System gives advertisers plausible deniability in controversy over MTV’s ‘Skins’

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

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