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Commerical sign update

March 27, 2012

If you’re at Sacramento State and you walked into Tahoe Hall during the past couple days, you might have noticed that the new digital signs were no longer showing commercial videos — in fact, the video monitors were off for over a week, but today they went back on.

They weren’t shut down by a power outage, natural disaster, or hack attack. And it wasn’t the fearsome public scrutiny generated by my previous posts. From what I’ve been told, the signs were off because the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate asked the Vice President for Advancement to look into the matter, and the VP asked the Business School to stop broadcasting videos that violate the campus digital sign policy, which bans commercial messages.

Now the digital signs are back on, and the videos I saw were advertising the Business School’s MBA program. That’s an improvement over the previous videos, most of which were corporate recruitment ads that sing the praises of working at Target, SMUD, Wells Fargo, and other companies, presumably the same companies that donate to the Business School. Of course, Sacramento State has a thriving Career Center that provides far more complete and impartial advice than students can get while walking past these videos on the way to class.

The digital stock tickers have been on the entire time, and they’re still on, even though they also violate the policy. Many stock tickers, including the famous one at Times Square, show only stock prices and traditional ticker symbols that consist of a few letters. Our stock tickers display a cheerful parade of bright corporate logos. To my mind, that violates the campus ban on showing commercial messages on digital signs.

Is any of this worth worrying about? How slippery is the slope?

Consider that just down the road at UC Davis, which apparently bans most commercial advertising on campus, a local advertising agency recently started “covering lecture halls with flyers and promoting discounts on pizza through 4 inch by 6 inch cards taped to seat backs.” The editors of The California Aggie say this is “devaluing the sacred nature of these areas,” and they half-jokingly suggest the next step is “product placement being laced into discussions about metaphysics.”

Or watch this short New York Times video, which shows how corporations have started hiring “student brand ambassadors” — about 10,000 American college students last fall — to promote their products on and off campus. Not content with marketing to students, businesses are now “marketing through students.” Last August Target hosted a welcome party for first-year students at the University of North Carolina. Students wearing identical t-shirts from American Eagle helped new arrivals move into the dorms, while handing out company coupons and goodies. The students in the video don’t seem to have many concerns about either coercion or corruption. But as one UNC administrator said about the Target event, with heroic understatement, “It’s a bit of a dilemma.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim permalink
    March 28, 2012 8:47 AM

    This is certainly an improvement, though I still very much object to any unwanted noise blasting at all hours into the common area of the building. Corporatization issues aside, it’s just simply noise pollution and violates simple neighborliness norms. Regardless of content, I don’t want to be visually and sonically accosted whenever I leave or enter my own workspace.

    • March 28, 2012 12:46 PM

      I agree, and as a matter of fact, the campus digital sign policy explicitly states that “messages should be limited to avoid digital ‘pollution.'” It also just seems like an awful waste of money, which I would like to think is not what the donors had in mind.

      • Kim permalink
        March 29, 2012 8:20 AM

        It’s also an awful waste of electricity — two giant video screens and two very bright stock tickers. I went in on the weekend before spring break and they were blaring the messages to me and the squirrels. Can we at least get them to turn the damned things off when the building is locked?

  2. Ben Hoyt permalink
    March 28, 2012 3:53 PM

    You might also consider this somewhat smug press release from Barnes and Noble about the “unparalleled” opportunities they can provide, with their “on-campus marketing abilities” to potential “brand partners.” They now reach a quarter of college students, who, they note, represent an “elusive market segment.” However, the rewards are there for those willing to stalk this evasive quarry, since college students spent 47.5 billion on “textbooks, clothing, food and other consumable goods.” The list of capabilities provided, including the ability to start marketing to freshmen as soon as the letter of acceptance arrives, really drives home the point that Barnes and Noble College Marketing is the best method for developing “targeted” and “tactical” on-campus marketing campaigns.

    I’ve never been so happy that ASI runs the campus bookstore.

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