November 27, 2019
Ever wonder why kids on the other side of your screen gush over a new toy? The truth is, many of those kids aren’t just toy-loving kids like you and your friends. They’re influencers. Rather than paying for products, they often get paid to promote them if they have a large online audience.
Anyone can be an influencer, says John Reynolds, director of media relations at Buchanan Public Relations. As an influencer’s following grows, companies will reach out with offers for him or her. They might send a big check in exchange for a positive review. Companies hope the influencer’s followers will then want to buy the toy, which is how the company makes money.
That’s why you should be wary of paid reviews. Since the reviewer is being paid to say something positive, you have no way of knowing how he or she really feels. A toy that an influencer says is wonderful might not be that much fun. In some cases, the influencer hasn’t been paid but has been sent the product for free. These reviews tend to be more genuine, Reynolds says. You can trust them more.
How Can You Tell?
The problem is, it can be hard to tell whether a review is paid for. “Ideally, videos that are sponsored would have a clear disclosure note that appears either in the video itself or with the information at the bottom,” says John Puterbaugh, senior editor for Reviews.com.
According to Reynolds, the Federal Trade Commission has strict endorsement guidelines for influencers. When something is sponsored content , an influencer is supposed to make that clear in writing or in the video. “Influencers need to be transparent about their relationship with the company or product they’re promoting,” he says.
Put On Your Skeptic’s Hat
Not all influencers are clear about getting paid or getting products for free. That makes it your job to be a little skeptical—even a little suspicious—when watching product reviews. This isn’t to say that all the toys being reviewed are bad. Just try to remember that there might be a reason the person on camera is so excited.
Here’s an example. Ryan’s World, a YouTube channel with more than 22 million subscribers, posts videos of Ryan playing with toys. In a 2018 video, Ryan unboxed and used a bubblegum maker. He was excited to open and play with the toy. But nowhere in the video or description does it say that he was paid to do so. There’s no way to tell if the video was sponsored.
Since it’s possible it was, make sure you do a gut check when watching. Is the toy is really that exciting? Or are you excited about it because an influencer promoted it? Would you feel differently if you knew that he or she had been paid? Think it through before you spend your money. —By Rebecca Cohen
Research is the Key
When you want to buy something you’ve seen in an influencer’s video, take a pause. Talk to your parents and do some research before you break your piggy bank. First ask yourself, “Does anyone I know have this toy or something else made by the same company? What does that person think of it?” Then ask your parents for help searching online for additional opinions. Go on shopping sites and read reviews of the toy you have your eye on. Be sure to read both positive and negative reviews so you get the full picture.
Click here for the Grade 5-6 Teacher’s Guide.
Extra! Click here to read a related article from TIME for Kids.