The São Paulo State Court of Appeals in Brazil has ordered toy manufacturer Mattel to cease using child-hosted YouTube channels to deliver advertising targeted at children in the country, ruling that such an audience is incapable of distinguishing advertising from entertainment content on the platform. The company was also sentenced to pay collective damages in the amount of R$ 200,000. Alana Institute’s Child and Consumerism program denounced the campaign, called “Você Youtuber Escola Monster High” (“Become a Monster High YouTuber”), to the São Paulo Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2017 and now celebrates the judgment, an unprecedented ruling in Brazil in connection with an advertising on child YouTube channels case.
The campaign by the toy manufacturer sought to promote the Monster High brand and products to children through a partnership with a kid influencer’s channel, relying on its popularity with child audiences to create a make-believe school environment, including tests and graduation ceremonies. Aimed exclusively at girls aged 4-16, the campaign encouraged children and teenagers to record and post videos fulfilling the challenges launched online by the young YouTuber hired to publicize the campaign. Each week, one participant was chosen to win a Monster High doll, two tickets for a mini Meet and Greet – a ‘graduation event’ for the campaign’s fictional school to be held at Mattel’s headquarters with the presence of the kid influencer –, character costumes, and a backpack stuffed with licensed branded products and printed with doll designs.
Upon realizing that the campaign was abusive, Child and Consumerism program filed a complaint against Mattel with the São Paulo Public Prosecutor’s Office, which led to the latter filing a Public Civil Action against the company for veiled child advertising on YouTube. The lawsuit was upheld by the lower court and now by the Special Chamber of the São Paulo Court of Appeals, which has ruled to maintain the original judgment. In his assent, Appellate Judge Renato Genzani Filho pointed out that the advertising campaign carried out by Mattel went against Brazilian law, by violating social rights regarding child protection. He also stressed that all advertising should be directed at the children’s guardians, since the former cannot distinguish the persuasive nature of marketing messages.
“The unprecedented decision by the São Paulo Court of Appeals raises a red flag to the whole of society and especially to companies that insist on exploiting the vulnerability of children to promote their products and services for financial gain, often in veiled ways and through social network campaigns carried out by children; we can no longer ignore the legal restrictions that prohibit advertising for children. It is unacceptable that children’s rights continue to be violated in the name of strictly commercial interests. As such, this judgment is a groundbreaking ruling that reinforces the legal protections that are already in place for digital environments”, says Pedro Hartung, lawyer and coordinator of Child and Consumerism program.