Eight marketers paid up to $68,000 each to place coupons for goods and services in a November test from Super Marketing, Irvine, Calif., and Your Favorite Producers, Los Angeles.
Your Favorite Producers is no stranger to the in-school market; itmarketed licensed "Looney Tunes"-theme drinks to school food services last year. This year, Super Marketing, a national field marketing company, is helping produce and distribute menu calendars.
The brightly colored menu calendars were distributed to 150,000 students in eight U.S. school districts.
It's yet another way for cash-starved school districts to save money-relying on advertiser support rather than buying space in area newspapers or producing the monthly menus themselves.
Cheryl Sturgeon, Jefferson County, Ky., school district food service director, estimated her Louisville-based school system had saved almost $200,000 on the cost of menus in November.
"We don't want any cost passed on to families, children or schools," said Katie Logan, national accounts manager for Super Marketing.
Powell Tate, Washington, is developing a media package targeting food service directors.
The next menu calendar is scheduled to hit schools in the top 25 U.S. markets in March. Your Favorite Producers and Super Marketing hope to reach 4 million students and, if all goes well, will offer monthly menus as of next September.
Talks are under way with advertisers including MGM Studios, Time Warner and Pillsbury Co., said Ms. Logan, but most are waiting for the results of the November test, expected to be available by the end of the year, before making commitments.
The test menu features eight advertisers' products-ConAgra Frozen Food Co.'s Kid Cuisine, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Duncan Hines Kids Cups cupcakes; J.C. Penney Co.'s Photographic Studio; Hunt-Wesson's Snack Pack puddings; Thomas J. Lipton Co.'s Lawry's Mexican spices and seasonings; Dannon Co.'s Danimals low-fat yogurt; General Mills' DunkAroos cookies; and Walt Disney Home Video's "The Santa Clause" video. Coupon values range from 35› to $5.
A P&G spokeswoman said the marketer's participation in the November menu insert was a trial.
"It looked like a good vehicle to get to kids who would be interested in Kids Cups," the spokeswoman said. P&G has not decided whether it will advertise in the menu again.
Advertising in schools has been a concern to some parents, said Your Favorite Producers Public Relations Manager Gina Kohler. "But [parents] realize that with the cost cuts the schools have been forced to make, this is the way it's headed: running schools more like a business," she said.
However, not everyone agrees advertising is an answer for schools' cash shortage. "In times of fiscal crisis, schools are vulnerable," said Robin Templeton, program director for UNPLUG, Oakland, Calif., a national organization for commercial-free education.
"What we have here is exploitation and opportunism. If schools had what they needed, they wouldn't even consider this type of program."
Super Marketing and Your Favorite Producers hope to dish up monthly school lunchroom menu calendars beginning next fall.