School Bus Advertising – Viable Revenue Stream or Going too Far?

school bus advertisingOut of home advertising has grown over the last few years from billboards, public buses, bus shelters,  mobile billboards, human directionals, taxi toppers, etc. to now anything that is literally right outside of your house. As advertisers try and reach the masses with the hopes their target will zone in and focus upon the ad and take a mental note of it, we as consumers are inundated and focused on what we are doing and many times are unable to have any unaided recall of the advertisement. And then there are our kids … they remember everything. As we are approaching the holiday retail advertising push and parents cringe over the Mom, I want this, Mom I want that, we start to take a bit more notice of the advertising around us.

The School-Day Morning Focus

School a place most of us send out children from September to June to learn. We are not thinking about advertising as we are running around in the morning ensuring that lunches are made, backpacks are packed, breakfast is eaten, teeth and hair is brushed, whose clothes are suddenly too small and that shoes are found and put on. We are clock watching as time matters here. We know we have to be out the door at X time whether that be to walk, drive or arrive at the school bus stop. It is a 5 day a week experience that no matter how hard we try to be ahead of the clock, we always wish we had just a little more time. Our focus is on the children and getting them off to school so we as parents can start our day. The last thing we are thinking about is an advertisement. But will we now have to add that to the mix?

School Bus Advertising

School bus advertising is not new. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas have already allowed advertising on school buses.  Utah, Ohio and now New Jersey are taking a closer look at this type of monetization to help with the budget deficits. As school budgets are diminishing and programs are being dropped, school districts are seeking new ways to meet the demands of the parents and also provide programs for the children. After all, it is about the children and their education. Is school bus advertising a viable means of advertising or is this going to far in trying to make a buck?

Advertising on New Jersey School Buses

The New Jersey State Assembly Education Committee has approved a bill to allow advertising on school buses and it now moves to the legislature. If approved, political, alcohol, tobacco and any other advertisements for products/services or by sponsors that the Commissioner of Education deems inappropriate will be banned. In addition, all ads will need prior approval by the local board of education. As it is not stated in the bill, it is presumed that adult entertainment and gaming will be prohibited as well.

The Revenue Stream of School Bus Advertising

Advertising on school buses is not a free for all for the schools. In New Jersey, half of ad dollars will go to offset fuel costs for the buses and the other towards the school programs/services as the board sees fit. With roughly over $8M cut from the education budget this year, this seems like it could help and make a dent and help the schools. But at what expense? At the expense of exposing our kids to more advertising that we are unable to have a say in as parents? Or is this a viable means of bringing in some funds to help the district bring back some programs that were cut?

Viability of Advertising on School Buses

Advertising on school buses is definitely a means of raising money for the school district and for advertisers to reach their local target market. However, could this do more harm than good? The district will have to outsource the production which is an expense that would be turned over to the advertiser. Standard however, will this attract big brands that have the budgets or will the local businesses solely and exclusively be funding this venture? Also, will they be an one per industry clause so that we do not see 3 ads for pizza palors? In this case, revenues would be low as there are only so many businesses in a district.

What about the graffiti? Will it increase the amount of graffiti or will it deter? If an ad is met with the can of spray paint, who will replace the panel? The school district will be held harmless which places it back upon the advertiser. With small business advertising dollars shrinking, advertisers may shy away. When we start to think about the logistics and how this will come together, especially in smaller districts, the viability seems to diminish.

For the record, me and my friends walked to school so I have never ridden a school bus (outside of transportation to track meets or field trips). Growing up in a small town in NJ, I do not believe that we even had school buses for transportation to and from school so not only was I deprived of the school bus experience I have no real basis to have a strong opinion for or against as it relates to being exposed to the ads on the buses. As a marketer, I am on the fence here. I am all about advertisers going to where their audience is and our kids are exposed to ads constantly but at the same time are school buses an ad-free zone that should remain an ad free zone?

What do you think? Should school districts allow school bus advertising or keep them ad free?

photo credit: Andrew T…

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  • Suzanne,

    Personally, I think this argument would have been much more logically answered when we weren’t so consumed by advertising.

    Children and young adults are exposed to advertisements through television, the internet, personal selling, even through the music they listen to.

    I think the important point about this development is that the advertisements will need prior approval before being introduced. This is so important, but at the same time could also be a new way for advertisers to try and influence the education boards to show their advertisements.

    As I say, I don’t think this is quite as bad as you may think. But, it’s still a very interesting development.

    • Josh

      I can see where this could be really good for the school districts but at the same time they do have to be first sold, sizes determined, art generated, approved, produced and installed. A lot of steps here that a school district being strapped on funds and staff that could cause some problems along the way.

      As far as the kids, I think like a marketer and a mom at the same time. The ads my son sees here in Vegas are not what will be seen on a school bus for sure. Most kids unless it was something that was something that directly appealed to them as I said above, most would tune it out. It is the parents who would take notice and stir things up OR frequent the advertisers.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Suzanne,

    Interesting topic and I can see how it could get heated quite quickly. Where it starts, often quite controlled and harmless, could be radically different from where it ends. CPG companies have strategies based on reaching kids and moms for decades, just look at how P&G approaches “owning” the child starting from the cradle.

    Where does it end? Do we allow advertising in the classroom or school halls next? Because its outside its acceptable? I trust our school board to look after not just the education of my children but also their safety, their health, and their emotional well being.

    As a father of 3, I wouldn’t want my kids exposed to this pizza ads as they get on the bus. Don’t we already have the world’s highest childhood obesity rates? How much is a kid worth when we sell access to them in this manner? Nike and Gatorade sponsoring the kids track meets? Why not?

    Once the money starts, its going to be extremely difficult to stop if things go awry. School boards have many other ways to raise funds, this should stay sacred.

    Thanks for the post and sparking a good debate.

    Cheers!

    Jeff – Sensei

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  • Robby

    If the schools only use educational ads like Discovery channel ect.. I do your point in small school district it might pointless. I think that they should do it and even at the schools just not in the class rooms. If you keep it educational then the wories thing that would happin is kid going home and waching the Discovery channel because they show a ad for a cool show at school. When kids go to school and come home with fundraiser after fundraiser, some are the kind that an order book comes home and the kids say mom dad if I sell this much I will get this. The kids have this I have to sell it helps the school imbedded into them and if you don’t order you aren’t doing your part but how much of the money goes to the schools?

    • Robby

      The school fundraisers are out of control. My son has fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser. I cringe when I open his backpack as what is coming next. He started kindergarten this fall and we have had at least 10 so far. The book orders, the going to town night, the cookie fundraiser, the after school snacks, the go to this restaurant and the school gets 20% in proceeds. It is ridiculous considering he is only there for 2.5 hrs a day.

      I do agree that the advertising if it is something educational will bode much better as the advertising dollars will come in and there will not be backlash from the parents. School districts are hurting, families are hurting and trying to keep up is getting impossible. I feel for the schools as they are trying to provide a well rounded and good education for the children but with cuts they are at the mercy of the parents and/or the community.

      It is tough, especially here in LV as we are dead last in education so I as you have said, do question the use of the money. We never see it but yet they ask for more and more and more.

      Having never ridden a bus to school and now walking each day with my son, I cannot really say how I would feel BUT if it cuts down on the fundraising, by all means let me throw my advertising knowledge into it and get it started!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting and bringing up the fundraising. It has become a bit of a hmh! for me lately.