The CAC warns of the large amount of covert, misleading and gender-stereotyped advertising in videos of toys on the internet

  • ​​​A CAC study concludes that 81.3% of the toy videos broadcast on platforms and social media contain covert advertising. The videos are viewed by millions (20 million) and most of them feature underage YouTubers, giving them more credibility
  • The presence of gender stereotypes in toy videos on the internet is 69.6% of the total, while on television this figure is 43.2%
  • All the toy videos on the internet are in Spanish. 48.2% attribute functions to toys (via animation) that do not exist in real life, something that is regulated on television
  • The CAC President, Roger Loppacher, criticises the fact that this type of advertising on the internet has increased the lack of protection for minors and calls for greater responsibility on the part of platforms and content creators, as well as regulations equivalent to those for television

The Catalan Audiovisual Council (CAC) has warned that toy advertising on video-sharing platforms and social media, often with the presence of child influencers, represents a setback in terms of the protection of minors as it is more covert, more misleading and contains more gender stereotypes than the advertising broadcast on traditional television. Moreover, these videos are widely seen (20 million views).

Specifically, according to two CAC reports referring to the 2021-2022 Christmas campaign, 81.3% of the videos about toys aimed at children and available on the internet did not contain any type of disclosure regarding the fact that they contained paid promotions, with the result that children could not differentiate the content from the advertising.

The CAC has also found that almost 50% of the toy videos broadcast on the internet show movements or characteristics that do not exist in real life, thanks to the use of fictional animation by the video producers. In contrast, on most traditional television commercials, when a toy moves you can see the hand of the child operating it.
Likewise, 69.6% of the toy videos available on the internet contain gender stereotypes, a much higher percentage than that recorded for toy advertising on traditional television, namely 43.2%.

These data, together with evidence indicating the huge popularity of toy advertising on the internet, are included in the two reports produced by the CAC on this area, the first referring to the internet and the second referring to television.

The CAC President, Roger Loppacher, has noted that “These two reports on toy advertising clearly show that this type of advertising on the internet represents, to some extent, a setback in terms of the rights of minors. The advertising that children and teenagers can find on YouTube and social media is more harmful because it's not identified as such, because it attributes non-existent functions to the products and because it contains a much larger number of gender stereotypes than on television”.

"If we add to this the effect of influencers, especially underage influencers, we can see that children have little protection" said Loppacher. "Moreover, this situation negatively impacts the traditional TV providers who, over the years, have reduced, to a greater or lesser extent, the most harmful elements of advertising messages. It should be remembered that toy advertisements, far from being harmless or banal, help to disseminate values that are very important in terms of the education of minors. The internet channels aimed at children need to act more responsibly”.

The CAC has approached the providers appearing in its internet study, encouraging them to take the necessary measures to inform viewers when a video contains advertising.

The first of the two reports is entitled Toy advertising on platforms and social media during the 2021-2022 Christmas campaign. In this study, the CAC has analysed 112 videos that contain toy advertising and which were broadcast during the last Christmas campaign on 25 channels and profiles on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. This is the CAC's fourth report to look at online toy advertising whereas, in the case of television, the reports date back to 2001.

The channels analysed, all of them based in Spain, have more than 70 million followers and the videos in the sample have received 20 million views. They are divided into four types of content: those featuring influencers who are children, those in which the influencer is an adult, those that focus on recreating stories featuring toys and those that market a toy brand or specific toy.

All the videos use Spanish as the vehicular language, although 17.9% belong to content creators based in Catalonia.

In almost all the videos analysed, the advertising forms part of the audiovisual story, a strategy that makes it difficult for children to detect its commercial nature. Toys are promoted within this content using different formats, including situations of play and interaction with toys by children or adults, the recreation of stories featuring toys, reviews and unboxing.

In 8 out of 10 videos (81.3%), viewed by more than 8.5 million people, no messages were detected that disclosed the presence of advertising. This figure is higher than the one in the report produced for the 2020-2021 Christmas campaign (75%).

When disclosures are present, two forms are used, which may also be present together: messages generated via specific functions offered by the platforms and social media (such as the text "This channel has received payment or free gifts to make this video") and also terms included by the content creators themselves, such as “patrocinado”, “patrocinio”, “publicidad”, “publi”, “esponsorizado” and “ad”.

