The rise of child influencers: A big opportunity for brands or an ethical dilemma?

Children are often featured in their parents' influencer marketing campaigns. But now they are becoming influencers themselves. spoke to some influencer agencies to understand what goes behind these campaigns

Benita Chacko
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We have often seen kids featuring in influencer marketing posts of their parents as they endorse various products. The children often help take the story forward or bring a cuteness quotient to their parents' posts.

However, in a role reversal, now kids themselves are endorsing products on their social media profiles and influencing consumers’ buying decisions. Recently Britannia’s influencer marketing campaign for Tiger Krunch featured many kid influencers promoting the biscuit brand.

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So what is it that makes these kid influencers a useful tool for brands to promote their products? spoke to some influencer agencies to understand what goes behind these campaigns.

Kalyan Kumar

Kalyan Kumar, Co-Founder, and CEO of Social Catalyzers, said that kid influencers offer an opportunity that traditional advertising doesn’t as it is an unregulated space. As brands have very strict regulations about not targeting their ads to children or using children, most kid-oriented brands generally target their ads towards parents.

“The kid influencer segment is not a crowded area as not many brands have leveraged them. Kids are a holy grail for many brands. Many children’s brands are self-regulated and decided to not target kids in their ads. So kid influencers are an opportunity as other kids watch them. You can reach out to them in a very organic way and you don't have these problems of advertising,” he said.

Ramya Ramachandran

Stating that the use of child influencers is only going to grow in the future Ramya Ramachandran, CEO and Founder, Whoppl, explains various reasons for their rise.

“Including kids in their influencer marketing campaigns is very relevant for brands that use the right target group influencer to promote their products. So for a chocolate brand, it makes sense if a kid says that he/she loves it. It makes a direct connection with the audience. Also when a child does anything, the pester power increases. A lot of marketers ride on that. Then there is the cuteness element to children’s posts and they also have more retention,” she said.

Sonia Sharda

Sonia Sharda, Regional Head-Operations (West), WATConsult, said that while influencer marketing has lost its novelty, the kids continue to bring that. “When children are doing this it is new to many people's lives. The aspect of reliability or simplicity is in the fact that they are not aware that what they are seeing is an advertisement. The aspect that children can also do branded content or can also be influencers is new to us. That is why brands are signing them up. Also, the content is curated in such a smart way that it matches the style in which kids have been influencing decisions in the family. So the content sits in an entirely different ecosystem. This is going to become a key market.”

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“Brands are picking this as an opportunity today as it is clutter-free space. With the kind of reliability and authenticity that kid influencers bring to the table, it definitely becomes a potential opportunity for brands. Also, the alpha generation is the key force of decision-making today in many families and the kids are well-informed. So they know exactly what they want when they go to a store because they have seen it being picked up by an influencer. They are not just influencers on social media but also at their home. So unlike five years ago, today's consumer cohorts are not limited to 18 plus ages. Today it ranges from a six-year-old to a 60-year-old,” she added.

Dharika Merchant, COO, WORD and Alchemy Group, said that a primary reason why brands want to work with kids other than relevance is that kids-based content is able to grab a lot more eyes due to the uniqueness in creation. “This content is usually given a ‘cute’ vibe and is widely shared and appreciated by adults and kids alike. That said, a brand should first and foremost check if that particular influencer is relevant to the brand’s products and messaging or not.”

Shahir Muneer

However, Shahir Muneer, Founder and Director, Divo, holds a different opinion from the rest and said child influencers are not a major phenomenon in India yet. “The briefs that are coming from brands typically want the parent along with the kid because the parents are the decision-makers. The brand also has a responsibility that they can't make an underage kid to talk about the brand product.”

Most of the child influencers' profiles are handled by their parents. Instagram and YouTube are the most popular platforms for kids. But at whom are these posts targeted?

Ramachandran said, “When we leverage kids for influencer activity, it's for kids and for their parents. The parents are going to be the decision-makers. Nowadays, busy parents give their phones to their children to keep them entertained. So though they may not have their own profiles, they have access to content on social media through their parents' phones.”

Merchant said, “Content created by children is ideally targeted to parents and or younger audiences. That said it can easily be consumed by anyone if the content tells a story and is relatable.”

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Quoting a 2019 study by Totally Awesome—a children’s digital media company—on Indian kids’ digital insight, Sharda said 73% of children consuming digital content ask their parents to buy something because of a child influencers’ endorsements. Over 80% of parents buy their kids what they want because they were advertised by a child influencer. “A child influencer’s content is not consumed by children alone, but by various people from all walks of life. And it's not limited to just products that cater to children alone.”

