Subway, Schick Latest to Flee MTV's Racy Teen Soap 'Skins'

Critics Will be Watching Second Episode Tonight for Further Salacious Scenes, Marketers to Pressure

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Subway and Schick have joined the list of advertisers asking MTV to make sure their commercials don't appear during the controversial teen drama "Skins."

Many of the actors in 'Skins' are played by actual teens under the age of 18.
Many of the actors in 'Skins' are played by actual teens under the age of 18. Credit: MTV
Critics will be watching the show's second episode tonight to see which advertisers have pulled out and which will come in for further pressure.

"Skins," an American adaptation of the popular British series, came under fire last week with watchdog group the Parents Television Council for portraying illegal drug use, explicit language and pervasive sexual activity among teenagers. Many of the actors, in a departure for shows about teens, are played by actual teens under the age of 18.

After the show's 10 p.m. premiere reached a successful 3.26 million viewers last Monday, including a record high volume for a new show among MTV's core audience of 12- to 34-year-olds, the Parents Television Council began targeting the show's corporate sponsors, beginning with Taco Bell, to remove their ads.

After Taco Bell said it would no longer buy ads during "Skins," citing a lack of "fit for our brand," a number of other advertisers contacted by the Parents Television Council have since taken similar action, including General Motors, H&R Block, Wrigley and now Subway and Schick.

But in many cases, the sponsors expressed surprise that their ads had even aired during the show in the first place; advertisers typically buy commercial time on cable during certain chunks of the day or night but often don't know which shows they'll actually appear in.

The Parents Television Council is still pressuring marketers such as Foot Locker and L'Oreal to reconsider their plans going forward.

"We have an ongoing dialogue with our advertising partners about the best fit for them across our diverse lineup of shows," an MTV spokesman told Ad Age. "We know that not every show works for every advertiser. That said, we are confident that 'Skins' will continue to connect with the audience it was created for and that advertisers will take advantage of the opportunity to reach them."

A Subway spokesman declined comment regarding future plans to advertise during "Skins" after one of the company's ads aired during last week's premiere, but two executives familiar with Subway's strategy confirmed that the marketer would no longer air spots in subsequent episodes.

A GM spokeswoman told Ad Age that since two ads for Chevrolet aired in error during the "Skins" premiere, the show has been added to its "Do Not Buy" list, which also includes MTV's "Jersey Shore."

"We do not feel the content of the show fits with the brand messages of our company," the GM spokeswoman said. "But we do advertise on other MTV shows."

Wrigley, whose brands Orbit and Extra gum aired spots during "Skins," has also discontinued its sponsorship. "Wrigley has decided to suspend any advertising during MTV's 'Skins' as it is never our intent to endorse content that could offend our consumers," a spokeswoman said. "Any ads that previously aired during the show were part of a broader advertising plan with the network and not our desire to specifically associate with the program."

"Skins" is "the most problematic show we've ever come across in terms of what might air on basic cable," said Dan Isett, director-public policy for the Parents Television Council. A big part of the show's problem, he said, is the conflicting audience targets. While MTV contends that the show is targeted toward adults, creator Bryan Elsley has been saying that the show is intended to be a realistic teen drama that deals with controversial issues responsibly.

"It's a show replete with all sorts of problematic and offensive content like illegal drug use, illegal activity, foul language and essentially nonstop sexual content," Mr. Isett said. "Compounding that is the fact that the actual actors portraying these characters on the show are in fact children, and it's also equally clear that the show has been marketed to children."

Even MTV's parent company, Viacom, is exercising caution at a corporate level when it comes to "Skins." Executives from the company reportedly met last Tuesday to express concern to the show's producers over potential violation of child pornography laws, including tonight's episode in which a 17-year-old actor is portrayed as having a pill-enhanced erection, according to The New York Times.

MTV says it reviews all of its shows to ensure they comply with laws and community standards.

But as "Skins" continues to garner more attention from the media and viewers for its racy content, ratings will likely continue to stay strong. Expect the rest of the series' commercials to come primarily from movie studios and TV networks, which the Parents Television Council doesn't object to quite as much as it does corporate sponsors.

"It's a different dynamic when you're talking about movie previews," Mr. Isett said. "It's simply media companies propping each other up -- one form of commercial media buying time on another form of commercial media."

"It's not quite the same thing as associating a corporate brand with the type of content one sees on a show like 'Skins,'" he added. "Which is not to say we're not concerned."

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