A consumer watchdog group in the US has accused seven-year-old YouTuber Ryan Kaji of deceiving his young audience.
The Truth in Advertising group filed a complaint to the FTC, claiming Kaji, who has 21 million subscribers, has blurred the lines between sponsored videos and authentic content.
The Ryan ToysReview channel, led by Ryan’s parents Shion Kaji and Loan Kaji, stars the seven-year-old as he tests out various toys in the videos, which have so far been sponsored by the likes of Walmart, Hasbro, Netflix, Chuck E. Cheese and Nickelodeon.
But the Truth in Advertising group alleges these sponsored videos “often have the look and feel of organic content”.
The complaint claims Ryan’s target demographic – namely preschoolers – are unable to discern between sponsored and organic content.
“It is well established that children are a vulnerable consumer group,” states the complaint.
“And children under the age of five are a particularly vulnerable class.
“Competent and reliable research makes clear that children under the age of five are unable to identify television commercials and distinguish them from other forms of content.”
It also claims children over the age of five may also struggle to spot the difference, as there are no “perceptual cues” (like the verbal separators that feature in TV ads) in the sponsored YouTube videos.
This, according to the watchdog group, is in breach of Federal Trade Commission law, which states any advertisement must be disclosed in a way that is easily understood by the intended audience.
“In this case, the audience is unable to understand what advertising is and cannot even identify obvious commercials. As such, Ryan ToysReview’s ads and sponsored content violate FTC law.”
In response to the complaint, Shion Kaji said: “The well-being of our viewers is always the top priority for us, and we strictly follow all platforms’ terms of service and all existing laws and regulations, including advertising disclosure requirements.”