If you have younger kids at home, chances are you know who Ryan Kaji. Or, at the very least, you've heard of his uber-successful YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview. Kaji, who is one of the biggest kid influencers in the world, has amassed more than 21 million followers on his YouTube channel that has translated into huge financial success for the 7-year-old. He has his own show on Nickelodeon, a variety of merchandise deals and huge corporate sponsorships, but now a complaint has been filed against his hugely popular YouTube channel that could lead to big changes.
Truth in Advertising, a group that advocates against deceptive advertising practices, has officially filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission with regards to Ryan ToysReview, The Verge reports. The letter states that the channel, run by Ryan's parents Shion and Kieu-Loan Guan, "deceptively promotes a multitude of products to millions of preschool-aged children in violation of FTC law."
Truth in Advertising writes that it's often difficult to differentiate between sponsored posts on Ryan's channel and those that aren't sponsored. "Unfortunately, it is often difficult to discern the innocent (or sometimes not so innocent) antics in Ryan ToysReview videos from the sponsored content. And for preschoolers, it is impossible to discern the difference."
“An adult might be able to tell when a kid influencer, like Ryan, is playing with one of his own products,” Bonnie Patten, executive director at Truth in Advertising, told The Verge. “The intended audience, which are preschoolers, has no idea that they’re being pitched a commercial. The goal is for them to say, ‘Mom, I want what Ryan has.’”
The complaint details a number of videos that aren't labeled as sponsored by major companies but bear a striking resemblance to those that are sponsored. "Even when Ryan ToysReview does use disclosures, they are inadequate," the complaint states. "By way of example, in a March 2019 ad for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a woman’s voice quickly states “this is an ad for Nickelodeon” at the beginning of the lengthy video while the same statement is flashed on the top of the screen."
YouTube is already changing their guidelines when it comes to how people are allowed to market to children as they will no longer be collecting data on viewership on videos targeted to children.
"Influencer marketing is a relatively new form of marketing,” Patten told The Verge. “The research and the law has to catch up with it now. There is now a body of research that is able to guide the FTC in how they should address this, especially this kind of native advertising when it comes to kids. I think that we are absolutely going to see new guidelines from the FTC.”