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Channel Two: New Player Cracks Public School Ad Market

Hoping to catch young people in one of the few places where they don't have much choice but to pay attention--at school, natch--youth marketing firm Blue Fusion has debuted Youth CAPTV. The new division plans to partner with colleges, high schools, and middle schools to target young consumers with everything from cell-phone ads to anti-tobacco messages.

Blue Fusion's motivation isn't especially hard to discern: hard-to-reach teenage and young adult students comprise a $95 billion annual marketplace, and that doesn't count the extra billions in purchases by their parents that they influence. Youth CAPTV, however, is among the first marketing entities with an exclusive mission to broker arrangements between schools and marketers. While there have been programs similar in spirit--sneaker companies cutting exclusive deals with the athletic departments of major universities, Snapple's off-again-on-again contract with New York City's public schools--few marketers have attempted to drill down as deep as the sixth-grade classroom.

Blue Fusion managing partner Morris Reid, formerly the right-hand man of Clinton Administration Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, understands that the prospect of in-school marketing to young students might not sit well with every parent. Still, he believes that responsible marketing within the academic environment isn't an oxymoron, and notes that such programs might actually improve the quality of education that schools are able to provide.

"Schools are strapped for revenue, so I think they're looking towards arrangements that are more entrepreneurial," Reid explains. "It's a necessity for them, really, and I think our model is both viable and appropriate."

The ads will come mostly in the form of source boards, book covers, and postering. No cookie-cutter model for the nascent program exists; a small parochial school in the suburbs will obviously be handled differently than, say, Ohio State. The company stresses that all of its ad messages will be "clean" and "safe."

Although Reid declines to offer the names of universities and school districts that have expressed interest in working with Youth CAPTV, he claims that response so far has been better than expected. "I think that anybody who can offer a value-added proposition is going to get looked on favorably, to be honest," he notes. "The schools understand that we want to be able to give back to them and that we're working with folks that have a positive message--the anti-drug, the anti-drinking campaigns. Add in the revenue component, and it seems like a no-brainer."

As for the notion that "captive" might imply something akin to hostage- taking, Reid snorts. "'Captive' only means that we're delivering something to this audience in a place where we can keep their attention for a period of time," he explains. "That's why we think it will be very attractive [to marketers]. In this TiVo environment, they have to do whatever they can to reach audiences, so 'captive' should become a more serious option for them."

Beyond the public-service drug/alcohol/drinking messages, Reid also declines to identify the specific product categories that have shown the most interest. Still, he chirps that "everyone's interested. [Marketers] know these kids are the future and have influence over their parents' buying decisions." Youth-leaning fashion and cosmetics brands seem likely to lead the charge.

Posted on aef.com: March 26, 2004


Larry Dobrow, MediaDailyNews. March 23, 2004

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