Watchdog group Truth in Advertising doesn’t play around.
The nonprofit filed a complaint last week with the Federal Trade Commission against popular YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview. The group, also known as TINA, argues that Ryan ToysReview misleads preschoolers who cannot tell the difference between advertising and organic content.
For those not familiar with Ryan ToysReview, the channel, which boasts more than 21 million followers, is hosted by an enthusiastic 8-year-old named Ryan and run by his parents, Shion and Loann Kaji. A typical episode will show the little boy unboxing and playing with toys. Last year, Ryan's channel was named YouTube’s highest earner after it raked in $22 million.
Nearly 90% of the Ryan ToysReview videos have at least one paid product recommendation for children under the age of 5, TINA argued in its complaint.
Ryan's father told TODAY in a statement that "creating content that is safe and appropriate" for viewers of all ages is the family's top priority. "We strictly follow all platforms' terms of service and all existing laws and regulations, including advertising disclosure requirements," he said. "As the streaming space continues to quickly grow and evolve, we support efforts by lawmakers, industry representatives, and regulators such as the FTC to continuously evaluate and update existing guidelines and lay new ground rules to protect both viewers and creators."
Ryan's family did not respond to requests from TODAY Parents for comment about the complaint.
“Organic content, sponsored content — it’s really all the same to a preschooler,” Bonnie Patten, executive director of TINA, told TODAY Parents. “They just don’t have the intellectual capacity to distinguish when they’re being pitched to and when there’s a child playing with a toy because he likes that toy.”
Patten said that even when Ryan ToyReview discloses paid sponsorships, it likely falls on deaf little ears. The disclosures tend to be in a woman's voice — not Ryan's — and sometimes they are written.
"Preschoolers can't read," Patten noted.
Patten said she hopes the FTC will make the Ryan ToysReview follow the law, which says ads must be disclosed to audiences clearly and conspicuously.
“They can’t use this sort of native advertising to market to preschoolers,” she said.