Wednesday, November 21, 2007

From No Cells to "Edu"Cells...Hmmmm

This story from AdAge about the continuing saga of kids and cells in NYC gave me serious pause. Last year, NYC put a ban on mobile phones in schools, causing quite an uproar among students and their parents. Now, the New York City Department of Education is working with advertising agency Droga5 on a new program (termed "The Million" in reference to the number of kids in the NYC public school system), that would see the distribution of free mobile phones to NYC students. The twist? The phones would come equipped with "educational" content, and would be plugged into a learning reward system. The real twist? Content would be sponsored, incorporate ads and other forms of cross-promotion, and the reward system limited to a bunch of "discounts," undoubtedly for sponsored products. Yikes! Here's the description from the AdAge article:
"[T]he program involves giving away free mobile phones packed with learning tools such as a thesaurus, spell checks and an extra-help tip line to each student. The more a student uses these learning applications, the more rewards -- discounts for movies, sneakers, clothes and music downloads, as well as air-time minutes and text messages -- are unlocked. Additional incentives for achievement and attendance, including congratulatory voice-mail messages from, say, Derek Jeter or a wake-up call from Jay-Z, are also planned.

"What's cooler than the iPhone is something that has almost as many applications but is free," Mr. Droga [founder of Droga5] said. In addition, the phone's exclusive nature -- only public-school students will be able to reap the benefits of it -- may drive up the "badge factor," adding to its appeal.

Naturally, there'll be room for brands to latch onto the cause. The hardware provider, based on the video Mr. Droga showed at the conference, appears to be Motorola, though he wouldn't confirm it. He also declined to name the service provider that's been chosen. There'll also be some room for advertising on the phone. After all, the phones, while provided for free to the students, won't be completely without cost. As such, marketers will be able to infiltrate the students' world through "responsible" sponsorships."

This sounds like corporate monopoly to me...ban kids from bringing in their own cell phones, and then enforce this "free" system that essentially grants Droga5 and their sponsors exclusive reign over kids' mobile use outside of school? It looks like I'm not the only one who smells a rat. Anastasia from YPulse had this to say:
So we're replacing students phones that they can't bring to school with new phones (that they still may not be able to bring to school) packed with branded content.

What about incentivizing students with innovative new ways of learning in the classroom using blogs, wikis, iPods and cellphones? How about integrating the technology they already have or use into existing lesson plans? If students aren't engaged or interested in learning, bribing them with phone bling feels like a Band Aid solution and another opportunity for marketers to reach kids in class.

I agree...this really does just seem like another case of commercialization in (or in this case via) the classroom. Check out Commercial Alert's ongoing campaign for a discouraging number of comparison cases, as well as Jill Sharpe's new documentary Corporations in the Classroom (or here) for more info.

1 comment:

Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter said...

Ooooh, I just found out about the documentary and am trying to figure out a way to get it to Minneapolis. Good post, thanks.