A communication researcher in Australia calls for more regulation of the growing practice of children selling toys as paid social media influencers.
“They are often the children of celebrities who develop lucrative partnerships with brands to maximize engagement and ‘selling power,’” Dr. Catherine Archer, of Edith Cowan University, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Our study has highlighted key concerns regarding privacy issues, commodification, and the ‘stealth’ and gender marketing of children’s toys through ‘advertorials.’”
In a new article published in the M/C Journal, Archer argues that the rise of social media has given marketers a way to reach kids 24/7.
He noted that the number of kids owning their own tablets increased from less than 1% in 2011 to 42% in 2017, a trend that continues to grow.
“While children’s television once reigned as the sales vehicle for children’s brands, marketing children’s toys now often depends on having the right social media influencer, many of them children themselves,” Archer explained. .
Many social media platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, require their users to be at least 13 years old, but some younger kids find a way to post online.
Archer studied the posts of Pixie Curtis, an 11-year-old Australian “child influencer,” and her 8-year-old brother, Hunter Curtis. They are run by her mother, Roxy Jacenko, a former head of the public relations firm Sweaty Betty.
The children boast thousands of followers on Instagram, with Pixie having her account before she was 2, and her brother even earlier, when she turned 1, according to the newspaper.
Jacenko now runs an influential talent company called the Ministry of Talent. The Post reached out to her for comment.
Archer analyzed the children’s posts from March to July 2022 and noted the different hashtags they used and the toy brands they mentioned.
Two things stood out: the “highly gender-differentiated toy promotion” and a promotion of “high-end aspirational” toys that could be marketed to tweens, teens, and adults.
Archer reasoned that this type of influence on toys can confuse consumers, especially children.
“’Kidfluencers’ are blurring the lines between what we consider traditional toys with objects of adult desire,” he said.
“High-end adult products such as makeup, cars and ‘dress-up’ clothing are being quietly promoted, alongside more traditional toys.”
Archer calls for more regulation of “child influence,” raising concerns about the sexualization of young female influencers on Instagram.
“The gendered marketing of toys and an increased focus on girls’ appearance via Instagram can be detrimental to children’s self-esteem, and there are concerns regarding the continued commodification of childhood,” Archer said.
“More research is needed, and perhaps a good place to start would be to talk to kids about their views on the content they consume, often commercially focused advertorials masquerading as cute content.”
In 2020, another study found that YouTube influencer kids were “stealthily” promoting junk food to their audiences.
By analyzing 418 videos from the top five YouTubers between the ages of 3 and 14, the researchers determined that just under half featured some type of food or drink.
90% of those videos featured brand name fast food items, like McDonald’s.