How Ethical Are Sneakily Sponsored YouTube Videos?

Kids are born into this consumer driven world and are almost instantly marketed to. From advertisements during a TV program, to things much more personal such as their favorite YouTubers endorsing or even just mentioning products during their videos.

With YouTube being arguably the most utilized app to keep children entertained when they’re young, there comes many issues with sponsored items or videos from content creators. While children don’t necessarily notice it at first it raises some flags about the ethicality of it all. To start with, children are large influencers on parents’ purchases. So, while it may not seem like that big of a deal it is certainly having some effect on household purchases in some capacity. These businesses are also marketing to children to begin almost training their future purchase habits. But children don’t know that.

By gearing advertisement to children, who aren’t old enough to differentiate advertisements or sponsored videos from genuine personal opinions, it sets them up for a number of consequences. To start with, by blurring the lines of what is advertisement or actual content, children grow up and have difficulties critically reflecting on commercial messages. This allows them to be a little more easily influenced than other generations. (De Veirman, Hudders, & Nelson, 2019.)

One of the highest paid influencers on YouTube today is Ryan ToysReview at only age 9. His channel is advertised as being a channel by a kid for kids giving a new review on highly sought-after toys. While on the surface this may seem innocent, the entire channel is ethically questionable. Children are going to Ryan’s videos to see what other children are playing with or to see what elementary aged kids are interested in. But behind the scenes Ryan is being endorsed by various companies to feature their toys which then makes his expressed opinion not fully his and extremely swayed.

According to Truth in ( this has caused Ryan some legal issues. filed a deceptive advertising complaint against Ryan ToysReview in 2019 that urged the Federal Trade Commission to review the marketing on the YouTube channel and appropriately enforce any consequences. Their main argument was that because the channel has over 20 million subscribers, companies such as Nickelodeon, Walmart, and Hardee’s have sponsored many different videos that seem to be organic content but, in reality, are sponsored. argues that since most of Ryan’s following are younger children, “…they are in early stages of development and cannot tell the difference between advertising and organic content.” There is no update within the article about what ended up happening with the complaint, but they did mention that this wasn’t the first time the channel has found themselves in legal turmoil. (Ad Watchdog.)

While YouTube videos that don’t advertise that they are sponsored aren’t necessarily illegal, it has been found to be unethical by the American Marketing Association. Within the codes of conduct it states that responsibility is one of the ethical values that are expected by society and/or professional organizations. Within the responsibility section it states that organizations will, “..recognize special commitments to vulnerable market segments such as children…” (American Marketing Association.) As an example, this could be making it obvious or known that content is sponsored by a certain company or brand. But with this only being considered ethically wrong, it is hard to keep every content creator, let alone every business, in check.

Parents are also having a hard time recognizing what is advertisement and what is genuine content. This allows businesses to easily target children since the parents don’t even realize the video is not necessarily organic. This also leaves the door open for businesses to misuse that deception and advertise inappropriate or questionable things to children. For example, most parents wouldn’t assume Ryan ToyReview was sponsored because it doesn’t seem like it is and it isn’t advertised to be. They merely put the videos on for their children and hand it over without knowing their child is being imprinted on by big corporations.

The world of marketing can be difficult as well as confusing at times, but as long as people continue to look into the content they are engaging with and absorbing daily for both themselves as well as the vulnerable populations, then we can avoid all the gray area. As future marketers, we should also take this as a warning or a lesson to always label our sponsored content, because it is just ethically right.


Ad Watchdog Reports “Kidfluencer” Ryan ToysReview to FTC. (2020, February 13). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from

American Marketing Association. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from

De Veirman, M., Hudders, L., & Nelson, M. (2019, November 14). What Is Influencer Marketing and How Does It Target Children? A Review and Direction for Future Research. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from

Written by Zoie Nelson. You can learn more about Zoie and our other blogwriters by clicking the “Our Team” banner at the top!