The "Skins" Boycott: How a Conservative Watchdog Group Alienated Advertisers

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Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 24 2011 5:34 PM

The "Skins" Boycott: How a Conservative Watchdog Group Alienated Advertisers

The number of sponsors who have pulled advertising from theraunchy, controversial MTV show Skins now equals five. Afterpressure from conservative watchdogs TheParents Television Council, Wrigley’s, Subway, H&R Block, G.M., andTaco Bell have all have all cried "yikes!" Ironically, just this past October, the New York Times published a convincingarticle about the waninginfluence of the PTC . Last fall, for instance, the PTC tried to force CBSinto changing the title of $#*! My DadSays into something church-lady friendly, to no avail. So why were they so successful in gettingadvertisers to boycott Skins?

For two reasons. One, the advertisers probably did not knowthat their ads were going to air during the sex-and-drugs fueled adolescentdrama. The L.A. Times ’ Joe Flint notes that ads aren’tsold on a show-by-show basis. "Instead, an ad agency or media buyer has anumber of impressions it wants to make, and the networks put commercials in theshows most likely to deliver the best results," Flint explains. It’s not likeTaco Bell specifically asked to be associated with an hour of under-18s smokingweed and visiting prostitutes.

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The second reason for PTC’s success is that MTVhasn’t defended the show . According to John Rash, a columnist and editorialwriter at the Star Tribune and aprofessor of mass media and politics at the University of Minnesota, whatusually happens when groups like the PTC protest controversial shows is thatthe network will push back and deny that there’s a problem. That hasn’thappened here. Instead, MTV has held frantic meetings about cutting the sexiestscenes from Skins forfear that they might violate child pornography statutes . Rash calls thismove a "more powerful indictment" than any statement the PTC could make.

I’m with Slate ’s TV critic Troy Patterson on this one: I don’t think the show will be responsible for corrupting any ofAmerica’s precious youth. But I can also understand why H&R Block might notwant to have potential customers associate their brand with a teenage girloverdosing on a trampoline.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.