June 28th, 2004

Brand-Name Field Trips

By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen and Leslie Whitaker
Time Magazine

The field trip for the 24 kindergartners from Woodside Avenue School has all the noisy excitement of the old-fashioned kind, with kids tumbling out of a school bus eager to see, hear and touch things outside their classroom. But the field-trip destination is not the usual venue, like a museum or zoo. It’s a Petco store. Tour guide Jennifer Rohan, manager of the Ramsey, N.J., pet-supply emporium, lets the kids pet a quivering chinchilla ($ 129.99, food and shelter sold separately), squawk at a taciturn macaw named Oscar ($ 2,399.99) and find Nemo the clown fish ($ 14.99). An hour later, the children are back on the bus clutching handout Petco-logo Frisbees and debating the merits of dogs vs. hermit crabs.

The retail field trip is part education, part marketing, and all the rage. Groups of children from schools, summer camps and Girl and Boy Scout troops are taking organized tours through establishments ranging from Sports Authority stores to Saturn dealerships to Krispy Kreme outlets. With school budgets squeezed in recent years, these free excursions are in some cases replacing trips to more traditional destinations. While companies are eager to polish their community image, critics say the real goal is to turn kids into brand-loyal consumers.

Leading the boom is Field Trip Factory, a five-year-old Chicago outfit founded by former marketing consultant Susan Singer that designs educational tours for corporate clients. Bookings have nearly doubled in 2004, to 12,000. One big reason: cost. The trip to Petco cost $ 5.25 a child for the bus ride, says Woodside teacher Stacey Melhorn, while a zoo visit can cost $ 15. “When it’s free, it’s easier for everybody,” says Melhorn. Says Dan Fuller, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association: “In a perfect world, schools would have the funds to send kids to where they feel is the most educationally appropriate.”

Dominick’s supermarket pays Field Trip Factory up to $ 300,000 a year to fill the void. On a recent tour, second-graders from Universal School, a Muslim school in Bridgeview, Ill., learned how sugar-laden kids’ cereals are placed on lower shelves. Li Schiavitti, 75, the store’s star field-trip guide, advised them to reach instead for something healthier--like Toasted Oats, Dominick’s house brand.

It’s subtle, but the message sticks. At stores where kids received free samples of V8 Splash Fruit Medley, it became the top-selling flavor, according to Field Trip Factory. In another case, sales of children’s toothpaste shot up 18%. “These field trips are nothing more than a way to clobber a captive audience of impressionable children with ads,” says Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a watchdog group. But Abbie Levi, whose daughter Sarah asked for a hamster after attending the Petco field trip, says simply, “Parents have the power to say no.” Easier said than done.

June 28th, 2004

Brand-Name Field Trips

By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen and Leslie Whitaker
Time Magazine

The field trip for the 24 kindergartners from Woodside Avenue School has all the noisy excitement of the old-fashioned kind, with kids tumbling out of a school bus eager to see, hear and touch things outside their classroom. But the field-trip destination is not the usual venue, like a museum or zoo. It’s a Petco store. Tour guide Jennifer Rohan, manager of the Ramsey, N.J., pet-supply emporium, lets the kids pet a quivering chinchilla ($ 129.99, food and shelter sold separately), squawk at a taciturn macaw named Oscar ($ 2,399.99) and find Nemo the clown fish ($ 14.99). An hour later, the children are back on the bus clutching handout Petco-logo Frisbees and debating the merits of dogs vs. hermit crabs.

The retail field trip is part education, part marketing, and all the rage. Groups of children from schools, summer camps and Girl and Boy Scout troops are taking organized tours through establishments ranging from Sports Authority stores to Saturn dealerships to Krispy Kreme outlets. With school budgets squeezed in recent years, these free excursions are in some cases replacing trips to more traditional destinations. While companies are eager to polish their community image, critics say the real goal is to turn kids into brand-loyal consumers.

Leading the boom is Field Trip Factory, a five-year-old Chicago outfit founded by former marketing consultant Susan Singer that designs educational tours for corporate clients. Bookings have nearly doubled in 2004, to 12,000. One big reason: cost. The trip to Petco cost $ 5.25 a child for the bus ride, says Woodside teacher Stacey Melhorn, while a zoo visit can cost $ 15. “When it’s free, it’s easier for everybody,” says Melhorn. Says Dan Fuller, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association: “In a perfect world, schools would have the funds to send kids to where they feel is the most educationally appropriate.”

Dominick’s supermarket pays Field Trip Factory up to $ 300,000 a year to fill the void. On a recent tour, second-graders from Universal School, a Muslim school in Bridgeview, Ill., learned how sugar-laden kids’ cereals are placed on lower shelves. Li Schiavitti, 75, the store’s star field-trip guide, advised them to reach instead for something healthier--like Toasted Oats, Dominick’s house brand.

It’s subtle, but the message sticks. At stores where kids received free samples of V8 Splash Fruit Medley, it became the top-selling flavor, according to Field Trip Factory. In another case, sales of children’s toothpaste shot up 18%. “These field trips are nothing more than a way to clobber a captive audience of impressionable children with ads,” says Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a watchdog group. But Abbie Levi, whose daughter Sarah asked for a hamster after attending the Petco field trip, says simply, “Parents have the power to say no.” Easier said than done.

Comments

  1. Posted by anthony calderon on August 10th, 2005

    I think you are off base. I am a parent of a school who has used FTF on more than one occation. They offer something our school cannot; provide a positive learning experience for children and do so for little to no cost.
    The next time your group can do the same thing for our school, please let me know. Otherwise, don’t criticize those companies who are making an effort to improve the educational experience of my children.

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