Corporate Sponsorship: Advertising & Ethics in Relation to Academia

Purdue is contracted with various brands whose products and promotions can be found around campus and at various events. This is a topic that was brought up for discussion in one of my advertising classes recently. The question was brought up in one of my classes regarding whether or not corporations could/should begin to dictate activities and/or curriculum within a school. This was my response:

Companies have been sponsoring sporting and other events for a while now. I see no problem with corporate sponsorship; however I do not think that a company should be able to dictate activities within a school. I think that it is probably effective and beneficial for a company to sponsor, advertise, or promote itself at a football game for instance; and I see no problem with this at any academic level.

On the other hand, if a company takes their marketing plan beyond sponsorship and promotion at events (where this sort of thing is culturally accepted/expected), I think that it could be a problem. For example if Nike’s promotional agenda was woven into a physical education program at a school, this could be perceived as deceptive advertising. If an education professional is “teaching” children about the benefits of Nike over other sporting brands, there is research to support that students would naturally take the teachers word for it and mold their opinions based on that education. While that would likely be an effective tactic, I do not feel that it would be an ethical one. Under this scenario students would not have received an unbiased or comprehensive education about all available sporting brands. I also feel that such “education” would detract from the class and lessen the educational experience for students.

Outside of the classroom is, in my opinion, the best place for advertising. I see no problem with a school contracting with certain brands for vending machines or promoting a sponsor brand at an event. But taking advertising messages into the classroom or altering curriculum around an advertising agenda does not seem ethical to me. I believe that advertising should never be deceptive and that education should be anchored in academia and not in corporate promotion.

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Advertising in the World of Social Media: Problems & a Proposal

There has been controversy and some trouble with finding the best way to monetize the internet. Part of the problem in advertising today is that people feel bombarded by unwanted advertising messages.  Ads seen by people who are not potential prospects result in wasted exposure. And ads seen by people who feel forced to view unwanted advertising can carry a negative valance.

In the digital world of mobile media that we live in, people want choose what they see and when they see it. This creates a problem for advertisers. Some would argue that any exposure is good exposure, but I disagree. For example, I personally have been irritated when I want to watch a short YouTube clip and first have to sit through a 30 second commercial. Advertising should never be something that people consider a nuisance.

If only there were a way to get people to want to view an advertisement; something that people would actually seek out. While the CPM may be higher, the ad would only be reaching actual prospects. It is unlikely that someone who has sought out an advertisement would feel negatively about viewing it.

I think that one possible solution here would be to use Pinterest. The site has become very popular and is continuing to grow and stand strong in the world of social media. So before you write this off and stop reading, hear me out and then comment to let me know what you think.

Pinterest could add a section of categories specifically designed for advertisers (ex: Cleaning Supplies & Tips, DIY Home Projects, & Women’s Apparel). While I realize that Pinterest already has categories for the public to post in, these would be separate categories clearly designated to advertisers. People could then search for new products and ideas according to their interests. Advertisers could be charged per click, per “like”, and per “re-pin”. These categories may need to be a little more specific than the broad ones that currently exist. But there could be a lot of potential to this idea. These categories would also need to make clear that they were for advertising so that people do not feel as though they are being deceived. People could also subscribe to advertisers or categories that were of interest to them, so that whenever they log in the latest ads would appear in their “following” section.

If this seems confusing still, I will give an example of what this experience might be like to a user. Say I am interested in DIY Home Projects. I would check out that category and see an ad for how to build your own book-shelf. I could then click on that ad and it would take me to say Home Depot’s site, where I could perhaps print off a step-by-step and a list of the necessary items to purchase at the store.

While some may argue that companies could do that now for free as PR, it is my opinion that there are more possibilities for this concept as an advertising initiative. The site could feature ad “pins” based on one’s interest and there is no deception involved. People would be seeking out the advertising themselves and only finding things that they are at least a potential prospect for.