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Gambling was ruined for me after I took Psychology 101 in college. Learning that slot machines were programmed on the same ratio of reinforcement that makes rats ask for cheese made me feel controlled and conned. I mean, who wants to give hard-earned money to somebody who’s training you like a rat? Now our screen devices are jumping us through hoops, with addictive features and profitable scams. If your kids are on YouTube, then they’re ready to learn about the “business side” of social media.

Buyer Beware

The Internet is a “buyer beware” environment. That means it is up to us to discover where the tricks and scams are.

There are regulations about collecting information and marketing to children because they do not yet have the sophistication to make sound, informed financial decisions. However, marketers online can’t be sure who is watching their content.

That means they can create marketing funnels that kids can fall into. Publicly, YouTube celebrities would insist they are only marketing to adults. But if that’s the case, why are so many kids and teens spending money online?

Celebrity Endorsement

When celebrities endorse a product, they lend their credibility to it. Viewers think, “I trust them. If they like it, I like it.” Viewers can spot celebrity-endorsed products when Youtubers say they are sponsored, affiliated, or teamed up with a company.

For example, Tana Mongeau (2.8M subscribers), Gabbie Hanna (6.5M subscribers), and plenty of others[2] were paid by Kenza Cosmetics[3] or Bermona[4] to advertise “great deals” to their subscribers. To maintain credibility with their fans, celebrities must be honest about their support of a product. However, YouTube influencers who are out for quick cash with little regard for their credibility and reputation scam their fans with inflated prices and hidden shipping costs.[5]


Scarcity is a classic marketing technique that refers to the “buy now before you miss out on a one-time limited offer.” The urgency drives consumers to impulsively buy. YouTubers commonly say three things that reflect scarcity.

They will say:

  • the product is amazing and insist you’re getting a great deal.
  • the product is in short supply, or the deal is a limited-time offer.
  • “I don’t want you to miss out on this”.

Beauty guru Jeffree Star (13.9M subscribers) used scarcity to sell his collection of eyeshadow palettes priced around $80 each in only three minutes.[6] No wonder he’s worth $50 million!

Pester Power

Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up, and they’ll say “YouTuber.” Many kids believe that all they have to do is post a video, and in a few months, they’ll be raking in the cash. To prepare, they hang onto every word of their favorite influencer, imagining that they too will one day be rich and famous. They adopt their lingo, accents, and interests, and want to buy what they have. This leads kids to pester their parents for online products or even use their parent’s credit cards without asking.[8]

Provoking Minions by Creating Conflict with Other Celebrities

Creating large-scale competitions or beef (having a grudge or dislike for another person) is one technique influencers use to increase subscriber rates. Spurring online fans into promoting your “win” creates drama with dollar signs. Superfans promote content for you, sweeping their friends into the frenzy with them. Free of charge!

Superfans who become radicalized to show support for their ingroup is a process social psychologists call deindividuation. Deindividuation is a psychological state where people get so caught up in their cause, they become disinhibited and fail to self-evaluate. It’s an intense state of belonging where one seems to lose oneself in the service of their chosen tribe. Famous examples are usually negative, like mob violence, but positive behaviors can occur as well. Teens and young adults are particularly susceptible as they are innately motivated to find and enthusiastically support their tribe.

An example of this type of marketing campaign is YouTube Red’s 2018 Boxing Match between YouTube Influencers KSI (20M subscribers) and Logan Paul (18.8M subscribers). The finale of their feud was a pay-to-view event where the two “boxed” for around 20 minutes, bringing in 13 million viewers and 7 million dollars of profit.[1]

The Apology Video

Wondering how YouTubers survive unfair marketing techniques directed at their subscribers? More marketing and PR. Here are some tactics we identified that seem to clean up celebrity marketing mishaps.

Delete the Evidence

Although celebrities delete the videos that got them into trouble in the first place, we all know that anything that appears on the Internet is there to stay. If the video promises to draw further attention, drama vlogs (YouTube videos about YouTube drama) will rebroadcast the offending video while criticizing the decision. Not only does the new vlogger gain subscribers from spilling tea, but it also drives new subscribers to the screwup’s site!

Get Ahead of the Narrative and Focus on the Fans

By making an apology right out the gate, the celebrity attracts more view time and takes control of the narrative.[9] By also showing dramatic concern for those hurt by the mishap, they may humanize themselves, making it seem that their fans are more important than fame.

