From the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers to Centennials, Millennials and Gen X, Y and Z, growing up has changed most drastically in how we communicate. From a rotary phone in your home to a blade-thin digital device in your hand, kids see more, learn faster and share across greater distances than a generation, or even five years ago. But that speed and technology pairs with some questionable practices parents need to understand and discuss with their children. With 95% of teens ages 13 to 17 having access to smart technology, and half of them admitting to almost-constant online use, the playing field is wide open and uneven when it comes to marketing to easily influenced teens.
The basics of Influencers: How it works
Influencers are young (some are still in the womb when their Influencer career begins), old, toddler or ‘tween; a person of any age or background imaginable is a possible Influencer; the key is their social media following and potential marketability. Advertisers look for individuals with strong social media savvy and followings in the thousands. Parents of children with special talents, extraordinary looks or outgoing personalities post videos on YouTube or Instagram, build a following for their child and approach marketers with the idea of selling products featuring their child as the focus of the ads. The concept is profit for both the child’s family and the company, and also to boost the social media following for both. The Influencers’ content is supposedly aimed at adult buyers, but judging from the number of children targeted as Influencers (known as Kidfluencers), it’s clear that advertisers aim at parental pocketbooks through the minds and social media accounts of their kids by employing other relatable kids to sell products. The sell is presented under the guise of mischievous hijinks, cute skits or wholesome family scenes, but the point of the presentation is never out of the picture. The Influencers’ job is to get that product in front of your face, shared in your social media feed and then delivered to your doorstep.
What Influencers do
The Influencers’ life blends seamlessly with the product or service they sell, and they present that product and the company selling it as if your life is incomplete without it. The Influencers’ role is part sales, part cheerleader and part recruiter. While most families and corporations do not reveal compensation agreements, highly effective Influencers can earn millions, such as the case for Ryan, the star of Ryan ToysReview; his annual earnings are estimated at $22 million, from combined sponsored posts and advertising on his videos. Influencers’ posts are fun and entertaining because these individuals (and in the case of child Influencers, their parents/guardians) are masters at mixing real life with product placement. Unlike mainstream children’s television, which limits and separates product placement, the Internet offers no division between advertising and program content.
Who are the biggest Influencers?
What parents need to understand
The Internet’s major Influencers are ordinary people who invite their audience in as best friends or family to share intimate details of their lives, while selling products, either as paid ads or in promotional usage. PewDiePie, (aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) refers to his loyal followers as his Bro Army, posting and commenting about online games while promoting some content that recently received backlash from one of his Disney-backed major sponsors, Maker Studios.
Gamers are a tremendous Influencer force, including DanTDM, VanossGaming, JuegaGerman, Vegetta 777 and Fernanfloo.
Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Influencers, including Whindersson Nunes, Elrubius and HolaSoyGerman, reach millions with money to spend and time to view their vlogs.
Fashion, hair and makeup Influencers include Yuya, the most popular woman on YouTube. Yuya’s a Mexican blogger with 18 million followers and a monthly online income of over $40,000.
Talking about everyday life creates an Influencer, too: JennaMarbles’ frank and sometimes cringe-worthy documenting of her days makes her the second-most popular woman on YouTube with two billion views total.
Humorous Influencers, seeking greater creative freedom online that possible on television or nightclubs, include Porta dos Fundos, Smosh, RomanAtwood and FailArmy, poking fun at others’ expense through comedy sketches and videos of pranks, accidents, incidents and life gone wrong.
Young children cannot always distinguish real life versus advertising
There’s no ability to decide what’s real on the screen when it comes to paid versus commercial content for young children. They see images they identify and understand, not realizing the products are backed by a corporation and sold by a “friend” inviting you in to join them on an adventure, whether it’s opening a box and finding new toys or opening a box of the latest sugar-coated breakfast cereal.
Despite their promises, some apps contain advertiser-sponsored content
YouTube Kids App, designed for users under age 12, is supposed to prohibit sponsored content, but The New York Times discovered the app’s filters allowed advertorial content from major corporations to slip through, as well as videos using the Kids App algorithms, but containing disturbing and violent images set to well-known children’s songs.
The children in these videos may not get paid
The Coogan Law, named for child actor Jackie Coogan and passed in California in 1939, financially protects television and movie actors under 18, ensuring a portion of their earning is set aside for them and not spent by their parents. Internet child actors and Kidfluencers have no such protection. Advertisers and marketing firms provide no legal assistance, assuming the parents or guardians will deal with the earnings. Because Influencer culture is relatively new, the financial fallout from it has yet to be fully determined.
Some Influencers give the audience what they want, not what a parent wants
As PewDiePie found out, the position of Influencer does not offer protection from the wrath of sponsors. And the freedom of the Internet means Influencers have the opportunity to create offshoot channels, inviting paying subscribers to join and see more interesting and exciting content. And this content may also be more mature than children can handle, while tempting kids to spend time and money following someone who is now more than a mere Influencer; this individual is now an enabler, leading a vulnerable, trusting and curious child to a place they’re unprepared to go and possibly unable to leave.
These videos can be fun for kids and teens. However, it is important for parents to discuss influencers with their kids so that the products they are viewing may not be all they “seem” to be. Also, start with a trustworthy parental control so that you as parents can help your kids stay safe online and to block adult content, games and apps and create appropriate time usage access. Making your kids’ devices not just safer, but so that they’re scheduled to work when you decide it’s time for them watch videos, socialize, and off when it’s time for homework or dinner.