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Tuesday
Mar012011

What are Community Values?

When I hear the term "community values", I think of people coming together to support each other in health, happiness and success. I think of people reaching across barriers and getting to know people who are different from them. I think of people being considerate of their neighbours and polite to each other. I don't think of sugary soft drinks.

Today on CBC News, I heard a report on the City of Ottawa's proposal to allow corporate sponsorship of some of its recreation facilities in order to help raise funds without having to reach into the pockets of taxpayers. While I like the idea of keeping taxes down, my radar always goes up when it comes to corporate sponsorship. More often than not, the companies that want to be sponsors are the ones we need to be worried about inviting into our homes and our communities.

In the CBC report, Councillor Jan Harder was interviewed. She said that the city will ensure the sponsorship approach reflects community values. She then went on to add:
But I think if Pepsi or a high-tech company or Waste Management wants to have their names over the diving pool at the Nepean Sportsplex, that's A-OK with me.

That, in a nutshell, is what I worry about. I imagine our city's recreation facilities, which are supposed to be promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, being used to push unhealthy products, like soft drinks and fast food, on the children and adults of our community. I think there is an inherent conflict between the City's public health goals and the possibility of accepting a sponsor like Pepsi for its recreational facilities. I also worry, of course, that the city will not do its due diligence when considering the business practices of the company before accepting them as a sponsor (Nestle anyone?).

When people speak about "community values" it seems a lot of them are talking about keeping sex, profanity, nudity, and "alternative lifestyles" away from our children. Personally, I'd rather have my children walking past the Dildo King ads everyday (as they did when we lived in Berlin), than have fast food and soft drinks being pushed on them as they do laps in the pool. But maybe that's just because my community values are different from everyone else's.

I'm not against corporate sponsorship altogether, but I do think that public recreation facilities should be a place where our children can be healthy and active and where parents don't have to worry about junk food being pushed on them.  I hope that Councillor Harder and others involved in this proposal will reconsider and recognize that junk food and processed food are not compatible with "community values."

Image credit: lergik on flickr

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Reader Comments (31)

Totally agree with you. Junk food & pop should not be allowed in community rec centres or elementary schools. But they definitely shouldn't be replaced by "DildoKing" ads .... that's offensive.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn Climans

Great post. This kind of encroachment on public space by corporations is a slippery slope. (See Linda McQuaig's The Problem with Billionaires, for its logical conclusion.) I'd rather pay more taxes to fund programs and services properly, and to keep them truly "public" than allow them to be half-funded by private money. In these types of circumstances, I believe there's no such thing as "no-strings attached." (And Pepsi! For a recreational facility?!)

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenternorthTOmom

Karyn:

I don't think Dildos are offensive. I can see why some people may not want their kids being exposed to the ads (have to answer questions earlier than you anticipated), but otherwise I don't really have a problem with the ads at all.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

May I ask, do you mean an ad for a dildo is offensive or inappropriate? Because there is a diference.

Personally for me, considering the ad featured above for the Dildo King, I find nothing offensive in it. It would be inappropriate to advertise it at the local swimming pool given the marketing demographic of dildo's, but I fail to see how a worded, non-picture ad for an inanimate object is offensive. But again, that is my personal opinion. ANd in MPO soft drink ads at the local swimming pool are just as inappropriate.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPirra

Pirra:

There is a picture in this ad, but it can easily be passed off as a crown instead of three dildos.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Oh there is too! I hadn't even noticed it!

Then again I did once have an argument with a woman over whether or not the preist who marries Ursula to the Prince in the Little Mermaid has an erection or not! (I also failed to see the word sex spelt out in stars/dust in the lion king which again resulted in an argument with same uptight woman. But I don't go around actively looking for signs of the apocolypse or for symbols that might corrupt my children in everything around me.)

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPirra

What really concerns me is Pepsi and other large, multinational, processed food firms represent community values to many people, even before they're named a sponsor with a billboard in community areas. In the United States, Pepsi is running a "Refresh" program to help fund schools and community programs (which I've been approached several times about, being asked to "like" certain projects to help them be at the top of the list for funding), and our government regularly protects the interests of large businesses like these in favor of initiatives like parental leave or protection of non-GMO crops.

