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System gives advertisers plausible deniability in controversy over MTV's 'Skins'


MTV's racy teen drama "Skins" has lost some advertisers in the last few days including Taco Bell and General Motors in the wake of negative publicity the program has gotten over its sex- and drug-filled plots.

In a few cases, the advertisers say they never intended to have their spots run in "Skins," which made its debut last Monday in the 10 p.m. slot and immediately drew the wrath of the Parents TV Council, which is pressuring advertisers to boycott the program. 

One might wonder how ads got in a show advertisers now say they didn't want to be featured on in the first place. Well, that's one of the dirty secrets of the TV business. Many advertisers don't actually know where their commercials appear.

With the exception of really big events such as the Super Bowl or the Oscars, advertising is not sold on a show-by-show basis. Instead, an ad agency or media buyer has a number of impressions it wants to make, and the networks put commercials in the shows most likely to deliver the best results. If a network does not deliver, then additional ads, known as make-goods, are provided.

This system gives advertisers plausible deniability when it comes to their commercials running in shows with risque content. It is kind of like the Claude Rains character in "Casablanca" who closes Rick's for allowing gambling while being handed his winnings.

Some advertisers do have lists of shows or types of programming they want to steer clear of, but most would just as soon not know. But as programming becomes more controversial in search of ratings, advertisers may need to take a more hands-on approach to their media spending because the "we didn't know" excuse is getting a little weak.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: MTV's "Skins." Credit: MTV.






Comments () | Archives (5)

Joe, that's not a dirty secret of television....its a dirty secret of CABLE television. Broadcast network schedules are well known in advance and advertisers employ the use of a screening service to watch episodes before air in order to point to potential problems. Just another benefit to broadcast television.

I don't know Tony,

I'm guessing if all those advertisers actually watched an episode of "Two and a Half Men," they might be a little surprised at what their commercials are supporting.

Joe, I can promise you that their ad agency knows exactly what broadcast network programs they and own and when those shows are scheduled to run, whether purchased or given as audience deficiency makegoods. Right down to the commercial pod and position within that pod. A network can't just place any commercial of their choosing into the program but instead must rely on instructions identifying exactly what commercial should run there from the agency. All shows are screened by a company that is paid by each of the media buying services. The screening service seeks and recieves a list of sponsors in each episode before airing from each network and reports directly to each sponsor's buying service about the content in each program and episode in writing. I have seen it myself. The information is available for any media department and actually delivered to the buyers in a timely fashion.
In your example with Two and a Half Men, I would be very surprised if any marketer's media professional and/or brand manager (not buying service media personnel) was unaware that they had purchased a schedule of spots in the show since it would need to have been approved as part of the upfront buying process. Whether that marketer knows anything about that particular show or not is up to debate but it is their own fault if they are ignorant. The system is clearly in place to prevent these issues.....on the broadcast side.

Hmmm. I may have to test this theory. How about most advertisers may have said information but many don't really pay ton of attention to it? I'm sure that there are some shows on network TV that the sponsors would be surprised about the content.


Certainly possible that they don't pay attention...considering the thin staffing that most buying services now have due to marketer cost squeezing....they just can't do it? These content issues only really take hold when someone, like the PTC, rattles the "proper" cage....meaning the CEO or CMO.... through a direct link or the mainstream media's coverage. Taco Bell has historically been very vigilant in their content selection, going all the way back to the famous Dana Carvey live show sponsorship when they pulled out after one episode.


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