Consumer groups say FTC shouldn't allow 'influencer' marketing to kids

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The groups say the practice is 'unfair and deceptive,' as kids can't distinguish content from ads

Influencer marketing has helped many brands reach new audiences and sell more of their product -- but should kids be targeted by influencer marketing?  Three advocacy groups don’t think so.

On Friday, the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Public Citizen filed a complaint with the FTC against Google, Disney’s Maker Studios, and several other companies over the “unfair and deceptive practice” of aiming influencer marketing at children.

The groups contend that kids don’t have the same ability as adults to distinguish influencer ads from content. By using YouTube, for example, as a platform on which to show kids unboxing toys or promoting other products, the groups argue that companies are taking “unfair advantage of kids.”

More than disclosure needed

In the complaint, Laura Moy of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, which is representing the groups, pointed out that influencer ads may be over kids’ heads in some ways.

“Child-directed influencer marketing is misleading to children because their immature brains do not process or understand advertisements the way adults do -- especially advertisements disguised as content,” she said.

But simply asking companies to do a better job of differentiating ads from content isn’t enough; the groups say influencer marketing should be avoided entirely. Even full disclosure, they say, “would not negate the inherent deceptiveness of child-directed influencer marketing.”

Sample videos

Kids are often captivated by YouTube videos featuring other children sampling junk food, playing games, or unboxing toys. The complaint provides specific examples of YouTube channels that show influencers engaged in this type of "stealth marketing."

In one YouTube video, which has racked up a staggering number of views, influencer EvanTubeHD is shown unboxing a Lego Police Patrol Boat. This video, like others similar to it, isn't portrayed as being commercial or sponsored in any way.

The advocacy groups say the FTC should investigate the practice of aiming influencer ads at children and take preventative action against it in the future.

This isn't the first time CDD and CCFC have filed complaints with the FTC over advertising to kids on YouTube. Last year, as we reported, the two consumer groups urged the FTC to stop Google from engaging in the "deceptive practice" of marketing to kids on its YouTube Kids App.

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