When I read this post, I tend to think corporate sponsorship of public facilities would simply be a "coming out" of relationships that have long been established, rather than a sign of a disturbing new trend.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuchada @ Mama Eve

When I think of community values, my mind immediately goes to the Burning Man 10 Principles, since I actively participate in that subculture. One of the principles, perhaps my favorite, is decommodification, which results in nothing being bought or sold during events and people going so far as to cover up or disguise corporate logos.

I'm not opposed to advertising in the rest of the world - it would be hard to oppose it! - but I am skeptical of sponsorships like this. I understand the desire/need for cities or other organizations to look for alternative funding, and at first these deals can look like a win-win. The company gets advertising/publicity, and the organization gets the much needed funds with little strain. However, I assume that these companies excel at the cost/benefit game, and that they are getting the better end of the deal. Even setting aside the question of whether I approve of the particular company, I doubt that they are making an even deal and instead are cutting a deal that works out financially in their favor. The long-term costs to a community for inviting a platform for this advertising - in terms of health, happiness, etc - likely stacks up very badly when compared to the money received.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIssa

I think I have almost exactly opposite of your opinion on this issue! I'm not opposed to corporate sponsorship of community recreational facilities, and I actually think in many cases it's a nice way for them to give back to the communities where many of their employees live, work, & play. And I'm cool with Pepsi etc being such sponsors-what's wrong with Pepsi products in moderation? Maybe things are different in Canada, bit around here, the community centers and baseball complexes etc all have snack bars chock-full of junk food. The only thing sponsorship would possibly change there is maybe limiting the selection to the sponsoring company's options only.
But I'd definitely be opposed to sponsorship by any product that would be illegal for kids to use; alcohol, cigarettes, sex-related products etc.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I agree with Jan, if it's just naming rights. I figure my kid will be media savvy enough to see past that level of propaganda, and I'm not convinced that programs like that actually translates into more consumption of the product.

I mean, do YOU know anyone who prefers pepsi over coke based on which arenas they've named? In my experience, some people prefer one and some prefer the other and it's more about sweetness than anything.

I also don't buy that naming an arena something with a healthy message (exercise twice a day?) would make a substantive difference. But maybe my opinion is influenced by my latest property tax bill!

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Mary:

This isn't just about naming rights, but also about advertising and logos in the facility. I don't think that people choose one product over another based on which arenas they named, but I do think that the constant pervasive push of a brand over time can influence people. However, this isn't a Pepsi versus Coke issue for me. I don't want junk food or processed food ads of any kind in public recreation facilities.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Suchada:

I agree that it is an ongoing and pervasive problem. I know that it has been a big issue in schools in a lot of areas in North America. Personally, I am hoping that Ottawa City Council will find a way to avoid getting on the wrong side of the problem.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

We spend a lot of time (and hence money) at local Ottawa pools, for both lessons and rec swimming. I have gone out of my way to limit my families' exposure to such advertising and I definitely don't want the ads in a community location that is an extension of our family. In fact I would like to see the junk food in the vending machines removed as well.
That being said after a trip to Switzerland and visiting rec pools it is apparent that we do need to put more resources into upkeeping our centers. Switzerland has high maintenance and cleanliness standards without corporate ads.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRedRosa

Maman a Droit:

I think if the motivation was truly to give back to the communities where their employees live, work and play, then they could make a donation and brag to their employees about it, without requiring that their name and logo be splashed all over the facility. I don't see it as altruistic in any way, when they are using it as part of their advertising campaign.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I totally agree with you. I am all for funding our parks and recreation facilities with corporate sponsorship, but if higher taxes used properly would maintain parks without the encroachment of chips, candy, and soda pop, then sign me up.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie

In the end of this debate about corporate sponsorship of unhealthy products in healthy areas, don't we have to take a long hard look at our own family's health values? If I instill in my children a strong value of health and healthy eating, then I must have faith that the propaganda (from vending machines to 10' high ads) will go largely unobserved by them when they are using the public recreation facilities. The reason these companies want a hand in this marketing area is not so much that it is largely untapped, but that we, as a society, demand their products. Starting with our families is the best defense. Kudos to them for their marketing prowess, and sadness to us for not stepping up as parents and doing a decent job of raising our kids to make better healthier decisions.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie

Amie:

I do agree that it is important to teach good nutrition choices to our children. However, I don't think it is a guaranteed shield against corporate advertising.

