Seven-year-old Youtube Kids series Ryan ToysReview is under fire from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for tricking his young audience into watching sponsored ads. Truth in Advertising, a “watchdog organization” aiming to protect consumers from deceptive marketing, recently filed a complaint with the FTC.
Truth in Advertising claims Ryan and his parents, Shion and Loann Kaji, have been “deceiving millions of young children” on a “daily basis” by accepting ad deals that are very profitable for the family. For context: Ryan’s net worth is currently estimated at $80 million.
The channel, which has more than 21 million subscribers and more than 31 billion total video views, features Ryan unpacking and playing with an assortment of toys. It’s one of the most popular channels on all of YouTube, and it’s likely that more kids watch Ryan than any other YouTuber.
But according to Truth in Advertising, they’re being tricked. The complaint claims the channel “deceptively promotes a multitude of products to millions of preschool-aged children,” which directly violates FTC law. Ryan’s advertising deals, with big names like Colgate, Carl’s Jr., and Walmart, are woven into his channel, which can make it hard for kids to notice they’re being marketed to.
Their complaint adds that though an adult could probably tell the difference between Ryan’s sponsored videos and regular content, it’s not so easy for his target audience — young children.
Ryan’s videos don’t have ad breaks, which help kids recognize a commercial break in TV. His channel also uses phrases like “teamed up with Colgate” instead of flat-out saying “advertisement” or “sponsored.”
Truth in Advertising says these methods slip in sponsored content to purposefully deceive preschoolers who look up to their favorite YouTuber, and want the toys, food, and even toothpaste he has.
The FTC law states that for ads to be legal, they “must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed in a manner that will be easily understood by the intended audience.” The complaint argues that since the very young audience can’t yet understand what advertising is — and “cannot even identify obvious commercials” — Ryan ToysReview violates this law.