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Schools prescribing branded uniform; asking students to wear Adidas shoes and Reebok backpacks

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KOLKATA | BANGALORE: The Ghoshals are used to the daily scramble of school mornings. Only, these days they have become more branded. Their 15-year-old daughter, Tridha, slips on Adidas socks and shoes before heading out for school with a Reebok backpack — these are part of her uniform at Delhi Public School, Kolkata.

Down south in Bangalore, a management and sciences institute has prescribed Lee jeans for its 3,000 students. Brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Lee, Woodland, HCL and Samsung are now reaching out to schools and colleges not only to expand revenue channels by tapping a captive audience, but also to build brand among future consumers, even as the trend has raised eyebrows among child experts.

“By providing good-quality shoes to students at a young age, at a time it is most important, we would gain a prominent space in their mind,” according to Subhinder Singh Prem, managing director of Adidas Group India. The company offers subsidised Adidas and Reebok shoes, uniform and sports gear to more than six lakh students in the country through deals with chain schools like Modern School and DPS, International Baccalaureate schools, and some new-age schools.

Besides uniforms, some schools such as Kolkata’s South City International School plan to make tablets such as the Apple iPad their medium of study. Reliance Retail, an Apple product reseller, says 4-5 schools across Delhi and Mumbai have picked iPads in bulk for students as part of their curriculum.

Child Experts Criticise Trend

Schools say there are no monetary transactions in such deals and discounts are mostly offered directly to students. “We wanted a uniform pair of shoes for students aged six to 17 through the year. More so because we are particular about navy blue colour,” says Nalini Ponappa, principal of Bangalore-based Vidya Niketan, which recommends Adidas for its uniform. Child experts are, however, critical of this trend.

“Such dalliance with brands at an early age will increase the child’s pester power and corrupt their mind on commercial aspects,” says Dr Jairanjan Ram, consultant psychiatrist at Kolkata’s Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. “When such children grow up, they would become much more brand conscious, which may be good for consumerism but there is a risk of them becoming compulsive brand shoppers, which is a disease in itself,” he says.

But then, that is exactly what brands want and many parents are already brand conscious. “Earlier, people used to say that kids outgrow their shoes and apparel quickly, and would shy away from costly products. But now parents are not ready to compromise on quality,” says Harkirat Singh, MD of premium shoemaker Woodland Shoes, which recently launched shoes for children and now plans to enter the branded school uniform segment.

The pie is big. Technopak Advisors estimates the uniform market at more than Rs 9,000 crore: boys’ atRs 4,980 crore and girls’ at Rs 4,230 crore. Institutional sales teams of several marketers are spending more time on campuses as schools are opening up to the use of brands for either durability or benefit of educational content, in the case of tablet PCs and laptops.

“We would build educational content around the tablets, so that it can be of greater value to students,” says Anand Ekambaram, VP at HCL Learning, a part of HCL Infosystems. The company is in talks with schools to offer its ME tablets to students at subsidised prices. Samsung, another tablet PC maker, has already tied up with schools in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Essar Group-owned Mobile Store, India’s largest mobile phone retailer, too eyes schools to sell tablets and mobile phones.

It already reaches college students through temporary pop-up stores on campuses. “Today, children use gadgets such as mobile phones from the age of 10-12,” says Mobile Store CEO Himanshu Chakrawarti, adding the retailer plans to preload mobiles and tablets with learning tools. Kolkata’s South City International School Principal John A Bagul says the school plans to make iPad a medium of study while Delhi’s GD Goenka World School Principal Neeta Bali too says the school will go for tablets as children already use e-resources like smart boards and laptops.

“It will widen their horizon,” she says. Marketing experts say tapping schools will not be a game changer for brands in the short term because the market is much smaller than it appears. “While the absolute value of that segment is large, absolute penetration is low and limited to urban schools,” says Debashish Mukherjee, partner and VP at management consultancy AT Kearney. Brands such as Titan Industries’ accessories brand Fastrack do not sense any value in such partnerships.

“It’s most uncool for a school to be prescribing our brand. This goes against our DNA, as we believe in creating desire,” says Simeran Bhasin, marketing head of Fastrack. Jeans brand Lee, meanwhile, is scouting for more tie-ups after a Bangalore institute recommended the brand’s custom-made jeans for its students, says Chakor Jain, business head, Lee, at VF Arvind Brand.

Arvind Lifestyle Brands and Retail CEO J Suresh, however, says, “Such associations typically work better in a school environment as brands get taken back home to the target buyer, mostly the mother.” The firm’s relaunch of Flying Machine brand a few years ago by roping in college students to play brand ambassadors and recommend it to their classmates did not have the desired impact.

The Economic Times, 17 December 2011

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