I think we do a pretty good job of teaching our children about nutrition and feeding them a balanced diet. But that does not stop them from coming home from school and begging me to buy them the crappy processed stuff that their friends bring to school. It also doesn't stop them from begging for something from the vending machine every week after their swimming lessons. I'm consistent in saying "no", explaining why, and offering a healthy but tasty alternative, but that doesn't stop the requests.

It is pretty well established that parental influence only goes so far and that societal influence has a big impact. So to the extent that I can influence society, in order to ensure that its influences on my children are better, I would like to do that.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Ugh. Although I hadn't really thought about it until right now, community areas like pools, centres, etc. are a nice respite from the constant advertising leveled at me and my children. It's great to say that I can teach my children to evaluate advertising. My daughter can even pay lipservice to why some food has cartoon characters on it, etc. But the message is pervasive and we are easy targets, children especially.

I would be slightly less concerned with a sponsor who is not directly trying to market crap to my children (e.g., IBM) but I'd still prefer a more advert-free space.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that Ms. Harder thinks this is a great idea, however.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

As people watch less broadcast TV (with commercials), purchase less magazines (with ads), and listen to less live Radio (with advertisements), I bet we will see a lot more corporations reaching out to put their logo in places like community pools. There are laws which do not allow hard liquor or cigarette advertisements in certain venues... I wonder if similar laws will be passed to keep those types of ads away from "community" spaces?

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

Here’s what I don’t understand. You’re fine with having to have a conversation about sex toys with your child, but not fine with a conversation about soda or fast food? The fact of the matter is that we can’t keep our children hidden from all the things in life we disagree with, whether that involves sexuality, junk food, guns, war, etc. All we can do is take the opportunities we are given to explain our values. Sheltering them from things only piques their curiosity and makes them more interested and less prepared to make informed decisions. My son sees me drink Diet Coke but he’s never asked to try some. He knows that he drinks milk and water and Mommy drinks Diet Coke (sometimes). He also sees his father drink a beer from time to time and doesn’t expect to drink that either. We’re talking about a sponsorship, not free sodas handed out to kids all day long.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCallie

I enjoyed this post. I feel like we are selling away all our freedom in order to get "free" stuff. It frustrates me that people do not see the harm in advertising. If it didn't work the companies would not have such huge budgets for it, and clamoring to give us "free" stuff. They know that it wears on the psych of all.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I know it's not a community center, but I just came back from a meeting at my daughter's (public) school, where we had to decide which positions will be cut due to a $200,000 shortfall in the budget.
Obviously advertising works, and Pepsi or Cheetos or Marlboro wouldn't be "sponsoring" anything if they didn't get something out of it.
But here we are, with students to educate (or families to recreate :) ) no tax money coming in, voters turning down tax increases, and honestly, if Pepsi or Cheetos wanted to come in and paint their names all over the walls, and we could keep all the teachers/staff/programs we need, I would sign up right now.
I agree with Amie above; we need to talk to our kids about outside influences, advertising, but the best defense is a good offense. Setting our kids up to go out into the world able to think for themselves and make good decisions is our best option.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I think that, ideally, public facilities (schools, libraries, recreation facilities) should be publicly-funded. They provide value to the community, and express our values, and I'm totally willing to put my money where my mouth is on this.

That being said, the lobby of my local pool has no less than 5 vending machines selling energy drinks, pop, ice cream, chips and candy. It also has a concession stand selling a variety of food, very little of it healthy. And my daughter's soccer team (and I'd wager most every other children's team in Canada) is emblazoned with the Tim Horton's logo as part of the "Timbits" program. And I honestly haven't given these things a second thought.

