Research shows that we receive a quarter of a million selling messages daily. Mostly we are unaware of this, but wherever there is written, visual or aural communication someone is using that medium as a message.
Research carried out by Marketing Week in 1997 showed that 90 per cent of companies surveyed had engaged in some kind of marketing to schools and that 80 per cent of schools have been involved in a commercially driven campaign. Children exert a big influence on how families spend money. What market experts call "pester power" generates spending of up to pound;8.4 billion in the UK each year.
With so much to play for, the increasing involvement of business in sponsoring education is hardly surprising. But does it automatically mean open season for selling inside the school gates?
Children are acutely aware of brands, and are highly aspirational but, amazingly, schools have maintained their integrity. The hard sell feared by consumer organisations has not materialised. Lessons have been learned from the US where commercials are shown on school television, and educational resources are an unregulated free-for-all. British advertising and marketing professionals are far more cautious.
There are two discrete forms of education sponsorship. One is the corporate community investment where money and resources are donated to schools. Then there is marketing where a company's aim is to get its brand recognised by children and their parents. Cause-related marketing - campaigns such as Tesco's Computers for Schools - is a huge growth area.
Jo Hillier, social marketing director with Good Business, a consultancy, says: "The end result is the consumer feels good about the company - it improves the brand and the corporate reputation. It fits with the overall business objectives."
Often there is an overlap between the corporate community investment and marketing. Sponsorship is a grey area and most firms involved in education want to be recognised for it - this generally means a Yes to discrete logos but a No to advertising messages. Sponsorship is not restricted to private-sector companies. It can be industry bodies, national training organisations and charities.
Schools are a grey area in terms of consumer protection. The National Consumers' Council guidelines for sponsored educational resources are voluntary. The code of practice for advertising industry' is difficult to apply to schools where there are no ground rules.
The Advertising Standards Authority has received many complaints about advertisements aimed at children that contain harmful or misleading messages. The ASA's Steve Ballinger says: "Sponsored material going into schools should comply with our code. Brand names are acceptable, but if there was an advertisement promoting a product we'd look into it."