What Toy Brands and Influencers Need to Know

by Melissa Hunter, founder, Family Video Network

On Jan. 1, YouTube became a very different platform than the one that helped launch dozens of toy lines over the past decade. Due to the settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), changes had to be made to ensure that kids’ data is safe. Essentially, there are now only two types of content on YouTube: “made for kids” and “not made for kids.”

YouTube creators have to declare whether their content is “made for kids” or not “made for kids,” either by individual videos or for their entire channel, but all content has to be classified. In the new world of YouTube, once a viewer starts watching a video marked as “made for kids,” they will only be recommended other content marked as “made for kids.” No content that is designated as “not made for kids” will be suggested to them. This, in addition to a loss of many engagement metrics, is expected to result in a loss of views.

Much has been made about the loss of personalized ads on videos marked “made for kids” because it could mean a loss of 60%-90% of a creator’s income. As a result, some creators are “aging up” their content, or only marking some of their videos as “made for kids.” It is unclear how YouTube’s artificial intelligence (AI) is going to interpret channels with mixed content. One thing we do know is that the videos marked “not made for kids” will see a huge drop in views if a channel’s audience is mostly children.

On the other hand, channels that mark all of their content as “made for kids” will see a dip in views as the algorithm learns the new patterns. Channels will then see their content recommended to kids and promoted on other content marked “made for kids.” This clearly ensures that brands will be reaching their target audience, but it also means less visibility into metrics used to measure campaigns. We currently expect that views will begin to rebound by spring, but whether or not they will ever soar to prior levels is unknown.

YouTube will be doing its own designating and, whenever it suspects abuse of the tool, it may take action against a video or channel. The FTC will also be monitoring YouTube and looking for content trying to sneak under the “made for kids” radar.

What should toy brands do to survive and thrive in this brave new world of YouTube influencers?

  1. Reach out to all of your current YouTube influencer partners and ask how they are designating their channel and/or videos. Remember, videos not marked “made for kids” will not be suggested against content “made for kids,” and the algorithm might not suggest content from a channel with mixed designations to viewers it believes to be kids.
  2. Update all of your influencer agreements to require that videos, either sponsored or earned, be designated as “made for kids.”
  3. Pivot your marketing spend to a more-integrated, traditional approach. Think of influencers as endorsement partners who not only create content on your behalf, but also act as your brand ambassadors. This includes having your influencer partners create content for your YouTube and other social media channels grant you the rights to their name and likeness and participating more fully in your marketing efforts.
  4. Carefully vet all current and potential influencer partners to ensure that they have been following all FTC disclosure requirements. The FTC has made it very clear that it is concerned about the impact of influencer advertising on kids. And if creators want to do a more clear disclosure, let them. They know their audience best.
  5. Keep your campaign plans for this year flexible. The desire to lock things in far in advance is strong, but with so much uncertainty, it may be best to work with much shorter fuses this year.

Influencer teams need to stay nimble and be prepared this year to pivot at a moment’s notice. YouTube marketing in the toy world was a gamble, and it paid off beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. While the rules of the game are changing, with some due diligence and creative thinking, it will still be a safe bet in the year ahead.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!