Last Fall, when Hasbro agency Griffin Bacal, N.Y., planned to include a Web site address in a TV spot for Tonka Search & Rescue, they ran into a slight problem.
ABC, CBS and Fox simply forbade it.
Fearing that they would guide unsuspecting children into the hands of the unknown, the networks balked at running URLs, or Web addresses, even as clients and agencies were making the Web an integral part of marketing strategies.
Since then, television networks have relaxed dramatically their stance on the inclusion of Web sites in TV spots. But the practice of policing advertisers’ use of the Web to market to children continues on many levels, suggesting that perceptions of the Internet as a vast, unpredictable-even dangerous-medium still linger.
In December, Fox Kids Net repealed a policy that categorically barred advertisers from inserting URLs in the body of any commercial slotted during children’s programming blocks. The policy was adopted to protect children’s privacy, said Ruth Levenson, director of commercial clearance and public service at Fox. Once the network was satisfied that advertisers, with the help of watchdog groups such as the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, were doing a satisfactory job of making their sites more secure for kids, Fox softened its position. “Now we’re just going with the times,” said Levenson.
Time Warner has no stated policy on the placement of URLs in TV spots broadcast on Kids WB, but the www’s are accepted “on a trial basis,” said Rick Mater, vp of broadcasting standards at the WB Network, Burbank, Calif.
“We’ve allowed it in the past, but we’re keeping our eye on it,” Mater said. URLs that link to unsavory content or improperly worded marketing messages-such as sweepstakes-are some of the issues that WB would flag.
ABC, NBC and CBS have made URLs one of the content checkpoints that is reviewed before a spot can be aired. Several agencies cited CBS and Fox as the networks with the most stringent policies as of last fall.
Despite the Web’s increasing acceptance as a mainstream medium, the extra layer of scrutiny is nothing new for ad execs with youth-directed clients. “When we get into pure kid time, if we have a major buy on a station we comply,” said Stephen Kolker, president of Posnick and Kolker, the New York agency for Tiger Electronics, makers of Giga Pets.
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