Youtube golden play button

Key Findings

#Brandofme is the follow-up study to the kidsmediacentre’s #Instafame research released in November, 2014. This research examines the media influences shaping Gen Z and Millennial’s (ages 13 - 24) media consumption and production behaviour. It focuses on young people’s social platform brand building and provides a detailed look at how young people are converting their online presence to influence. 

Big Picture Prognosis!

#BrandofMe is the story of youth building personal brands, but it’s so much more. 

Our 14 months in field with #BrandofMe has focused on the business and social media dynamics of “influence” and the extent to which they’re shaping a generation of youth.  If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know mainstream TV and the traditional media environment – is struggling.

A key reason for this is our shifting allegiance to mobile screens and social media entertainment. The decline in traditional media engagement has resulted in a new media and marketing economy. And the business of “influence” has moved from the underground economy to the economy.

If you don’t work in media or research kids’ media consumption, you may not appreciate the extent to which the business of marketing and the economic drivers of advertising have moved from traditional media to the business of Influence. I’m also not sure consumers, parents, educators…adults, understand the extent to which “Influence” is controlled and directed by youth with social media feeds. Viners selling LandRovers, 18 year old YouTubers endorsing Pizza Hut, HP, Disney, Taco Bell, Major League Soccer , Lego using Snapchat. The business fortunes of Fortune 500 companies are increasingly controlled by youth. Not adults. This video on Johnson and Johnson’s Clean and Clear product provides a fascinating tutorial on the risks and rewards of using a teen influencer to determine your corporate fortunes.

Crazy? Sea change? Tipping point? Choose your metaphor. They all apply.

Also worth noting is the slow disappearance of advertising to kids. It used to be separate advertising was created for children, teens and adults.  Today, there is almost no separation. It’s all mashed together and in the middle are kids and social media, the great message amplifiers that are slowly re-shaping the media and communication world, putting nervous Mad Men out of business! 

The Gen Z and Millennials who are thriving in this environment are young people with an entrepreneurial understanding of what this business is. They’ve grown up with social media – earned their YouTube MBA learning the business parameters by executing it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing when we consider the entrepreneurial skill sets being developed by young people versus the alternatives, i.e. a clerk in a corner store (no longer a paper route because ….you know!).


For sure. Many young kids have self esteem and self worth tied to their number of followers. Our #instame research explores this very concerning trend. Many teens and millennials are desperate to monetize themselves – spend untold hours building a following and producing content, buying into the YouTube dream factory. If they don’t know better (and why would they, they’re kids) they probably don’t understand it’s as much about quality as it is quantity. Watch/ read the kidsmediacentre’s interviews with Influicity CEO and InstaBrand co-founder for more on that. 

Perhaps the most concerning trend is YouTube parent “sharenting”; parents eager to monetize their kids and turn their kids into revenue streams.  The headlines make this all look so easy and what parent doesn’t want the extra income and education fund. A quick look at the world’s top YouTube channels shows lots of kids doing hauls and unboxing videos…many, with no parents in sight and annual revenue streams in the millions. It puts a whole new spin on child trafficking. YouTube and the YouTube Kids’ app are filled with these" third party" unboxing and haul videos (that YouTube allows because they are "third party" or "user generated content") that attract children in droves (children <13) making Google utterly complicit in this largely unregulated but highly branded marketplace.

Protecting the kids

The Influencer space is in its infancy and it’s a wild, wild west in terms of regulation. According to Naomi Lennon, a talent Agent in LA, the world of YouTube influencers is full of innocent youth and naïve parents, and exploitation is a problem.  We could find little to reassure us that young audiences and young Influencers are being adequately protected.

Today, young creators everywhere, are being approached by advertisers offering free product for an Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, Vine (ETC!!!) endorsement (follow the hashtag...). Very few of these young influencers understand FTC guidelines around declaring paid sponsorship.  Certainly, a 12 year old doesn’t understand that #Sp in 8pt type in the “Read More” Description Box or Instagram feed means this is advertising/paid sponsorship and that their eyeballs have been “bought”.

