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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Brand X

So I've been in kind of a funk lately. I think maybe it was that tetanus shot I had. Whatever the reason, I've sat down at my computer to blog half a dozen times in the last three days and I have ended up deleting every bit of what I have written. None of it really seemed worthy of your attention. As has often been the case for Pencils Down, inspiration came from the incomparable Dy/Dan.

Dan's been posting a lot lately about the art of presentation. Graphic design is a big thing for him, as it should be, and he is rightfully proud of his work. While other teachers are hastily throwing slides and worksheets together, he carefully plans out everything from font size to color gradients. His work is clean and visually appealing, and I have every reason to believe that it complements his lectures perfectly. He posted a rambling list yesterday, a "brain dump" if you will, which used the term "branding" several times. I posted a comment that he completely ignored, which I can only assume means one of the following things. Either a) he thought I was kidding, b) he thought it was the dumbest idea he had ever heard, c) he is on a roll with his own thoughts and doesn't have time to delve into new things, or d) he was so completely blown away that he will require days to recover.

Regardless, I was quite serious and I feel the need to elaborate my point. Branding, not the kind done by ranch-hands but by ad execs, is how companies market their products. They spend obscene amounts of money designing, testing, and refining those brands. They consider appearance, audience, slogan, placement, and just about everything else. You can be sure that they leave nothing to chance. That's the exact kind of attention to detail that teachers need to have when designing their lessons. Everything from overhead projections to handouts, posters to pop quizzes, needs to reinforce the "brand." Now to extend the comparison even further, and this is where I may have lost Dan's attention, how can this branding be pushed beyond the classroom?

Madison Avenue has been making a killing in the last decade by marketing directly to children. In the past, kids younger than say ten were virtually ignored. The ads targeted parents instead. At some point, some genius with questionable ethics realized that you can separate customer from consumer. If they can make your children want something, they have won the battle. Kids have more weapons in their arsenals that most parents can deal with. Beginning with "Mommy please" and ending in an inevitable tantrum, kids are going to get what they want a fair amount of the time. I've been reading a book entitled Buy, Buy Baby which explores this marketing tactic in depth, including possible harm it is causing our youth. There was a particularly poignant piece of rhetoric that compared these baby targeting ad execs to pedophiles, at least in terms of their ability to manipulate our youth for personal gain with little to no guilt or compunction. Maybe that's why I responded so strongly to Dan's somewhat innocent post. I am wondering how teachers can use that type of marketing in their classrooms.

What if you could take that brand that you have carefully crafted and fine tuned, and extend it into the world? Just as the half-hour Dora the Explorer cartoon sells books, videos, cereal, dolls, and who knows what else, can we find a way to take our own brands viral? As bloggers, we know better than most how easily a meme can spread. The Web is sometimes more conducive to that than real life. I'd be willing to bet that many of us get more professional respect from colleagues on-line than off. So what if it were possible to achieve the kind of product placement that Coca-Cola or Pizza Hut has in our schools? What would that look like?

It could be as simple as using a distinctive font that students associate with you and your brand. Then as the font catches on throughout your school, it takes with it a small reminder of your lessons. Or perhaps we could be even more diabolical, as I mentioned in my comment to Dan. You could subtly share your brand with other teachers or school organizations, turning SGA posters or dance committees into your unwitting accomplices. Maybe there's even some way to merchandize.

I'm obviously not an ad exec, and I know my thesis is pretty thin. But it seems to me that as long as we are manipulating kids, we might as well use the power for good, instead of evil.


Jackie said...

Interesting idea, been thinking about it since I read your comment on Dan's blog. Aside from trying to figure out where to put the "product placement", my first objective is to develop a "brand".

I'm looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts, as mine aren't fully formed yet. Font, colors, logo(?), catch phrase... perhaps a marketing class should be included in teacher training?

Jackie said...

Hope the funk soon fades!

Dan Meyer said...

d) wanted to spawn a proper post on the matter once I found a lull.

Not sure how soon that'll happen though so lemme say, yeah, I think your thesis where it is right now is a little light but not far off from a monster point — one which is gonna have a lotta teachers thumbing their ears, chanting "la la la I can't heeear you."

The issue of branding, marketing, is of extraordinary relevance to teachers. Not teachers fifty years ago but teachers as they've had to adapt to market-driven culture now.

I have a brand. I know it's a positive one across campus 'cause I have students I don't know calling me "Uncle Dan."

The dumb part is you don't have to be a good teacher to go viral. You've gotta be interesting. You've gotta be fun.

So I do basketball. I do fake or legit. I do show and tell. I show anything fun that crosses my RSS reader. I keep class management on lock-down to warrant these wasted class minutes. (Probably oughtta toss scare quotes around "wasted.")

It just sucks, right? 'Cause so many teachers are struggling enough with making their content clear, relevant, and accessible to start thinking about how their kids perceive them, much less about how their kids' friends perceive them.

That one's hard. I'd suck at it except I bore myself before I bore my students.

Probably just gonna cross-post this whole block of text to my blog. This is an interesting thing you've got here. Keep it going.

(P.S. Pretty good Slideshare on branding here.)

Ben Fulton said...

Incidentally, often the reason I ignore comments on my blog is when I'm thinking, "that point was made so well I have absolutely nothing to add." When someone else ignores my comment I choose to believe that's what they think as well ;)