Across the state of New York, this year’s Common Core English tests have reportedly featured a slew of brand-name products including iPod, Barbie, Mug Root Beer and Life Savers. For Nike, the tests even conveniently included the shoe company’s ubiquitous slogan: “Just Do It.”
The brands – and apparently even some of their familiar trademark symbols – appeared in tests questions for students ranging from third to eighth grades, reports The Post-Standard of Syracuse.
Over one million students were required to take the tests.
Parents, teachers and school administrators have speculated that the kid-friendly brand names are a new form of product placement.
Education materials behemoth Pearson, which has a $32 million five-year contract to develop New York’s Common Core-related tests, has barred teachers and school officials from disclosing the contents of the tests.
Students and parents are not so barred, though, and many have complained.
“‘Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?'” Long Island mother Deborah Poppe quoted her son as saying, according to Fox News. “He’s bright enough to realize that it was almost like a commercial.”
Poppe said her eighth-grade son was talking about a question about a busboy who didn’t clean up a root beer spill. It wasn’t just any root beer, though. No sir! It was Mug Root Beer, a registered trademark of PepsiCo (current market cap: $129.7 billion).
Another question about the value of taking risks featured the now-hackneyed Nike slogan “Just Do It.”
“I’m sure they could have used a historical figure who took risks and invented things,” observed displeased dad Sam Pirozzolo, also of Staten Island, according to the Daily Mail. “I’m sure they could have found something other than Nike to express their point.”
Pirozzolo has a child in fifth grade.
Nike, one of America’s best known and most heavily advertised companies, boasts a current market cap of $65.01 billion.
A number of baffled and angry New York teachers have anonymously complained about the branding and much else on blogs and websites. (RELATED: Think Common Core class material is bad? Check out the unbelievably AWFUL standardized tests)
Representatives from the New York State Education Department have flatly denied involvement in any novel marketing agreements.
“There are no product placement deals between us, Pearson or anyone else,” Tom Dunn, an Education Department spokesman, told Fox News. “No deals. No money. We use authentic texts. If the author chose to use a brand name in the original, we don’t edit.”
To the credit of Pearson and the named companies, it does seem like an unusually stupid move—even for greedy brand managers.
“If any brand did try to place there, what they would lose from the outrage would surely trump any exposure they got,” Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a marketing professor at Golden Gate University, told Fox.
At the same, some people are perfectly happy about idea of mixing for-profit merchandising and mandatory Common Core tests.
“Brands are part of our lives,” Allen Adamson, managing director of the New York brand consulting firm Landor Associates, told Fox. “To say they don’t belong in academia is unrealistic.”