Compare Influencer Marketing in social media to ultra stringent advertising to kids rules in broadcast TV and, TBH, it’s a joke. Similarly, rules protecting actors and performers exist in traditional media via SAG and ACTRA. What rules exist to protect minors creating branded content on their bedroom webcams or protect kids from bullying parents who continue to put them in front of a camera to do hauls, unboxing and paid brand video content? The rules protecting kids on that score are missing and are not even discussed, and that part we find disturbing.

When big money rushes in to take advantage of opportunity, the onus, “to protect”, generally falls more heavily on parents and the kids themselves. Like the bad old days of conventional advertising and more recently, class action lawsuits around exploitive in-app purchases …right now it appears anything goes in the Influencer social media space.

Our prognosis: Influence marketing is a mixed offering. There is tremendous opportunity for business savvy youth to flex their entrepreneurial skills but the category is also ripe for exploitation. For young audiences, advertising testimonials masquerading as content and entertainment requires scrutiny, transparency and more media literacy education. We have some recommendations for policy makers here. In the meantime, it’s time to add another chapter to the “parenting manual”.

observations - media behaviour

Creating video content is the new arts and crafts

  • Creating “content” “for fun” is increasingly part of the youth experience. Instead of coming home and drawing or painting, children are looking to their favourite online personalities on YouTube for entertainment and content creation inspiration.

Eyeballs are shifting en masse to social platforms where youth can curate their own media agenda

  • To quote one of the children we interviewed, TV just isn’t as “juicy” as YouTube although it’s a good backup if you also have your iPad and iPod at the ready for a social media log in. 

Access to a personal audience is the new norm

  • The selfie is the gateway to personal branding and young people experiment with identity creation and community through platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.  As they age up, and learn the production and technology options on their devices, they move on to video production. The ubiquity and influence of platforms like Vine, YouTube and Snapchat has normalized  #Brandofme video production and lots of young people have channels on YouTube by grade 6. Many also want higher end shooting hardware and editing software before they turn 12.

  • Parental mediation and oversight of these social channels and content production is increasingly difficult as kids create, upload and connect on mobile devices. (Some parents & kids share an email account or log in which is a great strategy....until kids rebel.)

Social media metrics are the new curriculum for young people.  Audience monetization, AdSense and engagement are all part of the lexicon for “fame fast trackers and movers and shakers”.

  • Young children are now seeking fame as an end goal of social media posting thanks in large part to the YouTuber phenomenon. They understand that views and hits are one-offs and followers and subscribers are they key to building a meaningful, viable brand channel .
  • The meme of every young aspiring YouTuber: “What’s up guys….” and “Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel”.
  • Snapchat and 6 second Vines represent the triumph of the one-liner. Ultra short form video and bite-sized story-telling make content creation a realistic goal for young video consumers. 

Influencer Marketing Transparency Guidelines are Woefully Inadequate for Youth

In research conducted by Ofcom The Department of Communications in the UK, 53% of youth don’t realize YouTubers can be paid to endorse products.

  • Most children 12 – 15 don’t know, read, or pay attention to any transparency disclosures around paid sponsorships, which means they can’t differentiate advertising influence from content.
  • Additionally, if children don’t drill down to the video description box or understand what the hashtags mean, the current Truth in Advertising Guidelines won’t mean a thing.
  • Transparency around paid postings is uneven at best, industry practitioners seem vague on policy and the FTC doesn’t have the capacity to police this self-policed phenomenon.

Most children do not have the developmental capacity to weigh, consider and understand the commercial pressure and marketing tactics brought to bear on consumers until they approach 13 years of age.

  • Most research agrees children’s ability to critically evaluate advertising and marketing and understand attitudinal and emotional persuasion techniques is not fully developed until an adolescent approaches 12 years of age. The “cognitive defense model” argues once children can recognize and understand advertising they can defend themselves from it (Carter, Patterson et al.2011). Unlike broadcast, digital advertising practices to children are self-regulated and governed, principally, by corporate values and ethics.

Youth understand Google pays for traffic to a content creator’s channel and by high school youth are mostly savvy to paid YouTube, Instagram and sponsored content posts.

  • The kidsmediacentre focus group research suggests by high school (17/18 years of age), many years of media education and a more critical life perspective makes young people more aware of marketing strategies and tactics and they’re better able to weigh the impact of emotional and behavioural marketing tactics.


