UW-Madison’s corporate partnerships raise ethical concerns
School’s web and physical spaces littered with advertising
MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s corporate partnerships bring in revenue for the institution but also raise ethical questions.
Many of the university’s physical and digital spaces have been used as advertising platforms for businesses, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The partnerships provide revenue and experiences students appreciate, campus officials said.
The partnerships focus on telling interesting stories to engage consumers, said university professor Kathleen Culver, who studies marketing strategies and media ethics.
“People of this college generation are not known for accepting traditional advertising,” Culver said. “These marketers have to find new ways to get at them.”
Google created a doughnut shop on campus to promote its new Google Home Mini. Mentos conducted a campaign that challenged a student to hand out 43,000 packs of the company’s gum in order to win a year of free tuition for himself and a concert featuring hip-hop producer DJ Khaled for the university.
Some university professors are concerned about whether it’s appropriate to allow private businesses to have control of parts of campus. Others are concerned about the university potentially being associated with a controversial business.
“I don’t believe universities should sell themselves to corporate interests in this sort of carnival-esque way,” said Tom O’Guinn, a marketing professor in the Wisconsin School of Business. “It’s just debasing something that some of us considered special.”
The partnerships aren’t a university endorsement of the company, said Susan Dibbell, the deputy director of the university’s Wisconsin Union. The union doesn’t partner with alcohol and tobacco companies, and tries to avoid controversy, she said.
“If you go to any college campus you’ll see this,” Dibbell said. “We’re just taking advantage of what’s coming our way.”