Advocacy Groups Lambast Big Brands and YouTube for Junk Food Ads Aimed at Kids

Oreo, Coke and BK named in complaint to FTC

A pair of advocacy groups today took YouTube and major brands to task for junk-food videos allegedly appearing on the YouTube Kids smartphone app, asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate their practices.

The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood and Center for Digital Democracy jointly stated that more than a dozen marketers have violated their own pledges to refrain from marketing any kind of food—much less candy bars and potato chips—to adolescents on YouTube Kids, which debuted in February. Brands named in the 83-page document include Oreo, Chips Ahoy, Burger King, Coca-Cola and American Licorice, among others.

The two organizations also contended that content from such brands' regular YouTube pages was making it onto the children's channel as well. That practice represents a sneaky form of advertising, they said.

"[YouTube] should be able to figure out how to program their algorithm so these ads don't show up on Kids," Josh Golin, executive director, Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, told Adweek. "But they choose not to."

It's not the first time this year Golin's group has worked with Center for Digital Democracy around concerns of possible branding shenanigans on YouTube Kids. In May, they issued complaints that YouTube stars, including Evan of EvanTubeHD, were manipulatively pitching items like Play-Doh, Disney princesses and Legos on the YouTube Kids app with unboxing videos.

Though, Golin and his team currently have set their sights on much bigger fish.

"We expect these brands and [YouTube] to honor their pledge to not target on YouTube Kids," Golin said. 

Late on Tuesday, Alphabet-owned YouTube offered the following comment: "YouTube Kids prohibits paid advertising for all food and beverage brands. We also ask YouTube creators to disclose if their videos contain paid product placement or incentivized endorsements and we exclude those videos from the YouTube Kids app. The app contains a wide range of content, including videos with food-related themes, but these are not paid advertisements. We also provide parents the ability to turn search off and restrict the YouTube Kids experience to a more limited set of videos."

The FTC typically accepts complaints and then starts a preliminary review process, so a conclusion will likely take a while. The May complaint has yet to be resolved.