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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Do American Girl® Dolls and Pearson Have in Common?

By Peter DeWitt — May 22, 2013 3 min read
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Product placement can be seen in most aspects of entertainment. Maybe it’s a sports program or a movie we are watching. It’s a way for a corporate sponsor to slip one of their products into the picture, and we get used to seeing the same product over and over. It may include the car that James Bond® drives or the beverage he drinks. Corporations know that the more their product is seen being used by our favorite characters, the more likely we are to choose their product.

Corporations invest big money into movies, television shows and even sports programs. They own the theatres and stadiums we go to for competitions and concerts, and they even sponsor halftime shows or competitive events. The networks, stadiums and movie producers get some of their expenses covered and it’s a win-win for everyone.

If it wasn’t so important to have products exposed, corporations would not be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on commercials and product placement. It seems to be happening more now than ever before. But...
When does product placement become too much?
When do we begin to see large corporate sponsors find their way into every facet of our lives?
Are the days of mom and pop shops truly gone because they can’t keep up with the competition?
Does everything have to come with a recognizable name?

American Girl®
Lately, product placement and marketing have been happening in the children’s market. In a previous interview, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, the author of Taking Back Childhood said,

There has been a dramatic increase in marketing to kids in the last 15 or 20 years! Billions of dollars are now spent by corporations to market to the special "target" group called children. In the past, before the mid-1980s, marketing to kids was regulated both through Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)."

Using children as a target for marketing a product is not just happening on television. It seems to be happening in accessories for toys as well.

Recently, a student came to school with her American Girl® Doll. American Girl® Dolls always have a theme and they are extremely popular. So popular, that they have a store in the middle of Times Square in N.Y.C. Just like any doll, this particular doll came with a plethora of accessories to choose from based on her theme of being in school. It’s nice to see an academic focus for the popular doll!

Accessories for this academic doll included clothes, backpack, snack and a packed lunch. It also included a desk, notebook, pencil and a textbook. The textbook publisher was hard to miss. It was a Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley math book which is published by Pearson Education (Click on link. Enlarge picture of desk. Click on #3 to see the actual book).

Apparently, even the American Girl® Dolls cannot break away from a large publisher like Pearson. Clearly, this mini-textbook will expose the American Girl® Doll to the Common Core State Standards. Perhaps it will even prepare her for the Common Core State Assessments. We are still uncertain how the doll will be able to take the on-line assessments when they happen in 2014-2015 school year.

In the End
In all seriousness, when does product placement go a little too far? Why does this particular textbook have to be so real? Why does it have to have a name of an actual publisher? Especially a publisher so closely aligned to the Common Core and high stakes testing. It seems to be less about offering a math textbook as an accessory to a product, and more about objectifying kids to further the cause of large textbook publishers like Pearson.

In our country, everything is about a label. The small town mom and pop stores are replaced by big box-type stores. We seem to no longer promote a child’s creativity without needing to put the name of a company on the product. This does not just happen with corporations like Pearson. Most corporations want this type of exposure.

It just seems odd that in these days of high stakes testing, even a doll can’t break away from our current politically charged educational debate.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.