Not even in their teens, these influencers are reviewing games, toys and now even promoting food products. Ramachandran said that in the future they could be endorsing a broader range of products. However, they should be cautious to not promote things that are not relevant to kids.

“We need to maintain a certain decorum because at the end of the day, whom you're leveraging is also a child. We cannot get them to do something which we are not convinced to do. So, for example, they should not be endorsing unrealistic beauty standards,” she said.

Kumar believes that they can endorse a wider range of products. However, he said leading brands may not take it up, especially if the kids are below a certain age. “Then they have to be very careful of how they do it. And it's not just about the regulations, but there’s also the concern of social media backlash. But it will happen with the internet opening up new opportunities. And a lot of local brands will have less hesitation on leveraging newer opportunities. The pester power is huge. That's why a lot of brands self-regulate and don't target kids directly. Brands have to figure out how to use child influencers ethically or within social compliance and norms.”

Sharda said the expected growth of this niche industry looks promising. Quoting from the Totally Awesome study, she said kids’ digital spend will reach about $1.7 billion by 2021 globally. “That almost equates to 37% of total kids’ ad spend. So brands from any sphere may explore the potential collaboration with these kids. And there is potential to explore it in ways that really no one has ever seen it before.”

For a successful campaign, Merchant said brands need to work with the influencers and figure out a storytelling strategy that works both ways.

“One of the best ways for brands to capitalise on these influencers is undoubtedly by allowing them to work with their creativity instead of just blindly pushing a brand’s agenda. Child influencers stand out for the uniqueness of their content, along with a potential cute factor they can add,” she said.

In India, most child influencers are either child artists from films and television serials or contestants of different dance reality shows. There’s also a small section of micro-influencers who have developed a following through their digital content. Unlike regular influencers, these child artists do not attract massive followers but they still provide a captive audience.

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Sharda said, “The total number of children influencers is definitely less as compared to millennial influencers. But they do have their own clout and that has seen an overall positive trajectory. So if you take Aayush and Prakriti Kalra, siblings from Kota in Rajasthan, they are almost like celebrities in their hometown. Though overall their numbers may be less, they are catering to a captive audience. Brands have shown positive ROI when they collaborate with these kid influencers. So a wider reach is a byproduct of the way the content is created, and how shareable the content becomes.”

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Ramachandran said their cuteness quotient helps increase engagement. “We have often noticed when we do campaigns with mother and kids; when the kid is involved the engagement automatically increases,” she said.

While agreeing that the sector needs to be regulated, Ramachandran said it should be self-regulated. “We all need to be a little more responsible when we are putting things out on the internet, especially with kids, because it is a sensitive area.”

Kumar also feels the need for self-regulation. However, he also feels there should be regulations for kid influencers as well. “There's a need for regulation that defines the kind of engagement, payments, lack of abuse of the gullibility of children or their parents. Kids need them, even more, to be protected,” he said.

Sharda feels the responsibility of these campaigns has to be shared by both brands and parents. “They need to ensure they make the right decision for their kids. They need to critically evaluate if a certain brand or product or service would have an impact on their kids. The kids should definitely be steered away from anything that is derogatory or alters their perception of reality. They should be educated about the pros and cons of this complete business to help them realise what they're undertaking.”

Muneer said that if brands are going to rope in children, there needs to be guidelines on those. “I don't think anyone below 13 would be able to make that decision of whether they want to endorse a product or not. So that decision is going to be taken by the parents. It'll have both pros and cons. On one side, we wouldn't want kids to get exploited unnecessarily. It could set a wrong precedent to force kids to do things online, gain followers, and then work towards getting income from brands. At the same time, brands also are very clear that they would want to ensure it doesn't affect their brand image.”

Anurag Sachdeva

Anurag Sachdeva, Founder and CEO at XtendR, who has extensively worked in the area of children’s ads, said that it is difficult to regulate a UGC space and so guidelines would not really help. So instead, the child influencers should pitch in to bring some positive change.

“The kids are going to be there. Get children to talk about sustainability and going green. So rather than completely wiping out this space, I would say that if people are already there, let's make sure that we make our planet a better place and we talk about sustainability going green and green giveaways,” he said.

Speaking about the challenges, Sharda said, “The number of children influencers in the country today is scarce. So the possibility of the brands to explore different content with a similar sort of person has its own limitations. But many budding influencers are trying to make their way into the industry. So I’m guessing it's something that will scale in the next two to three years.”

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According to Merchant, the limited understanding of finances is one of the biggest challenges associated with child influencers. “It is at this juncture that parents come into the picture. The back and forth between the parents, children, and the brands can get tedious at times. Depending on the involvement of parents, this becomes a challenge even from the aspect of storytelling. We have to make sure we tell the right story, without compromising on the authenticity and style of the influencer.”

The rise of child influencers