Photo courtesy: zefr

Privacy Gets in the Way of Fame

For many young people, Privacy is an annoyance and gets in the way of growing a #BrandofMe

  • Most Gen Z kids understand privacy means never sharing your name or address online and never shooting photos or videos that show where you live.
  • Many parents rely on older siblings for social media quality control (one older sister reported many of her younger sister’s transgressions including arguing in comment streams, luring followers with fake giveaways, promising shout-outs for follows).
  • Gen Z posting behaviour is generally kept in check until the pre-teen years. By grade 6 (11 years old), the heady experience of followers, likes and “audience” trumps most pre-teens privacy concerns that their parents or millennial siblings might have had drilled into them.
  • Millennials have lived through many privacy case studies. They’ve experienced privacy and digital literacy education seminars with Facebook as the “whipping boy” for tech privacy indiscretions. Millennials grew up hearing about it, so it’s fair to say they value privacy more. They’re also over the critical “identity formation” hurdle of the pre-teen and teen years. Millennials have also had a front row seat to Kardashian family dysfunction and privacy “breaches” and Justin and Miley ET headlines.

The Business of Influencer Marketing 

Industry – is changing at breakneck speed and the new Mad Men of the advertising world are Influencer Marketing Agencies and MCN’s who broker the deals

  • “Don’t let change leave you behind” is the moniker/warning!) used by the Advertising industry to incentivize the advertising community to keep up with those controlling the buying and selling of influence – youth!!!
  • In the kidsmediacentre’s interview with Jonathan Davids, CEO of Influencer Marketplace Agency, Influicity, he notes after years of arbitrage (“paid” social media low-balling) the industry is “on a tear”. Growth on both the supply and the demand side is up. According to Davids, “In early days advertisers would come in to an Instagrammer and they’d say I’ll pay you $200 bucks for a post. That same Instagrammer today is making $10,000 a post- easy!!"I
  • Influencer marketplaces and marketing agencies are busy signing up kids with large social followings to be influencers.
  • Estimated Instagram paid influencer campaigns last year: $1Billion.
  • The modern day media buy involves signing up youth for their influence. Various scenarios exist:
  1. Hire one or two mega digital celebs – usually youTubers -  with monster followings to influence kids to buy (link everything through the campaign hashtag). Could be EvanTube, WeWoreWhat, Tyler Oakley.
  2. Create a “collab” where you, say, gather a bunch of 100,000 – 500,000 YouTubers or Viners creating broad “reach” and message “amplification” and a party atmosphere around the brand.
  3. For smaller grassroots brands or campaigns, MCN’s or influencer agencies are signing up, say, 50 influencers with anywhere from 2,000 – 5,000 followers each. Again, brand guidelines are passed along but at the end of the day, it’s up to the influencer to create their own branded message.

Advertisers cash in on teens and millennials social media social capital and gain access to their hungry fan base.

  • MCN’s use social tracking software and data analytics to follow the trajectory of young people’s social media platform growth. Some agencies stipulate a minimum number of followers (i.e. 10k) and likes per picture (i.e. 1k) to be an Influencer. For others, it’s quality over quantity.
  • Influencer Agencies are in the business of cutting deals. For them it’s pretty much business as usual so up to parents to provide oversight. Both companies the kidsmediacentre spoke to say there are regulations protecting influencers who are minors (must get parent consent) but at the end of the day, parents must vet influencer contractual offers and advertiser guidelines and expectations.

According to LA based InstaBrand Co-Founder, Felix LaHaye, 100 - 200 young people sign up EVERY DAY to be brand influencers with his company (and there is a new Influencer Marketing Agency opening it’s doors, daily)

  • “…it’s still a finite market, there’s only so many advertisers and so much ad inventory that a sponsor is going to buy. Break through clutter, create a voice of your own. Build something of real value. When it gets there, you’ll know…advertisers will be banging on your door to be with you…. it shouldn’t be the other way around.”
  • Agencies caution young people to treat this as a short term gig, and to be business savvy about building their brand.

MCN’s aggregate YouTube influencers, and sell them in bulk units.

