Advertisers Don't Want to Live in a 'Kid Nation'

Half of CBS's Top Ad spenders Take Pass at Controversial Fall Reality Series

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NEW YORK ( -- So far, it looks as if "Kid Nation" will be an advertiser ghost town.

Half of CBS's top 10 advertisers surveyed by Advertising Age said they are not in the controversial show that depicts kids ages 8 to 15 forming their own society in a western frontier village, although each cited reasons other than the hubbub as the reason.
CBS' controversial reality show -- 'Survivor' meets 'Frontier House' for the tween set -- has made some advertisers skittish.
CBS' controversial reality show -- 'Survivor' meets 'Frontier House' for the tween set -- has made some advertisers skittish.

Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Pepsi-Cola Co. and Anheuser-Busch all have taken a pass on the program that begins Sept. 19. Out of the remaining top 10, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson declined to comment; AT&T and GlaxoSmithKline did not return calls for comment. The last of CBS's big 10 advertisers -- National Amusements -- owns the network.

GM and P&G were the network's top two advertisers in the first five months of 2007. A P&G spokeswoman said "Kid Nation" is "just not in our brand strategy at this point," while a spokeswoman for GM said the automaker is not advertising in the program's first episode and will take a "wait-and-see" position for future episodes.

The furor surrounding the show was sparked by its provocative premise: a "Survivor" meets "Frontier House" for the tween set. Forty kids must build a society without adult supervision, and each episode ends with a town meeting where one child is awarded a gold star worth $20,000.

Breaking 'stable' mold
Network executives at its upfront presentation boasted that "Kid Nation" was one of the shows that would break CBS out of its reputation as the "stable" broadcast network. "The shows we picked up this year are just daring ... and different," CBS President-Entertainment Nina Tassler said at the time the fall lineup was revealed. Ms. Tassler said then that "Kid Nation" originally was ordered for the summer, but she felt strongly enough about the program to give it a slot on the fall schedule, describing it as "aspirational; it's an extraordinary group of kids, 8-to-15-year-olds creating their own society."

Despite the glimpses of curly-headed moppets hugging each other, hauling water and bursting into tears seen at CBS's upfront presentation in May, media buyers have been wary. They wonder if cutesy kids trying to eke out an existence on the open prairie are bound to warm the heart, or, much worse, end up more like something akin to "Lord of the Flies."

The problem has been exacerbated in recent weeks by a complaint from the parent of one of the participating children charging abuse and neglect on set. The New Mexico attorney general's office is reviewing information about the production to see if anything warrants further investigation, according to a spokesman.

Still, "Kid Nation" has attracted some sponsors, according to media buyers who declined to name them due to the sensitive nature of the program. One buyer who has a client in the show is not expecting any backlash.

Well-received, but tenuous
A CBS spokesperson said the network expects certain advertisers to step lightly. "A cautious approach from some advertisers to a show generating this much attention is very common. We began screening an early cut of 'Kid Nation' to clients and agencies this week, and the program has been well received. ... We believe that the issues raised about Kid Nation will be resolved when the viewing public sees the first episode on Sept. 19."
CBS advertisers
Source: TNS Media Intelligence

CBS declined to provide the names of any marketers who bought time in "Kid Nation."

A spokeswoman for the Ford division of Ford Motor Co. said no ads for Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicles will appear in "Kid Nation." A spokesman for Verizon Communications said neither Verizon nor Verizon Wireless will have ads in the show. Ford Motor and Verizon Communications were CBS's sixth- and seventh-largest advertisers in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The same is true for PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch, according to a Pepsi-Cola North America spokeswoman and an Anheuser spokesman. Those two marketers have reasons other than program content to consider; brewers would not run ads for their products in programs that could attract significant numbers of kids, and Pepsi similarly would be wary of hyping sugary sodas to that crowd. A-B was CBS's seventh-biggest advertiser for the first five months of 2007; Pepsi was its ninth-largest in that time period.

Much faith
Ironically, media buyers expect the first episode of "Kid Nation" to generate a respectable rating, since the debate about the program has reached a fever pitch. As such, "Kid Nation" illustrates a thorny problem for broadcast networks that have become fascinated with reality shows. The programs are relatively cheap to produce, but often require tabloid-y elements to generate the kinds of mass audiences advertisers depend on big TV networks to deliver. CBS had enough faith in the show to use it as a Tuesday night lead in to two of its stronger programs: "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: New York."

Many viewers will simply tune in for a peek. "It's going to get a ton of sampling because of the controversy," said David Scardino, entertainment specialist at Santa Monica, Calif., agency RPA. Whether they stay for more than a few episodes is what needs to be seen.

Movie studios, brewers and fast-food companies seem to play well in edgier fare, said Mr. Scardino, and could be attracted by the buzz surrounding "Kid Nation." That said, Yum Brands' Taco Bell is not running ads during the show. "It doesn't reach our core demographic so we have no plans for a national buy," said Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for the chain.

Crowded night
Advertisers have plenty of other network-TV roosts to support on Wednesday evenings come the fall. Over at Walt Disney's ABC, "Pushing Daisies," one of the most buzzed-about programs on the autumn slate, airs opposite "Kid Nation." Fox is launching its Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton sitcom, "Back to You," at 8 p.m., the same time the CW runs "America's Next Top Model," which has become an ad bastion for P&G.

If it's really good, "Kid Nation" may have a chance. Advertisers have balked at eyebrow-raising programs before, only to join them when they gain traction among audiences. Local ABC affiliates saw advertisers defect when "NYPD Blue" launched in 1993, but the show became a critical and popular success after several weeks on the air.
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