Saturday, August 25, 2012

Advertising in Education - Old School or New School?

Research in the School and Educational Market
Marketing and advertising evident in a 1910 Schoolhouse
If you think that advertising in schools is a relatively new phenomenon, look closely at the wall of this 1910 restoration of Rosehill Schoolhouse at the Cherokee Strip Museum in Oklahoma. Along with the wood burning stove, well worn desks and dusty chalk boards you will notice a handful of advertisements for local businesses. Direct marketing in schools has been around for at least the last century; it is an interesting exercise to see how some of the marketing efforts have changed.

Around the same time that children were scratching their names in the desks at Rosehill School, market research was entering a new phase in its development as a discipline. During this period the growth of mass production techniques was driving a market based largely on economies of scale. The resulting consumer society created the need to market efficiently and resulted in the crystallization of targeted market research methods and the ability to sell products to a specific audience.

Clearly the marketing in the school was not aimed at the children but their parents, some of whom lived in the small town of Perry but many who were from the wider and more dispersed farm community. In marketing terms the school provided a community focal point where a single message could be easily pushed to a regular gathering of people who were usually spread out across the area tending their crops and livestock. It is perhaps a sign of those times that research studies show that in 1910 only 10% of 18 year olds gained a high school diploma, but almost 100% would know the name of the local machinist or where to buy cattle feed.

Since the early 1900’s marketing has evolved from the idea of pushing as many products out to the market as possible, through periods of austerity focused largely on reselling existing products, to the more recent phenomenon of consumer based market research and product development. Today product development is based around a marketing strategy with much more focus on finding out what groups of customers want or need, and then building products to fulfill that need. Conversely, back at the turn of the century there were basic needs which could be met by mass producing products that would essentially sell themselves.

It is notable that despite the changes in technology and messaging, many modern schools still have the visible sponsorship style marketing that was used at Rosehill a century ago. Step inside almost any school and you will find some level of advertising. What has changed is the community around the school. In the past it was much more common that a school, even in a major city, would be surrounded and serviced by a community that had shared income and similar consumer based needs. A marketer could push a single product message through a school into its surrounding community, but today’s schools sit in much more diverse communities where parents may have differing ideals and needs.

According to the Market Research Report ‘Kids’ dairy and snacking’ one way marketers are attempting to address this diversity issue is in using social media. Through the use of social sites like Facebook and Pinterest, dairy companies are engaging with children’s mothers to research, develop and sell new products, so while the old methods of direct marketing evident at Rosehill still exist they are being supplemented and surpassed by new ones, allowing marketers to refine and customize their products to an increasingly diverse and demanding customer base.

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