  • Similar to a display advertising “media buy” where you buy a bunch of websites, or buy a bunch of TV shows to reach teens – in the case of YouTube, networks buy a bunch of YouTubers based on their channel reach, “vertical” and the quality of the channel.
  • The influencer has to be fairly well developed to add value for brands – they have to have an audience, a strong point of view, and have a voice.
  • Influencers can’t be treating their social streams as a dumping ground – need to be brand savvy and know how to curate a social platform that’s focused on a particular subject, i.e. Miranda Sings – goofy teen awkwardness, Rosanna Pansino – pre-teen Nerd DIY culture - Nerdy Nummbies, iJustine – technology.
  • “…what we look for in an influencer …audience, authenticity, transparency and the ability to translate the product – if it’s a sponsorship – into a real compelling video.”  Jonathan Davids, Influicity.

Agencies use algorithms to determine brand fit, posting regularity, comment stream assessment, influencer reliability, creativity and persuasiveness.

Recipe for Success

  • Better be brand savvy – what’s your brand DNA, business savvy, producer savvy, privacy savvy,  – what is your brand worth?, posting savvy (Nash Grier).
  • Consumers are happy to be advertised to if it’s a really great piece of content by someone they already like. 

Cautionary Notes

Because Social Media isn’t challenging enough for parents to manage, they now need to understand youth are converting their social following into a monetization stream and shilling brands in exchange for free product or if they’re lucky, as a paid ambassador. Some parents are aware, some support this, some have no idea!

  • In our research we’ve seen and met young people are doing whatever they have to do to build and promote their brand - provocative pictures, buying followers, #hijacking hashtags, celebrity spamming
  • MCN’s are chasing youth with a “sizeable” social media following…. Are parents talking to their kids and kids talking to their parents?
  • “…parents need to be the filter between the time their kids create content and broadcast it. ” Jonathan Davids
  • Just because you have a large following doesn’t make you influential
  • Erratic behaviour – aka doing what teens do best – posting skin, swearing on social media, fishing for “rage clicks” …these posts may get you views, but you won’t get called to be an influencer for a Fortune 500 brand, according to Felix LaHaye of InstaBrand. Many young people don’t necessarily get that.
  • “….before any content is posted to YouTube or that content goes out anywhere you (parents) should be watching it. ” Jonathan Davids.
  • Kids and parents need to know that to be an influencer youth are “throwing their privacy out the window.” Jonathan Davids.
  • “there’s a shelf life for you in this role – being a YT star or Vine star is not a lifelong proposition. It’s a period of time, you have a niche you have…a period of time… you’re really doing something for the moment.” Jonathan Davids.

What are the Market Conditions contributing to this huge rush (supply) of young people into the Influencer space?

  • It’s their home and native land - Digital natives have grown up with a computer in their pocket. Today’s tech makes it easy.
  • For movers and shakers, youth with huge social networks who are broadcasting vs. narrowcasting, it feels like the natural evolution.
  •  Kids – less 9-5 work is available, they are “the Precariat”
  • Fame is achievable. The evidence is all over Youtube and in bookstores everywhere.
  • YouTubers, Viners and paid posts on Instagram make it look easy and accessible.
  • There is this perception that it’s lucrative and for some young people it is. However, parents that have read this far in our research should ensure their progeny read this article (

Organic is the biggest buzzword in the influencer lexicon. The phrase “I wouldn’t endorse this brand if I didn’t believe in it” is the new permission marketing.  If you talk to kids, read the comments, rabid fans say sponsorships are ok because Zoella, Logan Paul, Zach King, Rachel Levin, Casey Neistat, Lilly Singh, @BrittleStar, @RayLigaya, @Nelcam (etc) really believes in the product.

  • Kids have SO drunk the koolaid!!

Does Influencer advertising work? Does viral chatter/the ripple effect/brand sponsorship convert to sales? Is this a blip? Welcome to the 64,000 question!!!

  • According to Bazaar, over $1 Billion was invested in Instagram paid posts last year.
  • Brand categories that work best for young people are those where personal status is at stake or the user has an emotional investment in the category – fashion, makeup, running shoes, music and gaming.
  • Kids are having their media habits subsidized by brands and there is a generation of kids who are making a whole lot more than they would with any paper route or fast food job.