The Next Niche: School Bus Ads

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By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Soon, schoolchildren may be singing new lyrics to the classic "Wheels on the Bus."

"The ads on the bus go on and on, on and on . . ."

BusRadio, a start-up company in Massachusetts, wants to pipe into school buses around the country a private radio network that plays music, public-service announcements, contests and, of course, ads, aimed at kids as they travel to and from school.

As BusRadio's Web site ( http://www.busradio.net/ ) explains: "Every morning and every afternoon on their way to and from school, kids across the country will be listening to the dynamic programming of BusRadio providing advertiser's [sic] with a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market."

BusRadio, the Web site adds, "will take targeted student marketing to the next level." Marketers can advertise and sponsor contests or provide a celebrity deejay (perhaps to promote that next CD or movie). They can also use BusRadio's Web site to conduct surveys and test songs, CD covers, packaging and ads.

According to its Web site, BusRadio plans to operate in Massachusetts this fall, broadcasting to more than 102,000 students. By September 2007 it plans to take its programs national, reaching a million students. On the Web site, BusRadio listed Hagerstown, Md., as one of the areas it plans to serve. However, Chris Carter, director of public school transportation for Washington County (which includes Hagerstown), said he had never heard of BusRadio.

The company is the brainchild of Michael Yanoff and Steven Shulman, the same two executives who created Cover Concepts, a company that has provided schools with millions of free book covers -- full of bold, colorful ads for Kellogg's, McDonald's, Calvin Klein, Nike and other major national advertisers. Now owned by comic-book king Marvel Enterprises, Cover Concepts says it reaches 30 million school-age children in 43,000 U.S. public schools, which receive no funding for distributing the products.

Shulman declined to discuss BusRadio's plans, saying in an e-mail that it is "a relatively new company in a start-up mode." He said the "planned launch is in September, and until that time we have [a] policy in place not to comment on our business plan."

According to the company's Web site, school buses will be equipped -- free -- with custom-designed equipment that will carry the company's proprietary programs. It is unclear whether the school systems will also be paid for broadcasting BusRadio. In an hour's broadcast, 44 minutes will be devoted to music and news, six minutes to public-safety announcements, two to contests and eight to advertising. On most commercial radio stations, there is usually 10 to 12 minutes, sometimes more, of advertising.

BusRadio says pilot tests have shown that students behave better when its programs are on. Noise is reduced, and students are more likely to remain in their seats and more willing to follow school rules, according to the Web site. "Drivers used BusRadio as a behavioral tool. . . . If kids misbehaved, they lost the privilege of listening to the show," the Web site said.

BusRadio said that in test runs, its commercials were effective in attracting kids' attention. The WB network, for example, wanted to promote its television shows to kids. Print ads could reach the right audience but perhaps not on the day that the shows were to be broadcast. Commercial radio could do that, but it was considered inefficient for the youngest of viewers because kids "tend to turn the station when the ads begin."

WB tried BusRadio, running the promotions on the days the shows were scheduled to air and broadcasting more ads during the students' ride home "so they could reinforce the message to watch that night."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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