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As Advertising Aimed at Youths Increases, Firm Plans 'Video Kiosks' in High Schools

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By Mark Walsh

An Atlanta company has developed a new way to target advertising to students: television commercials at high-school pay telephones.

The video kiosks planned by Telephone Advertising Corporation of America have not yet been installed in any schools. An agreement between the company and Superintendent J. Jerome Harris of Atlanta to install them at 22 high schools there was vetoed last month by the city's school board, soon after it had fired Mr. Harris on other grounds. (See related story, page 8.)

But company officials say they hope to sign up other schools for the kiosks, which will play a 2-minute continuous loop of 15-second ads from screens above the phones.

"We intend to go after every school system that feels this program is beneficial," said Herbert H. Hamlett, the firm's president.

Participating schools would receive a share of the advertising revenues.

Part of 'Nonstop Barrage'

Telephone Advertising's plans are merely the latest foray into the schools by marketers aiming at the lucrative youth market.

Last month, Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine, released a study documenting a "nonstop advertising bar4rage on America's children," much of it through in-school advertising and product promotion.

"The bottom line for kids is simple: They are being subjected to marketing messages in school--some hidden, some obvious, but all quite powerful," said Charlotte Baecher, editor of Zillions, the youth version of Consumer Reports.

The magazine's report, "Selling America's Kids: Commercial Pressure on Kids of the 90's," was prepared by the education services division of Consumers' Union.

It identifies at least five methods other than television that marketers are using to target young people: product licensing, in-school promotion, clubs, product placement in movies, and "advertorials," ads disguised as games or puzzles.

The most publicized example of in-school advertising in the past two years has been Whittle Communications' "Channel One" news program for high schools, which has been much debated for its inclusion of two minutes of paid advertising each day.

But Channel One is "just the tip of the iceberg," the report notes. "Corporate-sponsored teaching materials are reaching more than 20 million students in elementary and high schools every year."

In fact, marketers have been reaching schools for years with youth-oriented magazines and wall posters.8(See Education Week, Oct. 19, 1988.)

In addition to these efforts, Consumers Union cites the growth in corporate-sponsored teaching materials that are often no more than thinly veiled promotions for products.

For instance, a "Good Nutrition" package from Chef Boyardee names company products in all its recipes, according to Consumers Union. A "Total Health" package from NutraSweet pushes the sweetener as a way to control weight.

"Schools are becoming heavily sponsored by corporations marketing products," the report says. "They're 'selling' the kids entrusted to them to any bidder."

It recommends that schools be made "ad-free zones, where young people can pursue learning free of commercial influences and pressures." To do this, school districts should adopt guidelines restricting the use of business-sponsored materials, the report urges.

Promotions targeting children should not exploit their "inexperience or vulnerabilities," it recommends. And publishers of children's magazines and producers of children's TV programming should not accept advertising disguised as games or other editorial material, nor should they accept celebrity endorsements.

The Consumers Union report does not mention the plan by Telephone Advertising, which has a contract with Southern Bell and several other regional phone companies, to develop the kiosks in locations where marketers could target consumers, such as at airports and shopping malls.

The firm is pursuing the school market on its own, said David Rogers, a spokesman for Southern Bell in Atlanta. "Schools are not our primary target area as far as marketing the booths," he said.

Mr. Hamlett of Telephone Advertising said the company's project should be able to avoid some of the criticism aimed at Channel One since students would not be forced to watch the commercials at pay phone booths.

"We are not in the classroom," he said; pay phones are "already there. We are just adding something that the kids are very comfortable with, which is television."

The chief benefit for schools is that they would get a cut of the advertising revenue, as would the phone company. Under the initial agreement with the Atlanta school system, the district could have received as much as $300,000 per year if all available advertising time were sold, Mr. Hamlett said.

But Warren Fortson, a lawyer for the Atlanta School Board, said Mr. Harris did not have the proper authorization to sign an agreement with Telephone Advertising. "The board has a policy against advertising in the schools," he said.

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