Protests Prompt Coca-Cola to Downscale Marketing in Schools

14 March 2001

Coca-Cola president Jeffery Dunn will today tell a meeting of educationalists in Washington that his company plans to become less aggressive in its marketing programs within schools.

Sensitive to a growing tide of criticism about its hardline marketing methods, the company will terminate its exclusive contracts with a number of schools under which it is the sole supplier of machines vending juice, milk and water.

Coke will also honor the requests of many schools by replacing its ads on the machines with depictions of students engaged in sports and other activities, at the same time limiting the hours and in-school locations where soft drinks are sold.

According to the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, some 240 schools in thirty-one states are now tied to commercial arrangements with Coca-Cola and other major advertisers. Coke has been in the van of the schools invasion which, accuses the Center and other critics, exploits the vulnerability of schools where budgets are taut to breaking-point.

As a result, special advertiser-created curricula result in thousands of schoolchildren learning to count using Cheerios and Tootsie Rolls, while environmental safety is taught via Exxon films.

The increasing dependence of schools on such deals is exemplified by a Colorado Springs district official writing to all teachers suggesting they ensure vending machines were turned off only for the half-hour before and after breakfast, to meet the Coke-imposed sales minimum of 70,000 cases a year.

Says Coca-Cola’s Dunn: “We've always been committed to promoting a learning environment that does not become commercialized. Now we're prepared to take this commitment a step further, reducing our commercial presence in other areas, as well."

But his altruism failed to impress critics. “This is not about education," says CCFPE executive director Andrew Hagelshaw. “Coke is making a business decision to try to stay in schools. They've seen the writing on the wall, they know that exclusive contracts are on their way out, and they're doing everything they can to stay in the schools."

News source: New York Times