aware of that fact, too. The government anyway. It rightly claims to hold the exclusive monopoly on education. But education costs money. A lot of money. Spending 4.2 per cent of its GDP on public-education expenditures, Germany, for example, falls below the EU average of about 5 per cent. That’s enough to rank 21st among the – still – 28 EU member states (all figures from 2017). Any questions?

The private sector’s “education offensive”

Germany has a massive education problem, and it didn’t just start yesterday. On the other side of the coin, however, this extremely painful vacuum almost automatically triggered an “education offensive” by the private sector.

All around the world, digital companies certainly aren’t the only ones who persistently and regularly venture into education territory, having gained a firm foothold there already. A year-round one, too. Not just at the start of the school year.

Everyone has agreed to a relatively simple rule. Product advertising: no. School sponsorships: yes. The boundaries: fluid.

Full-service knowledge transfer

What’s an – understandable – horror for education purists is a tempting exit strategy for notoriously cash-strapped educational institutions like our schools. But there’s more behind it than their physical needs. After all, many companies also deliver the urgently needed knowledge transfer in full-service mode.

A broad arc spans from imaginative sponsorships to the active training and continuing education of teachers to the lessons themselves and the task of equipping pupils with classroom and promotional materials. It almost goes without saying that this is the intersection where promotional products come into play. In varied and plentiful ways.

Organised field trip to an Apple store

Naturally, a certain self-perpetuating momentum has been generated here, which the holder of the monopoly on education – the government – can only sporadically reign in anymore. Take a recent example from France, where Apple caused a stir with a filmed campaign that drew the attention of the French Ministry of Education and led to a ban on school classes visiting Apple Stores.

What had happened? TV reporters had accompanied pupils between the ages of 5 and 8 to an organised educational trip to an Apple store. The subsequent broadcast (video link at the end of the article) made some pretty big waves. After passing a row of frenetically applauding Apple employees, each child was showered with Apple-branded promotional products, including T-shirts and USB sticks.

Digital companies and brand manufacturers from the consumer-goods industry

Too much of a good thing for the guardians of French education and a red card for Apple’s privately organised “educational activities” for young and thus particularly impressionable future consumers. Mind you, though: only educationally designed store visits were hit by the ban.

Those, however, only represent the tip of the iceberg. On the one hand, Apple is part of a close-knit group of digital competitors like Microsoft, Samsung, Google and SAP. On the other hand, a visit to Apple’s website (video link at the end of the article) is enough to get a lasting impression of regionally-relevant, skilfully fanned out events for teachers, children and their parents, and young and creative consumers.

School lobbying is booming

Brands from the consumer-goods, food and toy industries as well as pharmaceutical, financial and retail companies are getting heavily involved, too: Lego, Lufthansa, Porta, Rewe, RWE, Siemens etc. – they’re all combining school education with brand education. Thanks to the woeful underfunding of schools, private-sector school lobbying is booming.

In Germany, political federalism is blowing additional wind into the advertising sails of this development. What might be rejected in one federal state might well be considered acceptable in a neighbouring one. Plus, some ministries of education are also delegating responsibility to head teachers, making them the final decision-makers.

And plenty of those just happen to prefer a functioning school that fulfils its educational mission with the help of the occasional promotional, brand-imprinting private-sector initiative to the morally weightier choice of abstaining from brands and marketing efforts.

Initial conclusions

School marketing is in demand all year long. A million-euro market, without any question. At this point, we should no longer expect any fundamental changes in this regard. For that, investments in education are too low, the education sector too fragmented and monitoring too sporadic.

Since many pupil-focussed events take place outside of the school setting, there are virtually no limits to the deployment of promotional products. Hence, it might well be worthwhile to take a closer look at the objectives, fields of application and strategies of school sponsors and to keep an eye out for potential new entrants.

In the second and last instalment of our class excursion into the world of commerce we’ll sound out some approaches and levels of commercial educational initiatives.


Video: French pupils take a field trip to an Apple store:

Apple events near you:

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