This year, You Tube launched YouTube for kids as a kid friendly environment for your children to navigate the world of YouTube. Queue the controversy with multiple activist groups and publications rushing in to point the finger at one of the world’s super powers (Google owns YouTube) targeting children for revenue.
Why create YouTube for Kids?
It’s a cool brand and I’m surprised they haven’t done it earlier. Google introduced the app in February as a “safer” place for kids to explore videos restricted to “family-focused content.” With almost 1 billion users per month and 300 hours of video content uploaded to the website every minute, when one searches for something as innocent as “Sesame Street”, the results are not always as appropriate for children as you’d hope.
We enter unchartered territory
I see some issues though and it comes down to capitalism. What I suspect will happen is that brands will use the opportunity to generate videos that appeal to children without the clear separation between what is commercial and what is non commercial. This content might be aimed at permeating their impressionable minds with advertising and branded imagery without helping them understand it’s advertising. Regardless, a child struggles to understand the concept of paid advertising. YouTube claim to be actively regulating this but who will regulate them?
The second potential issue is that Google can now easily sell targeted ad space for brands looking to engage child users. It seems a little wrong asking YouTube to target your ads to 5 year olds living in the southern states of the USA for instance.
The dilemma of advertising
This post is by no means a rant but highlights one of the issue with advertising and branding being the question of manipulation. When we create environments designed to manipulate, we face some ethical dilemmas. For us as adults, we can discern, but when we set our kids up on the couch with their You Tube for Kids app and let them loose for an hour, what kind of messages will come through? It’s the same problem we face with TV except it’s not regulated to the same extent and its easy for them to skip the ads with TiVO. The opportunity for hidden messages are certainly there. This is the area of the industry I struggle with. It’s the part that I’m not quite sure how to resolve as a branding person. I believe brands should be authentic, real, honest and truthful. What if I was asked to put together a campaign to target kids on You Tube Kids? How could I do that in a way that aligns with the values that are important to me pertaining to brand? I’m actually not sure.
You be the judge
So there’s good and bad. I (sort of) applaud YouTube for creating a more kid friendly environment. YouTube is becoming the wild west out there and yet so many kids are on it. Providing a kid friendly space is a great move forward. Having said all that, I can’t help but feel like it could get very opportunistic for brands and advertisers. Let’s see how YouTube monitors this one and good luck for you parents out there.