Cool Cause Marketing Effort, Wrong Season

Project Potential from Kraft's ready-to-eat meal brand Lunchables sounds like a wondrous effort. In an ad that ran in the May 2010 Glamour magazine and is now archived in the Alden Keene Cause Marketing Database, a cute little girl is said to be leaping from princesshood to… maybe… the presidency thanks to Project Potential.

And what is Project Potential? The ad promised to send 50 entire classrooms on fieldtrips.

I suppose that a class fieldtrip could help someone fulfill their potential. Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider on a class fieldtrip and became Spiderman after all!

Says the website: “It's not a reach when their potential is so great. That's why we're dedicated to providing kids with as many academic learning opportunities as possible—to help them reach their full potential! Every time you buy LUNCHABLES Lunch Combinations, you're supporting our efforts to help kids realize just how far they can go in life.”

Wow! No wonder I’m such a schlub. I didn’t go on enough fieldtrips as a schoolchild.

Now, I’m having some fun at Kraft’s expense, but I don't mean to suggest that fieldtrips aren’t worthwhile or that kids don’t go on enough of them. Kids and adults are more likely to learn better when they come at their subjects from many sides.

Certainly, I love museums. I’d sooner spend a day at the Louvre, or the Hermitage or the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum than almost anything else I can think of.

The real problem with Project Potential is that Kraft and Lunchables did this at the wrong time of the year!

American students, we frequently hear, trail the developed world in academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. And despite the often overheated rhetoric about inadequate teachers, or bad curricula, or dumb kids, much of the blame for this achievement gap can be laid at the feet of the long summer break that American schoolchildren get.

American kids, even from the poorest areas, learn fine during the school year. Where poor American kids fall behind is during the long summer months off. Put simply, poor kids are less likely to read or do math or progress academically during the summer break. So when they come back in the fall, they suffer from what academics call “summer learning loss” or the “summer slide.”

Schoolchildren in Asia are less likely to suffer from summer learning loss because their school years are notably longer.

American kids from middle and upper incomes are less likely to suffer as severely from the summer learning loss. That’s because they’re more likely to read, go to special learning camps, museums, and the like during the summer.

In short, Kraft had the germ of a fine idea. They just conducted it in the wrong season.

Project Potential shouldn’t have been about sending school kids on fieldtrips during the school year. It should have been about sending kids from summer community programs on fieldtrips.

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