Year 5 at our daughter’s primary school is about to have an excursion to an Apple Store to learn how to use an app. This is not the type of excursion we would choose for our 10-year old daughter. The excursion raises two main issues for us. First, we are concerned about how easy it is for corporations like Apple to access students through their school. (I must admit it is quite a good example of community engagement by Apple but it also highlights why I think community engagement raises a number of ethical questions.)
Second, it raises questions about family-school partnerships. This is the second time the school has organised an excursion to the Apple Store. Quite a few parents were concerned last time and there was a lot of discussion at the Parents and Citizen’s Association (P&C) after the event. While some parents supported the excursion, others did not (and at least one family did not allow their child to attend). Given the depth of feeling last time, I think it is unfortunate that the school did not consult parents before organising it again this year.
The following is a letter we sent to the school (with our note giving permission for her to attend the excursion).
An open letter re the excursion to the Apple Store
We have signed the permission slip for Alexa to attend the excursion to the Apple Store despite believing it is inappropriate for the school to be supporting the commercialisation of education in this way. Marketing by corporations is becoming more and more sophisticated, and this excursion is an example of clever marketing by Apple. As was suggested in appleinsider.com:
Apple continues to come up with innovative ways to introduce younger generations to its family of products, the latest of which invites teachers to book a field trip to a local Apple retail store. (8 October 2008)
Retailers, including Apple, have been intensifying their marketing toward children for some time and now seek to instil brand loyalty from a young age (Harrison et al., 2010) According to Tsai (2005) the Apple Store is an important part of Apple’s marketing strategy.
Designed to make the consumer experience more visionary, valuable, meaningful, memorable, and enjoyable, the Apple Store not only provides Apple Computer Inc. with considerable revenue growth, but also underscores a new philosophy of marketing (section 2.1).
We are sure the in-store experience will be run professionally, will be fun for the students and may have some educational value, but this does not mean it is a good choice for an excursion. The fact that students receive a free promotional T-shirt demonstrates that the offer by Apple is more than an “educational” opportunity: it is marketing. (Alexa doesn’t particularly want the T-shirt and we do not want her to receive one as we do not want her to be used for free advertising by Apple.)
We are disappointed that, after the reaction to the trip last year and the concerns expressed at the P&C following the excursion, it was not raised at the P&C before this one. A key theme from last year’s workshop with parents was the importance of two-way communication and this excursion was an example where it would have been appropriate for there to be discussion with parents. Because of the nature of the excursion (a trip to a shop that is trying to sell things), it is not just an educational matter. There are also broader implications (e.g., pressure on parents to buy products) which need to be considered. The strength of some parents’ concern last year was an indication that it was an issue worth discussing with parents.
We presume that the cost of the excursion is travel only and that none of the money is going to Apple. If this is not the case, it should be communicated to parents.
We will be discussing the excursion with Alexa in terms of the marketing techniques used by Apple to entice loyalty to a brand, how the excursion was essentially a marketing strategy for Apple and whether or not she believes it was an appropriate school excursion. (And it would be fine for her to say that it was a good excursion.) We hope the school will also encourage students to critically reflect on the experience in order to assist them to be aware of the subtle methods of advertising they are increasingly experiencing.
We are allowing Alexa to join the excursion because we don’t want her to be excluded from school activities with her peers. We do, however, feel disappointed that the school appears to see it purely as an educational opportunity, without recognising the broader issues involved that have an impact on families.
End of letter
What do you think? Is it an OK excursion or is it part of an undesirable trend?
If you liked this post you might want to subscribe to the blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
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Harrison, P., Chalmers, K., d’Souza, S., Coveney, J., Ward, P., Mehta, K., & Handsley, E. (2010). Targeting children with integrated marketing communications. Adelaide: Flinders University.
Tsai, S.-p. (2005). Integrated marketing as management of holistic consumer experience. Business Horizons, 48(5), 431-441. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2005.02.005