With more and more, increasingly younger, children using YouTube, the concerns from parents and regulators around advertising to children have grown in the last few years. A 2014 Ofcom report into the media use of UK children found that around half (55%) of 8-11 year olds and three-quarters (77%) of UK 12-15 year olds subscribe to and watch YouTube channels in addition to watching TV. We look at how the latest product from Google is trying to address and appease these concerns.
Earlier this year YouTube launched a brand new platform, YouTube Kids, representing Google’s first offering specifically aimed at children of 5 years and under. The app was launched in the United States in February and is expected to be rolled out globally in multiple languages. Users can choose from four different categories; Shows, Music, Learning and Explore. Across those categories, users can view kid-friendly channels and content from entertainment franchises such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Sesame Street. The app features parental controls, including the ability to limit viewing time and switch off the search function. Many parents have been nervous about unsupervised use of the mainstream YouTube platform and YouTube Kids has received initial praise as a long overdue safe space for children.
YouTube Kids ensures that YouTube can position itself at the centre of the children’s online experience. This seems to be the beginning of a new trend, as technology brands and platforms seek to remain relevant for the next generation of users. This year we have also seen the launch of Vine Kids, a child-friendly version of the video sharing app. Other technology companies are already gearing their services towards kid-targeted content, with Amazon and Netflix providing more children focused streaming and video-on-demand programming. It is likely that other tech players will soon seek to launch their own services in response to Google’s move.
What opportunity does this present for advertisers?
According to eMarketer, 17.5 million children, or approximately 71% of children under 12, watch online video. We are all aware that children’s viewing preferences have changed, with many children now consuming content on other devices whilst they watch TV. Even without a dedicated viewing platform, children’s online video content is extremely popular. “FunToyzCollector”, a child-friendly channel, recently placed first in views among all the YouTube channels.
YouTube Kids is currently only running house advertisements; however there are plans to incorporate pre-roll ads from top advertisers focused specifically on children and parents. The app will help advertisers reach this audience directly, providing unprecedented access to a previously difficult to reach, and particularly sensitive, market segment.
What are the risks for advertisers?
However, advertisers should proceed with caution. Just some six weeks after launch, the app has already faced some fierce opposition; a coalition of privacy and consumer advocacy groups have requested a FTC (United States Federal Trade Commission) investigation into advertising techniques that will used on the app.
In the UK, there are consumer protection issues specific to children which may be engaged by advertising on YouTube Kids. For instance, advertising cannot make a child feel inferior or unpopular for not buying a product, take advantage of their credulity, encourage them to actively pester their parents, or make a direct exhortation to a child to buy a product. Particular concern centres on clear demarcation between ads and content and whether this can be understood by the young audiences using the app. This is a hot topic for the ASA, the advertising regulator in the UK, who recently ruled that a YouTube campaign sponsored by Mondelez, the maker of Oreo, was not ‘obviously identifiable’ as an advertising campaign. It will be interesting to see how the ASA react to YouTube Kids when it becomes available in the UK.
YouTube Kids will give brands a great opportunity to build relationships with young consumers. If they are smart about their strategy and approach to responsible advertising, brands can team up with content providers for education and entertainment purposes through native advertising and sponsorship. The challenge here will be how digital advertisers cater their content to fit the younger audience whilst ensuring that they advertise in a responsible, clear and legal way. The potential PR fallout and legal sanctions for misjudging an advert aimed at children can far outweigh the benefit of the advert being placed.