Christmas is coming one more year and with it the advertising of toys. Beyond the traditional advertisements, the new children’s advertising enters homes through funny and everyday videos starring real flesh and blood children. This article analyzes the role that kid influencers -kids influencers– on YouTube, why they are so attractive and offers evidence of their influence.
The objective is to call for greater regulation of this type of advertising and, above all, to promote digital advertising education in the family and at school, the best and most useful tool that we have at our disposal.
The kings of children’s media consumption
YouTube has become the king of children’s consumption, above traditional television and even the platforms of streaming. During the 2020 lockdown, 78% of children regularly watched YouTube videos. It is now the favorite platform for children between 5-14 years old, who spend an average of 85 minutes a day on it.
Within this means of communication, the presence of the so-called kid influencers. They are boys and girls who record daily activities (playing, eating …) in short and fun videos. Many times, helped by their parents and with branded content included. These influencers they have millions of views and are even dubbed in multiple languages.
Some of the kids most popular on Youtube are Ryan’s world, with 30 million subscribers (and that has made the leap to television: in Spain we can see it on Clan TV) or Sis and Bro, with more than 16 million. In Spanish, they are very well known The Rats (24 million subscribers) or Dani and Evan (3.16 million), who have even put out books about their adventures.
This platform bases its recommendations on algorithms and insists on content that it knows each child likes. Thus, it allows our children to spend hours “glued” to a screen watching other children open surprise envelopes or play with their toys in a loop. Hours and hours of the same impacts. But, do children know how to identify that many of these videos are advertising? Do they influence their purchasing decisions? Should we set limits on them?
Proven influence: “I want that”
The influence of advertising on children is one of the most discussed topics from the scientific community. Research tells us that children as young as five begin to distinguish traditional advertising from other types of content. But until 9-11 they do not properly understand the persuasive intent of these messages. Additionally, school-age children can differentiate advertising, but show no resistance when the persuasive message comes from their trusted networks or celebrities. That is, they are more influenced by content that comes from a influence that of a spot traditional.
The influence of kid influencers It is produced in a persuasive process of different layers:
Children are fascinated by a fun and immersive aesthetic that makes them have a positive attitude towards the character and what is announced.
An illusion of intimacy is created that generates a special relationship with these characters in time (something called parasocial interaction).
There is an aspirational identification with them, as we also know what happens with serial fiction characters. Hence, many parents will have heard their children say “I want that” when they watch these types of videos. They want to have what they have and ultimately be like them.
Signage is not enough
Although some of these videos are identified as advertising when there is a brand (not all are), their commercial influence is still predominant in children who do not have the critical maturity necessary to fully understand an advertising message. Many of them do not even know how to read correctly, so it would be necessary to harmonize a signage that includes oral notices, among other issues. More regulation of this type of advertising content is necessary by the platforms: reduce the presence of brands, the recommendations made by the algorithm and assess what type of products it is appropriate to advertise. Special mention would be made, for example, of the ultra-processed food that is so present in these contents and that can promote an unhealthy lifestyle among children, even if there is no specific brand behind it.
Promoting exacerbated consumerism
We cannot put fences to the immense field that is YouTube. Nor should they be alarmed because much of the content of toys they see is harmless, although it can repeatedly promote exacerbated consumerism, especially at this time of year, or not coincide with the values that parents want to instill.
It is recommended to expand the content that children can see on YouTube and reduce or negotiate the change of videos if they have been watching a specific type of content for a long time such as kid influencers. Above all, it is good to sit down with them to reflect when a brand appears in that content and to reflect with them on their consumption decisions.
On the other hand, it is highly recommended to analyze this type of content in schools from the early stages of Early Childhood Education, since slow reflection with other classmates will reinforce a critical attitude and an authentic media literacy that will grow over the years.
As science shows us, children can learn to understand advertising, also in complex online settings. And it is the most effective we have at the moment.
María del Mar Grandío Pérez, Associate Professor of the University, University of Murcia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.