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Most any parent of young kids is familiar with the crazy-popular kids YouTube channel, Ryan ToysReview — either through their kids’ inexplicable fascination with watching the 7-year-old unbox toys (seriously inexplicable) and/or through reports that the family makes $22 million (!!!) from the videos, leading us to wonder… why aren’t WE opening toys for millions?! Well, now we have a downside: the family has been accused of tricking preschoolers into watching ads in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
Ryan’s account is run by his parents, who began filming their son playing with and unboxing toys when he was a toddler in 2015. Ryan ToysReview has since grown into a media empire, with the original channel boasting more than 21 million subscribers and his videos being viewed more than 31 billion times (again: !!!).
Ryan also stars in a show on Nick Jr. called Ryan’s Mystery Playdate, in addition to his channel, and has also landed advertising deals with Colgate, Walmart and Carl’s Jr..
However, according to nonprofit consumer watchdog, Truth in Advertising, Ryan and his parents have been “deceiving millions of young children” on a “daily basis” by taking these ad deals without disclosing them properly.
In response to the complaint, Ryan’s parents submitted a statement to BuzzFeed News claiming that the family “strictly follow[s] all platforms’ terms of service and all existing laws and regulations, including advertising disclosure requirements.”
In a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week, Truth in Advertising said that Ryan’s channel “deceptively promotes a multitude of products to millions of preschool-aged children in violation of FTC law.”
Ryan’s channel is doing so, the complaint alleges, by incorporating sponsored content seamlessly with the rest of his antics. The watchdog offered examples of two videos on the channel that feature Ryan pretending to make and serve food in a play kitchen. While one, the watchdog says, seems to be not sponsored, the other is an ad for Carl’s Jr., aka Hardee’s.
“Unfortunately, it is often difficult to discern the innocent (or sometimes not so innocent) antics in Ryan ToysReview videos from the sponsored content,” Truth in Advertising claims. “And for preschoolers, it is impossible to discern the difference.”
The complaint says that while an adult would be able to tell that most of Ryan’s sponsored videos are ads, a child likely would not be able to, such as in the below video.
Although the video does note that Ryan has “teamed up with Colgate” and Colgate branding, there is no ad break of any sort to indicate it is a commercial.
A spokesperson for Truth in Advertising told BuzzFeed News they decided to file the complaint after they were contacted by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo about her work examining deceptive social media marketing to children.
Rep. Eshoo, along with a handful of other congresspeople, asked the FTC to investigate deceptive online marketing to kids in a letter in May. They named Ryan’s channel, among others, as channels to further examine.
“When we looked into it, we decided we needed to take action now in order to help protect the millions of preschoolers exposed to the deceptive advertising in the videos,” the Truth in Advertising spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed they received the complaint against Ryan ToysReview, but said they could neither confirm nor deny if they have, indeed, opened an investigation.