FTC Digital Advertising for Kids Event Examines Relationships Between Brands and Influencers

The ever-changing nature of online advertising often leaves children most vulnerable to their messages, knowingly or unknowingly.

However, in the world of digital advertising, today’s children are even more susceptible to advertisements that obscure the differences between advertising and entertainment, brought about in part by so-called influencer culture.

As part of receiving public comment on the effects of online advertising on children, staff from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission hosted a day-long virtual webinar titled “Protecting Children from stealth advertising in digital media” on October 19, which was attended by children’s privacy advocates and advertising industry insiders. Topics included the psychology of children and teens that makes them more receptive to blurry advertising, the harms of stealth targeted ads, and potential solutions.

“Advertising has changed a lot over the past few decades,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan. “Previously, every kid watching a TV show would see the same ad, and it wasn’t hard for parents to keep tabs on what ads their kids were seeing. The rise of social media and targeted advertising has changed everything. Now each child is an audience of one.

“They interact with digital technologies almost intuitively,” she continued. “It also carries a serious risk (because) when children interact with digital media, they are exposed to an array of marketing practices that blur the line between advertising and entertainment.”

During a panel discussion, Common Sense senior privacy program director Girard Kelly said that more than half of tweens and teens “use TV, online videos, mobile games and media every day”, those aged 13 to 18 exceeding the most. more than eight hours of screen time per day, according to a survey conducted by his organization.

Kelly said ads are now targeted at kids and teens who virtually identify their exact emotional state at a specific time in an effort to manipulate their attitudes towards buying a certain brand or product. produced at a time when they are particularly vulnerable, such as after a breakup. with a partner.

“The timing or frequency is really important,” Kelly said. “If children and teens are exposed to ads all day, but to be effective, blurry ads require engagement at the precise moment. So maybe that’s when the child or can -be other children who profile themselves as them are most likely to be suggested.

Fairplay executive director Josh Grolin said children who gravitate towards products reviewed by online influencers through “parasocial relationships” often believe they have some sort of relationship with an online personality, a he declared.

As a result, Grolin said influencers required to disclose any paid relationship they have with a specific product or brand wouldn’t get to the heart of the matter, as kids and teens can end up developing positive attitudes towards a product or brand. certain product even if it has been used. in the initial branded content.

“Children are less likely to understand what is happening and to be able to defend themselves against (advertising through parasocial relationships), in fact even adults are less likely to defend themselves against the marketing of influence,” Grolin said. “It’s completely unrealistic to think that at this point children will activate these complex cognitive processes in order to defend themselves against these ads.”

During the panel that explored solutions to better regulate fuzzy advertising, Josh Blumenfeld, YouTube’s managing director for global policy and advocacy, said his company had conducted three rounds of research to determine the extent to which children, parents and childhood development experts understood how digital marketing works.

At first, Blumenfeld said only one in 10 children understood the meaning of “paid promotion.” YouTube Kids doesn’t allow personalized ads, while standard YouTube allows blur ads with disclosure.

In the next round, YouTube incorporated images, text, and iconography that children and parents reported as helpful to help them better understand the ad. Blumenfeld said YouTube created a 30-second “plain English” video to pair with content from the channel’s creators, informing viewers that the channel’s creator had received compensation from a brand.

“These three elements are a distinctive visual icon, easy-to-read text, and a fully animated educational video,” Blumenfeld said. “We found that once we implemented this, we went back to all of our test subjects. And we found that the majority of children were able to identify disclosure…and they were able to identify (the) three really key concepts (pictures, text, and iconography).

Going forward, fuller disclosures between content creators and brands that pay for placement need to be made clearer to audiences of all ages, said Encode Justice President and Founder Sneha Revanur, who has added that it would be a great first step. She said that to promote the most understanding among users about creator-brand relationships, she urged that these disclosures be placed prominently near the content of the webpage and formatted similarly.

“Disclosures should clearly state who is paying for an advertisement and should generally include any information that could affect a consumer’s decision to purchase a product,” Revanur said. “A disclosure must be visually accessible, and the syntax and language must be easy to understand. Users should be able to see this information clearly and clearly, they should not have to scroll through it. »

At the end of the workshop, the FTC’s associate director of advertising practices, Serena Viswanathan, said the panelists’ comments would be incorporated into possible future regulations to restrict blurry advertising to children. However, she provided a general timeline indicating when such regulation might begin. The FTC’s public comment portal on digital advertising to children is open until November 17.

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