Sales Pitches And the PTA

I've long since come to grips with the fact that school is no refuge from commercial assaults. Coke and Pepsi machines stand sentry in halls. Flyers encourage you to phone home with Company X so as to get computer donations for the school. Channel One TV - with its hip commercials - kicks off class. School buses are flanked with ads and scoreboards sport corporate logos.

So when Office Depot launches a pitch that bears the name and logo of the National Parent-Teacher Association, it's enough to make a parent - already exhausted by autumnal junior-consumer pressure - run up the white flag.

Turns out the National PTA, that symbol of community endeavor and apple pie, has marketed its name and logo to a chain that sells lots of pens, pencils, and 25-subject binders. The logo will also appear on Office Depot signs, sweepstakes boxes, and bags.

The National PTA argues that the deal, for an undisclosed sum, runs only from August to October, and will fund popular programs. "The reality is that PTA is an additional resource for underfunded schools," says Patty Yoxall, a spokeswoman, noting that dues are just $1 per member.

But what about the PTA as standard-bearer against take-no-prisoners marketing to kids?

Ms. Yoxall says the association's policy of "no commercialism" is a loose term, and that the PTA is endorsing nothing. But the PTA logo on an ad sure looks like a plug for a heavy-hitter in the office-supply market - one that has much to gain by linking up with schools. The pitch also comes from a group that shouldn't even appear to undercut the local businesses that regularly boost schools.

Instead of buying into the argument that educators have no other choice because money is tight, perhaps the PTA should encourage a higher standard: Support us, and we'll acknowledge and thank you. But we won't join a campaign to plaster your logo everywhere and help you create brand-loyal kids at ever-earlier ages.

* Send e-mail comments to: newcomba@learning.com

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