There’s a new tribe of young influencers who should never be underestimated. I’m not talking about Gen Z. I’m talking about Generation Alpha — the tech savvy new kids on the block, born after YouTube was founded, in the new age of TV. The kids whose lives have never existed without high speed wifi and 5G, social media on tap, and video on demand. From toy reviews and fashion picks to their own branded merchandise, vloggers as young as six are attracting millions of viewers on YouTube and attracting legions of followers on Instagram too. These trendsetters are so influential that earlier this year AdAge released a ‘10 Under 10’ list. Feeling old yet?
It’s easy to see why these tiny tastemakers have so much appeal. Their content feels authentic. Check out EthanGamer — he has over 2.5M subscribers on YouTube. He has an infectious enthusiasm for gaming and a very engaged junior fanbase who love him. Or Vlad and Nikita, two brothers aged 4 and 6 who play with toys and tell stories to their 24M YouTube subscribers. Unboxing toys, playing with new games and pranking their siblings or parents — it’s content for kids, created by kids themselves. And today’s kids know their way around YouTube, especially with the YouTube Kids app making it even easier for little people to access their favorite content and shows.
‘81% of parents with children under 11 allow them to watch YouTube videos, and about a third do so regularly.’ — Pew Research
YouTube says that children must be at least 13 years old to create an account, but that doesn’t stop many parents from opening and managing channels for kids much younger. In fact YouTube have created the Family Link App so you can create a channel for your kids under 13, manage it for them, and then hand over the keys and passwords once they have reached the applicable age (according to Google) to manage it themselves. When many of these pint-sized professionals are earning hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year, it’s understandable that parents get so involved — many of them featuring in the content themselves and certainly managing the edits and channel uploads. Boram, a 6 year old Korean YouTuber has over 14 million subscribers on her YouTube channel. Her most watched video ‘Boram had a cold’ has over 375 million views. (FYI, she also has just bought an $8 million, five storey property in Seoul.)
‘In 2018 alone Ryan Toys Review was a top earner and brought in over $22 million.” — Forbes
Unfortunately, this stardom and wealth doesn’t come without controversy. Beyond the popularity, these mini millionaires are facing troubles we never faced at that age. Recently, the 7-year-old ‘kidfluencer’ and YouTuber Ryan Toys Review came under fire for deceiving kids into watching sponsored content. A complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission accuses the child star of subjecting preschoolers to advertising disguised as toy reviews. The full complaint can be read here.
According to the complaint by Truth In Advertising, the target audience for Ryan’s channel is children under 5 years old, “a particularly vulnerable class” who are not yet able to distinguish between commercials and other content. Our multi-screen, hyper-connected world does little to defend small people from advertising, especially when it’s hard for parents to fully control what their kids are watching anyway.
The accusations against the toy reviewer come as YouTube has struggled to prove it is doing enough to protect its youngest users. Last month, Google, the parent company of YouTube, agreed to pay a record $170 million finefollowing an investigation over alleged violation of children’s privacy law. Regulators said YouTube had illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent, then used it to make millions of dollars in targeted ads. The settlement should make YouTube a safer place for young audiences and the influencers too, but there’s still a long way to go on all current and emerging social platforms.
As Gen Alpha are more digitally and socially connected than any generation before, kidfluencers (and their parents) must be aware of the power and ability they have to shift opinions of children at mass scale. Any shows or influencers targeting children need to be aware of their impressionable nature — as well as their lack of ability to tell ads from non ads. As marketers, brands, consumers, parents and kids — we should at least open the discussion and be collectively conscious of the issue.
Or maybe we should just let kids be kids again?