Marketing - Without the Advertising?
- Written by Tracy Scott
- Category: Articles
Eight-year-old Billy loves watching videos of C.T. Bubble, his favorite online kidfluencer. At least once a day, C.T. cranks out new videos loaded with content that keeps Billy coming back for more. His parents think it's harmless — at least they did until Billy started throwing tantrums when he didn't get what he wanted at mealtime.
While kidfluencer videos might present themselves as educational or instructional, many push specific products to young viewers.
They thought Billy was going through a phase when he began refusing healthy foods claiming, "That's not what C.T. eats. I want a Buckyzoo Burger and a SippyFizz Soda!" But after months of Billy's emotional outbursts and demands for "C.T. approved" foods and drinks, his parents decided to binge several of C.T.'s latest videos.
(On the home set of The Life of C.T. Bubble)
Director/C.T.'s Dad: Here ya go, C.T. (hands him a to-go food bag with "Buckyzoo Burger" logo featured on the side)
C.T.: Again? I'm tired of Buckyzoo Burgers. Every day – it's the same thing. Buckyzoo Burgers and SippyFizz Sodas.
(Mother rushes to his side)
C.T.'s Mother: Oh, sweetheart. You just have to eat them for a few more episodes then we can switch to Crazy Ace Cotton Candy. Doesn't that sound like fun?
C.T.: I guess.
C.T.'s Mother: That's a good girl.
Director/C.T.'s Dad: (booming voice) Ready on the set!
Billy's parents watched hours of C.T. Bubble's videos. They discovered that nearly all were pushing unhealthy foods and beverages, despite the show claiming to feature family-oriented skits, pranks, and educational videos. For example, many scenes began with C.T. and her family dining at Buckyzoo Burgers Restaurant or eating Buckyzoo Burgers and drinking SippyFizz Soda at home.
Now they understood why their son demanded unhealthy foods — his favorite influencer featured them heavily in every episode. Billy's parents also learned that along with obvious product placement, C.T. was telling her followers to ask their parents for Buckyzoo Burgers — "the best burgers in the whole wide world!"
After watching C.T. tour CheezySauce Pizza Parlor, taste test giant Lolo Lollipops, and say, "I'm excited to share that the new Rainbow Lily Lizard line is available exclusively at an ABC Fun store near you," all in a single episode, they decided enough was enough.
Billy's parents decided he was going to spend less time watching videos and more time playing outside. They also planned to pre-screen videos by kidfluencers to determine if they contained these or other forms of stealth advertising before letting Billy consume hours of content.
The Fight Against Stealth Advertising
While kidfluencer videos might present themselves as educational or instructional, many push specific products to young viewers and violate Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act. In July 2022, Fairplay responded to the FTC's request for public comment on the matter by describing stealth advertising as both deceptive and unfair, noting that children are often developmentally vulnerable and unable to discern between "authentic" communications from a trusted friend and advertisements.
The marketing industry is incessantly developing new and ever more sophisticated techniques to influence young minds. School-age children are captive targets of these techniques. FoolProof also expressed its concerns to the FTC and noted in its comments that "...even the best-informed parents and most thoroughly trained teachers can't keep up with the explosion of these unscrupulous advertising methods." FoolProof is adamant that this deception must be stopped at the source. "...even if organizations such as FoolProof are capable of developing defenses to the manipulative tools, there's no universal structure in the United States to protect young children" they continued.
This is why Fairplay, FoolProof, and many others will continue to file complaints with the FTC to put an end to these marketing efforts.
We are encouraged by the FTC's willingness to host the virtual event "Protecting Kids from Stealth Advertising in Digital Media" scheduled for October 19, 2022.