More than a third of the videos analysed (34.8%) include the participation of a child influencer, a figure that creates a special relationship of trust among children. Influencers make use of this bond of trust established with the audience to praise the toy, which may be explicit, emphasising its qualities ("Hey! What a blast! That's two clues from [toy name]!") or implicitly, when the influencer is playing with the toy.

Regarding the attribution of non-real characteristics to toys, the most frequent instance is the figurative animation of movement and/or voice. This is a resource typical of channels and profiles that recreate stories featuring dolls and figures, which are given the ability to move and talk although they do not actually have this ability. With respect to the entire sample, the proportion of videos containing misleading elements regarding the toys' characteristics increased by 8 percentage points compared to the previous report (from 40% to 48.2%).

Regarding gender stereotypes, toy advertising on social media sites and platforms mostly shows girls and boys playing separately. This is evident in the different toys promoted, depending on the gender of the children featured in the videos. Female characters mainly promote toys that involve reproducing the primary sphere, such as dolls, representations of animals and pets or games that imitate situations in the private sphere and home. In contrast, male figures promote toys related to action and fighting, such as action figures, video-games and representations of weapons.

In the current report on the internet, the presence of gender stereotypes (69.6%) is very similar to that of last year's equivalent report (68%). However, when compared to the current report on television (described later in this press release), it can be seen that the internet has a substantially higher presence of gender stereotypes than traditional television (43.2%).

The presence of stereotypes is even greater in content featuring child influencers, being present in 84.2% of the videos they post.

These profiles and channels adopt a multi-network strategy to promote toys, both by showing the same content across channels as well as with specific content adapted to the particular format of each platform. Within this approach, YouTube is a key player in promoting toys compared to other platforms and social media sites.

Report on gender stereotypes on television

The second of the reports refers to television and is called The depiction of gender stereotypes in the television advertising of toys during the 2021-2022 Christmas campaign.

The sample, equivalent to that of 2020-2021, consisted of 88 spots, almost 50% more than the previous year (60 spots), although it should be noted that the previous campaign was exceptional since it was the first during the COVID pandemic, posting an all-time low in terms of advertising investment. Nevertheless, in broader terms it can be seen that the number of spots on television has gradually decreased. For example, the number of spots four years ago, in the 2017-2018 campaign, was 225.

The majority of toy commercials in the sample analysed (58.9%) are broadcast in Spanish.

The main finding of the report on television advertising is that 43.2% of the toy spots analysed contain depictions of gender stereotypes.

This figure is 8 percentage points higher than in the previous season, a year in which there was a significant decrease compared to 2019-2020, accounting for 48.6% of the sample. This fact could be related, at least in part, to the lower number of board game commercials in the current campaign, one of the least gender-stereotyped toys.

Considering the importance of this factor, it can be seen is that gender stereotypes were less present compared to 2019-2020, both in relative and absolute terms, as well as there being an increasing tendency to show girls and boys in the same story. On the other hand, the tendency (which continued in 2020-2021) of stereotypical roles being focused mostly on girls has been reaffirmed.

In this respect, the comparative data show a tendency, in recent years, for the prevalence of female stereotypes to increase: 82.8% of the total stereotypes depicted refer to the female gender (17.2% to the male gender), a higher share than that observed in previous years: 79.5% in 2020-2021 and 69.1% in 2019-2020.

Likewise, and as in the last two years, the three most repeated female stereotypes show girls who only play with girls (the commercial doesn't show them interacting with boys), girls playing with dolls and girls adopting the role of a mother in the game.

The language used in the commercials reinforces the stereotypical roles of girls and boys: girls talk about "crying", "discovering" (toys), "colour" and use terms related to personal care, while boys use vocabulary related to fighting and competition and words such as "incredible", "choose" or "win".

Both reports were approved by two votes in favour and one abstention at the CAC plenary meeting held on 19 January.

Agreement 1/2022 approving the report "The depiction of gender stereotypes in the television advertising of toys during the 2021-2022 Christmas campaign"

Agreement 2/2022 approving the report "Toy advertising on platforms and social media during the 2021-2022 Christmas campaign"