media update’s Taylor Goodman investigates the ethics behind kidfluencers and guidelines for marketing to children in an ethical way. 

First things first, kidfluencer marketing is when children under the age of 16 become brand influencers. As these kids are under the legal age to work, most are managed by their parents or guardians.

There is a lot of debate surrounding the ethics of relying on kids as a marketing tool and how to market to these youngsters in a fair way. 

With that being said let’s take a deeper dive into the ethics surrounding kidfluencer marketing:

Is it ethical to be a kidfluencer in the first place?

Picture this: Your four-year-old daughter is watching a YouTube video where a child is unboxing the latest Barbie doll. After seeing this, she nags you for days to get the doll and you finally crumble. This is kidfluencing in action.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding kidfluencers and whether it is parents encouraging their kids to dip their toes into entrepreneurship or whether it is exploitative. 

Often, the lines of the child’s interest in kidfluencing and the parent’s desire to push them into the public eye is the reason for controversy surrounding this industry. This is coupled with the risks associated with a lack of labour laws to prevent exploitation.

It is important to note that many kidfluencers are managed by their parents or talent agencies because they are too young to have social media accounts in the first place. In fact, Youtube and Instagram don’t let you even start an account if you’re under the age of 13

This means that the child in question doesn’t have much say in their image on social media or the products they endorse. Knowing this, one has to ask: How ethical is it to promote products that you have little to no knowledge of to such an impressionable audience? 

Secondly, there is the question of these kids even wanting to take on the role of a kidfluencer in the first place. Yes, it could be a fun hobby for the child, but at the same time, it can also cause them a great deal of stress constantly being under pressure to produce content. 

It is difficult to predict whether being a kidfluencer will have an adverse effect on these children as they grow up because it is still a relatively new marketing strategy and we haven’t had the opportunity to see popular kidfluencers grow into adults yet. We can, however, compare kidfluencers to the phenomenon of child stars. 

What can be drawn from child celebrity culture is that they often go on to become very troubled adults dogged by addiction. 

Karen North, PhD, director of a digital social media programme at USC about the difference between kidfluencers and child actors, believes “The difference between traditional child actors and social media influencers is, it’s not a kid pretending to be somebody for a show. Instead, the show is the kid. Where does that send their lives? We don’t know yet.”

Lastly, it is important that parents considering making kidfluencers of their children understand the permanence of online content. 

When your child grows up it may be difficult to separate themself from their childhood image. This may lead to identity issues or pressure on the individual to maintain a brand they may have outgrown.  

Is it ethical to use kidfluencers in your marketing?

The pros

It’s not all bad. From a marketing perspective, using kidfluencers to promote your brand is an effective way to reach younger audiences … and their parents. After all, children are consumers, too. 

The key in marketing to kids is for brands to be cognisant that it has influence over young minds. They should aim to create a genuine connection with the children they advertise to and to do so in a responsible and ethical way. 

Businesses can achieve this by ensuring that their marketing messages inspire and empower the children it targets. Barbie is a shining example of this. 

When the brand celebrated its 60th birthday, it launched dolls that represent women in careers where they are not largely represented, like firefighters, politicians and astronauts. This was done in order to promote the new dolls, and the ‘Be Anything’ tour was launched across 34 cities.

© Instagram

At each stop of the tour, the brand held a meet-and-greet with different local role models and ran a Barbie dress-up booth, where kids could learn about different career paths. Additionally, children in attendance had a chance to win $20 000 to use towards building their future

Another positive attribute of using kidfluencers on social platforms is that these videos, despite including sponsored messages or products, can be educational for children watching them. 

Taylor Holland, writer for Skyword, explains that she believes that Youtube has “helped expand [her] child’s vocabulary, love of music, and even his imagination”. 

The cons

One of the biggest cons of bombarding children with marketing messages at such an impressionable age is that it could perpetuate a materialistic attitude in them going forward. 

When children are sold a commercialised point of view towards life it can lead to anxiety and depression. 

Jean Kilbourne, author and social theorist, touches on this topic stating that kids being exposed to marketing messages “can create a lot of anxiety and depression in kids, to feel that everything is for sale, it’s all about what you buy, and what you buy defines who you are.... Consumerism sets up our kids to be disappointed.”

One of the world’s biggest kidfluencers Ryan Kaji has a massive 28.5 million subscribers on YouTube. He also posts videos on the platform everyday, 90% of which has at least one sponsored product recommendation. 

Truth in Advertising finds this problematic because children that are at preschool age, aka, Ryan’s audience, can’t distinguish between organic content and advertisements

With this being said, the vulnerability of children doesn’t stop there. 

As internet users, we all accept the fact that businesses may “collect and monetise” our online data. But children are not aware that this is even happening. If these kids are not aware of how data sharing works, they cannot consent to it. 

Things become tricky in this sense because children have every right to access information online — but how can we protect them from harmful content without censoring their browsing experience? 

The child protection unit in the UK explains that to keep children safe online, “clear boundaries around information sharing are important to maintain confidentiality where appropriate”.

With this in mind, children also possess the right to information and freedom of expression, and some measures that are put in place to protect kids online, like parental blocks, can obstruct children from accessing useful resources. 

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund explains that children need to be able to use the internet “without overly restrictive filters” and “without disproportionate monitoring by governments and parents”.

What are your thoughts on kidfluencers? Is it ethical or not? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Do you want to know more about kidfluencers and what they do? Then be sure to check out our article, What are 'kidfluencers' and why are they so popular?
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy