The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and two other non-profit groups filed a complaint at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Friday asking for an investigation and enforcement action against Google, Disney’s Maker Studios, DreamWorks-owned AwesomenessTV, and two other companies for the deceptive practice of 'influencer' marketing toward children by disguising commercial material as content.
"We have been tracking this for many years and have seen the explosion of influencer marketing to the point where subliminal product placement is now on digital steroids. Yet, we need safeguards in place for children and our policy makers have not caught up to online marketing efforts as they exists today," said the CDDs executive director Jeff Chester.
The complaint documents how several marketing companies - Collab Creators, Wild Brain, Maker Studios, and AwesomenessTV - produce and distribute ads and other commercial material targeted at children. These 'influencer' ads take unfair advantage of kids who do not have the ability to recognize that companies use social media and YouTube celebrities to pitch toys, junk food, and other products.
Further, the complaint analyzes the influencer marketing apparatus, and the role that Google and multi-channel networks (MCNs) such as Disney’s Maker Studios play in orchestrating the growing use of this tactic. It highlights how these companies use “influencers” who are young or popular with kids to sell junk food, toys, and more.
As a result of the FTC’s inaction, marketing companies are increasing investments in their influencer marketing practices with harmful results, claims CDD.
“In many cases these advertisements cause children to want unhealthy and costly products,” said Laura Moy, director at the Institute for Public Representation (IPR) at Georgetown University Law Center, which represents the groups. “As this marketing practice expands even while evidence mounts that it is harmful to children, it becomes increasingly urgent for the FTC to make clear that the practice is unfair and deceptive under the law.”