I wonder where the line lives, exactly. Is it just that the things I'm used to don't seem alarming, and the things I'm not used to do? I'm not entirely clear on the boundaries, here.

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Those corporations are just scary everywhere. Why not put up some creative art or, better yet, local "advertising" from our communities whether or, the local-made companies financially support the buildings or not. Is it so wrong to increase the taxes if the money is going into solid social programs?
What can we do to slow this corporate pressure or, let our thoughts (oppositions) be heard?

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Perhaps folks should consider why a company such as Pepsi has the money to sponsor something.

The only way it makes sense for them to pay what the tax payer doesn't is if they get more money back by the sponsorship. In the end the money comes from the same community. In one case it passes through the hands of Pepsi in return for some flavoured syrup. In the other it passes through the hands of the general tax collector at the city before going to the facility.

So why is it that people are more willing to trust Pepsi with this money than the city? Perhaps people know what they are getting with Pepsi - you pay your money you get for Pepsi. Maybe Pepsi justs asks for a small enough amount per purchase that no one notices.

This is the question for Jan Harder and co. Why are people willing to give their money to Pepsi to decide what to sponsor rather than the city? People don't consciously make that decision but that is what they are doing.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStan

I think the reason people are more willing to accept a Pepsi sponsorship than an increase in taxes is that they believe that they are not going to be the ones influenced by the Pepsi ads. Either they are buying it anyway (and might as well get something back) or they aren't going to buy it in spite of the ads.

Personally, I find that to be a selfish view. Pepsi knows (as you stated) that there is a benefit to them in making those sponsorships. So even if you aren't the one putting your health at risk by buying the products, then someone else is...and perhaps that someone is your kids.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Callie:

I'm okay having a conversation with my kid about anything.

The difference is that I don't think sex toys are a bad thing and do feel that they can be a part of a very healthy sex life. I do, however, think that Pepsi is bad for you and is detrimental to your health.

Discussions about sexuality, junk food, guns, and war are all part of being a parent. There are not, however, any machine gun ads behind the diving board at the pool trying to convince my kid that weapons are a great way to deal with disagreements. There may be, however, ads up there trying to convince my kid that Pepsi is a great way to quench his thirst.

March 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I wasn't allowed pop when I was growing up, but the soda pop companies got to me in junior high. Suddenly, I could buy pop at school and my mom would never know. From there, it was a risky road as they showed up at all my recreational events, fast food places (where I worked) and later at university. I gained a lot of weight along the way and it only started to come off when I switched to diet...and then gave up soda. Now, I might have the occasional organic pop, but it's a caffeine-free treat (for when I don't want wine!) and not an addiction. I hope my children never have the struggle I did.

March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Coutu

Companies don't make altruistic gestures ... if they're not allowed to advertise then they wouldn't do it because they have to generate returns to shareholders. Expenditures that don't bring profits are simply unethical for a company to make. The company could pay a dividend to its shareholders, then the shareholders could make their own truly altruistic gestures, except that it's very doubtful any of them would fund that Ottawa centre.

I think that putting a corporate name on a building is just fine. It's money that doesn't cost the government anything. They had the building anyway so the choice is calling it some famous politician's name or naming it after a company. It's way better than spending tax dollars. The only thing I'd be worried about is whether the advertising on government buildings is somehow advantaging one company versus another. That might be a reason to leave advertising off altogether.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

I don't know how the Swiss do it. Lowest taxes, yet top quality government. Crazy. We should invite our politicians to learn from them.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

@phd: "I don’t think it is a guaranteed shield against corporate advertising"

You're right. Advertisers are brilliant at manipulating people. They can affect your preferences without you even feeling or suspecting it. I try never to watch ads on TV or look at them in print. It's not "subliminal" stuff, it's just understanding how people make choices and leading their brains. Like how McDonald's colors its walls yellow and uses hard and immovable seats. They want you to eat a lot and get out of there fast, and that's what those decorations are designed to do -- most people would not suspect that.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPerfect Dad

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