Friday, February 18, 2011

Following the Money Tide, the Ebb and Flow.

In a previous post, I mentioned that advertisers, by dint of their dollars, wield a lot of control over society's vectors.  They are a lot of the thrust behind the direction in which society moves.

I've had it rumbling around inside my brain for a while now - there's a lot of room up there - that the Parents Television Council was making a lot of pointless thunder - noisy but no lightning - by not taking stronger notice of the advertisers behind the shows they disapprove of.

I was mistaken in my assumptions.  I went to their site and looked again.  They have a section naming those advertisers meeting their criteria for socially responsible advertising, which I would surmise means not only ads whose content isn't over the top, but ads whose placement falls during shows whose content isn't over the top, either.

The PTC recently had a big to-do over how Taco Bell - those of the limited-beef taco - was a big advertiser during MTV's new show Skins.  I haven't seen a single episode of Skins and probably never will.  The characters portrayed sound pretty awful, the kind of kids I'd lock in a church for a few months.

Not all of them together.  They'd level the building.

First, I'm shocked that PTC would even bother to review an MTV show.  The former Music Television cable channel has become an entertainment venue whose central themes are youth, partying, music, gangsta rapper lifestyles and more partying.  This is the same channel that brought us Jersey Shore, after all.  There's a lot more to the Jersey Shore than being orange, Italian and loud, but as far as MTV goes none of that matters.

You could, for instance, be Bruce Springsteen.  If you're looking for him you may have to go over to VH1, where they do still occasionally play music videos.  Hit it, Bruce.

(We now pause for a little throaty classic rock.  Talk amongst yourselves or even better, sing along)

 I like to think the PTC would find Bruce Springsteen to be completely acceptable, and feel vaguely uneasy about that.

So the PTC has pointed up advertisers they think are not contributing to the further degradation of America's youth - good.  What about advertisers that are actively seeking to steer it?

No word on that.  I'm pretty sure that what's going on with those advertisers is, they're trying to not get splashed with the backlash against certain shows.  That would cut into their advertising dollars' impact.  But some shows, like Skins, have been pitched to advertisers looking for a specific demographic.  Advertisers were told that Skins would "deliver kids."  Advertisers looking for eyeballs from a certain age group perk right up when they hear words like that.  According to the PTC, Taco Bell perked up enough to crack its wallet open pretty far.

Then the child pornography accusations started flying, and Taco Bell's wallet closed right back again.  So did Subway, Wrigley and GM.  In fact the only advertiser I can still find associated with Skins is Clearasil.   So while all these angsty young kids are getting their mack on, their -uh- Skins will look great.

Jersey Shore suffered an exodus too.  And after forty days of wandering, the money came back to the Shore when it turned out the show was a hit.  Taco Bell and the others are gone for now, but how long before all that exposure - media, not the actors' - throws up one too many dollar signs and those conscientious objectors come back, with their wallets cracked open?  The tide will turn.  The money will come back.  The financial heads will see that there are sales to be made, that young Americans have more spending money now than at any point in history and want to spend spend spend it somewhere.  How will those kids know where to spend it if we don't put an ad out there?

When Skins was pitched it drew plenty of interested advertisers.  Those already mentioned signed up, and others.  But then the first show aired, PTC weighed in, and I bet the advertisers themselves caught an episode and recoiled in horror.  "What will our customers think of us?"  If you're lucky, they'll think you're selling sandwiches.  But that's not the way the corporate mind works, it's all about the image and guessing the attention span of the buying market.  The tide rolled out.  MTV and Skins was resting on the beach in a pool of Clearasil.

But MTV hasn't abandoned ship.  Other advertisers are out there of course, wanting that screen time, wanting those eyeballs.  MTV will drop the price if necessary to shake a few larger names of the fence.  Skins will stay on the air for at least a few more shows.  By its controversial nature it will continue to attract thousands of viewers, young and hip and with pockets full of money.  Will the tide turn back?  Can a boat made of Skins float?

Time will tell.  Somebody tell me what's up, though - I don't get cable.

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