"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Marriage of business interests, school OK?

We have revised how we view commercialism.
We used to feel that such an urge would taint things a little. It used to reflect our darker side, our desire to "beat the other guy" in the aim of making money.
We used to associate minor league baseball with billboards making up the outfield fences. Major league baseball was a more rarefied place.
In the majors you'd see the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field. Maybe the ivy is still there because Wrigley has always been a unique place. The standard ballparks of today are built with no aversion to advertising.
Advertising is no longer viewed as "tacky."
So it might be fruitless for me to make any mention, in a skeptical way, of the Valu Ford and Chrysler school promotion here. It's called "Drive One 4UR School."
"Every test drive of a new Ford vehicle earns Morris Area High School $20, up to a total of $6000."
It's held at the school parking lot.
"No obligation, no purchase necessary - just a great chance for your local school to earn some extra cash."
Maybe young people would read that and say "so what?" They grew up when everyone took for granted the state lottery and gambling all around us. The source of money isn't to be dissected.
In an earlier time there were mores frowning on this. Maybe those mores were a little misguided and regressive. But there was a moral basis that wasn't completely irrational.
Blatantly promoting one's commercial interests didn't represent the best in us. Such an inclination wasn't to be flaunted in front of kids.
We wanted to keep kids in a more pure world where they could appreciate each other's inherent worth and not come to see dollar signs attached to everything.
Today the retort might be "how prudish, how stupid."
Schools need money, we hear. As if schools were ever awash in money.
Something has changed and I'm not entirely sure what.
Will Valu Ford's competitors have to dream up something similar? Maybe we'll see an ultra-light buzzing over Big Cat Stadium for the home opener, pulling a banner reading "Heartland Motor Company."
Maybe in exchange for a certain size contribution, "Morris Auto Plaza" could be printed on the side of the Tigers' helmets.
These ideas aren't a reach when compared to "Drive One 4UR School."
Just to make sure I wasn't a total aberration with my thoughts about this, I got some feedback. A well-known Morris couple nodded with understanding at a morning dining place.
They knew full well that in an earlier era, perceptions were different. It was legitimate to make an issue of such things. We might think "tacky."
Another friend asked in an email "Do you think it is illegal?"
Interesting that such a thought would flicker. I'm quite sure the answer is "no," though.
"It seemed very weird to me as well," this person continued. "And my main concern is how Ford justifies this way of giving donations to a school, and how do they have that kind of money to just give away?"
Yours truly isn't surprised they have it ($). I'm just kind of surprised the school has to grovel to get it, essentially allowing a car dealer to set up shop on school property. That's the questionable part.
"Quite bizarre" chirped the friend I just cited.
Beyond the issue of commercialism at schools, there's the question of why so many businesses feel the need to plaster their names here and there.
Morgan Spurlock made a movie called "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." It was about "product placement" in the entertainment industry.
The first time I saw "Happy Gilmore," I wasn't aware that product placement was such a calculated part. I must have just thought it was charming for Happy to like Subway restaurant food so much. Why not?
It was in fact product placement and this was one of the reasons Roger Ebert graded the movie lower than he might have.
It didn't bother me. I consider Happy Gilmore to be one of the greatest sports movies. If only Adam Sandler could keep making funny movies. (I thought it was almost sacrilege for him to try to re-make "The Longest Yard.")
There's a company that helps grocery stores put advertising on their floors. This company was in the news recently because the whole mess with the Murdochs (Rupert etc.) overseas had a tie-in.
Apparently the Murdoch empire tried muscling its way into this business in an untoward way.
I'm not all that concerned about the Murdochs in regard to this. I'm concerned that maybe the private sector has bought into promotion and exposure in an excessive way.
Remember, there are people selling this stuff: advertising and promotion.
Our local newspaper showers us with advertising circulars. These have nothing to do with reporting the news or creating a real sense of community. It's about putting dollars in the pocket of the media company.
I have wondered before on this site why Willie's Super Valu here even needs to have a weekly printed circular. To Willie's credit, this store is now doing all it can to harness the online world.
I'm guessing the parent company has a guiding hand.
Willie's is now vigorously promoting its weekly "online ad." It's a snap to sign up and get email links. You can even do it from my site. Look along the right-hand column!
It's a snap to sign up. It's convenient and environmentally friendly.
You can make a case for online to replace all printed products. In the past, you'd encounter skeptics who'd say "a lot of people aren't online." Or maybe "older people wouldn't use this."
Or "people might be confused where to find it (on the Internet)."
These arguments are losing ground all the time.
Wouldn't Willie's be delighted if it could go online-only? No cost and no paper pollution.
The idea of Willie's advertising, itself, has come into question. It's the only true grocery store in Stevens County. If the paper circulars disappeared, would there really be a migration elsewhere?
And maybe Willie's could lower prices if it cut out this expense. Just keep promoting the weekly online ad doggedly. It will take over as the preferred method.
Or maybe instead of lowering prices, give your employees a raise.
The parent company, Super Valu, must be aware there's still a paper circular here even though the store has essentially no local competition. Paper must still be seen as prudent. Too bad.
I wonder if we'll still see the name of a Morris business, "Riley Brothers Construction," on the football field scoreboard this fall. I would guess yes.
I suppose the Riley brothers themselves won't be able to see it again for a while.
In my previous post I expressed annoyance at the name of a company superimposed on the football field as we watched the Vikings play Seattle. The company was Menards, a company whose name I at first spelled with an apostrophe: "Menard's."
I didn't correct this for several hours. I feel embarrassed about it. Do some of you also feel an impulse to stick an apostrophe in there? I believe "Lowe's" is spelled with an apostrophe.
Beyond Riley Brothers, hopefully we won't see any more commercial intrusions at Big Cat or other venues. But don't rule it out.
As my friend Glen Helberg and I always proclaim: "Money talks and bulls--t walks."
We can't even count on school being a haven from that - not anymore.
Neither can residents of the St. Paul School District. This was in the news Sunday. The St. Paul school board has agreed to let businesses advertise at school sporting events.
"And it plans to review a long-held policy that bans advertisements on school property," the Star Tribune article reported.
Today there's a company in Minnesota that actually pushes this sort of thing. Creative entrepreneurship can fill all gaps, I guess.
"The (St. Paul school) administration has proposed entering into a contract with School Space Media that would place digital ads at sports events," the Strib article read.
There was an hour-long debate over the "ethics and legalities" of the proposal. So you see, yours truly and my email acquaintance aren't the only ones with questions about the propriety or even legality.
A quote from St. Paul: "Is this a commercialization of our children's education?"
But then she added: "I have a comfort level with that."
The board gave the go-ahead to work with School Space Media. The company is based in St. Paul and got started last year.
Will they reach out here?
I'm sure I'll arrive at Big Cat Stadium on home opener night with that vision of the ultra-light (with the banner). I'll be scanning the skies.
Maybe Atlantic Auto Sales could parade some of their finest used (excuse me, pre-owned) vehicles at halftime. (Oh knock it off.)
There's a further-reaching question here. It's about advertising saturation. Wouldn't it be neat for all businesses to just back off on this and let people "free graze" with their shopping?
Morris is a small community. It's not complicated at all to make shopping decisions. At least that's how I see it.
But maybe I have a little too much hippie in me. Most likely I'm just a little too old-fashioned. Heh heh.
Perhaps you could test me by offering to sponsor this website!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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