New York, NY – The “EvanTube” YouTube Channels – EvanTubeHD, EvanTubeRAW and EvanTubeGaming – will include, going forward, an audio disclosure before each new sponsored video to assure that child viewers understand that the content they are about to see is advertising. The EvanTube Channels agreed to provide such a disclosure following a review by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU).
CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
CARU monitors advertising directed to children in all media and across all platforms. In this case of first impression, CARU noted that new media platforms “have heightened the possibility for confusion between advertising and editorial content, especially when it is viewed by children.”
“Of particular concern to CARU are ostensibly user-generated online videos, which contain undisclosed or inadequately disclosed advertising or endorsements in the content of the videos themselves,” the decision states.
The EvanTube Channels contain videos featuring a young boy – Evan – and his family. EvanTube videos focus on a variety of subjects of interest to children including video games, science experiments, a family video blog, art projects, field trips and behind-the-scenes footage. Of the total revenue generated by EvanTube, more than 85 percent comes from pre-roll advertising that runs before the family-produced video content. The remainder comes from sponsored product deals made directly with children’s marketers. On EvanTube, sponsored content often appears in the form of unboxing videos that feature Evan or his sister unpacking a new toy and showcasing its pieces.
Following its review of the EvanTube video content, CARU determined that the sponsored videos were both national advertising as defined by the “Self-Regulatory Program for Children’s Advertising,” and native advertising, or content that bears a strong similarity to independent editorial content. CARU’s guidelines were revised in 2006 to provide that advertising should not be presented in a way that blurs the distinction between advertising and program or editorial content. CARU guidelines further provide that disclosures must be clear and proximate to, and in the same format (i.e., audio or graphic) as the claims to which they relate.
CARU noted in its decision that “where sponsored videos featuring a brand’s products have the look and feel of user-generated content but are advertising messages, they should be labeled as such.”
Recent Federal Trade Commission guidelines provide that such disclosures, in advertising directed to adults, be made in “simple, unequivocal” language, so that consumers comprehend what it means. Terms that are likely to be understood include “ad,” or “advertisement.” When such messages are directed to children, who are less sophisticated than adults, the issue of clear, simple, consistent disclosure becomes increasingly important.
When CARU initially examined 132 sponsored videos on the EvanTube Channels, 84 included some type of text disclosure and only 36 included an audio disclosure.
CARU considered but was not persuaded by EvanTube’s argument that statements indicating that Evan had received free product could not be misunderstood by children. EvanTube argued that terms like “brought to you by [brand]” or “sponsored by [brand]” etc. are terms children hear with their earliest viewing of Sesame Street. CARU noted, however, that although children may hear the terms, EvanTube did not provide evidence about how children understand the terms or whether children interpret such terms to mean that the video they are viewing or about to view contains a paid for commercial message.
Following its review, CARU concluded that the sponsored videos on EvanTube where brands’ products are featured are advertising and determined that going forward each such sponsored video should be labeled with a prominent audio disclosure. CARU recommended that for new sponsored videos featuring a brand’s products EvanTube insert a clear and prominent audio disclosure stating that the videos are advertisements before the sponsored video content begins.
EvanTube, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “appreciates CARU’s review and agrees going forward for newly created videos to include an oral disclosure that the video is an ‘ad’ or ‘advertising’ at the start of any sponsored video featuring a brand’s products. This guidance is important for EvanTube going forward and provides new and useful information on CARU’s point of view.”