Commentary

FTC Urged To Crack Down On 'Influencer Marketing' Aimed At Kids

A coalition of advocacy groups recently asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate companies that pay celebrities and other "influencers" to endorse products, without disclosing that the endorsements are actually ads.

Now, the organizations are pressing the FTC to go further and outright ban influencer ban marketing aimed at children.

"Owing to their immature cognitive development, children -- especially younger children -- have difficulty differentiating between content and advertising," the the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Public Citizen say in a new complaint filed with the FTC. "Influencer marketing and other digital marketing practices that blur advertising and content make it even more difficult for children to comprehend ads."

The organizations say that "influencers" (and advertisers) currently aren't complying with the FTC's disclosure guidelines. For example, videos on the popular EvanTube channels -- which show 10-year-old Evan "unboxing" and reviewing toys -- didn't include adequate disclosures, according to a recent decision of the Better Business Bureau-administered Children's Advertising Review Unit.

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But the ads would still be problematic even if they came with disclosures, according to the organizations.

That's because according to the Center for Digital Democracy and other groups, influencer marketing aimed at children is inherently deceptive. "Influencer marketing is designed to exploit trust in recognizable social media personalities that are often in the same age range of the children they target, by first building a relationship between the audience and the influencer, then using that relationship to influence audience preferences," the complaint asserts.

The advocates also want the FTC to investigate some companies that distribute videos made by "influencers," including Google's YouTube, where ads like the ones made by "Evan" can be seen.

The FTC has repeatedly said that advertisers must disclose relationships between themselves and endorsers that could affect the way consumers view the endorsement. The agency recently brought cases against Warner Bros. and Lord & Taylor for allegedly failing to do so.

But the agency hasn't categorically banned companies from using celebrity endorsements or forms of influencer marketing in ads aimed at children.

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