Logan Paul (18.8M subscribers) is an example. In 2018, he released a video of him and his friends laughing as a suicide victim in Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest.[14] Media, including Dr. Bennett who was appearing as a parenting expert on Access Hollywood Live, expressed grave concern over his lack of discretion and empathy. In his apology video, he spent the first 30 seconds quickly going over what he had done and then focused primarily on his followers and all those who were affected by his actions.

Tears and Relatability

When a YouTuber makes an apology, they change up their appearance to seem more personal and relatable. Placing themselves in a lower position than the camera, wearing neutral colors, and choosing casual loungewear make the celebrity look less threatening.

Next, they get sad…really sad. Laura Lee, for example, apologized for racist remarks using every tactic talked about in this article, including dramatic crying and brushing away nonexistent tears.[15] Although it seemed effective for some, others remarked that the evident lack of sincerity was a show in itself.

Provocative Victim

One method of gaining fan support is sparking conflict and then crying about it for the next few weeks. Dr. B calls this the provocative victim technique. Trisha Paytas (4.8M subscribers) is famous for making over a dozen 15-minute videos of tearful breakdowns. Viewers don’t even care about what the topic or apology is about. They just come to see the spectacle.

Project Blame

Some YouTubers will try to blame other celebrities or even their own subscribers. For example, Gabbie Hanna made an apology for scamming her audience with Kenza Cosmetics, claiming that her fans should’ve done their research before purchasing.[13]

How to Prevent Marketing Manipulation

Even with education, children don’t have the experience or brain wiring to identify slick marketing techniques. But it shouldn’t stop you from educating them anyway. Here are some helpful tips to stay Internet safe.

YouTubers are not our friends.

Recognizing that YouTubers are strangers with no particular skill set or expert training is the first step to a healthy approach to viewing content. No matter how much they try to sell the idea they’re your “close friends,” they don’t know you nor do they care about your particular vulnerabilities.[16]

Don’t turn a blind eye.

Dr. Bennett believes the most important aspect of screen safety is forming a fun, cooperative alliance with your kids. By adopting our free GKIS Connected Family Agreement and reading and sharing our weekly GKIS blog articles, you’ll have lots of ideas for important and challenging family discussions. Just as parents teach their kids about screen issues along the way, kids also teach their parents.

Raise a smart consumer.

Taking the time to teach your kids how to be clever, savvy, and assertive is far more important than encouraging blind obedience. Help your kids build resilience and protect them from the unpleasant aspects of the online culture. Use discretion, yes, but don’t allow complacency and ignorance.

Use supportive resources.

GKIS helps families become smarter and more connected. Want some easy-to-use, affordable tools to get started? Here are some options for you:

OUR FREE GKIS CONNECTED FAMILY AGREEMENT AND WEEKLY BLOG ARTICLES: Once you enter your name and address at GetKidsInternetSafe.com, you are scheduled to receive your agreement and weekly articles. Snuggle in for a cup of tea and a quick read once a week to set your teaching agenda and build a closer, empowering parent-child alliance.

CYBERSECURITY & RED FLAG SUPPLEMENT: Don’t miss your Cybersecurity and Red Flag Supplement for your Connected Family Agreement. Not only will my cybersecurity tips improve your family’s privacy and security, but your kids will benefit BIG from knowing what kind of red flags to look out for online to avoid danger. You’ll also love the red flags you should look out for in your children’s behavior that may signal they need your help. Early intervention can make a big difference between making a mistake versus suffering from serious digital injury.

Dr. B’s SCREEN TIME IN THE MEAN TIME PARENTING BOOK: If you’re looking for a comprehensive source about screen benefits, screen risks, and parenting strategies, check out my book, Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe. Available on Amazon in e-book or print.

GKIS SCREEN SAFETY TOOLKIT: Ready to dial in safety at the device level but too overwhelmed to know where to start? We’ve got your back with our Screen Safety Toolkit. Start building your family’s custom digital toolkit with the tried-and-true recommendations from our guide. Have you wondered how to check their browser history, filter and block inappropriate sites, and monitor use? You won’t want to miss what we offer in this super low-priced, comprehensive guide.

GKIS CONNECTED FAMILY ONLINE COURSE: Early on, I realized that many avenues feed fun family connections and screen safety. My Connected Family Course offers ten quick steps to create a happier, healthier home. Filled with creative and fun tips that are family-tested and outcome-based, these are far more fun and effective than the free parenting tips offered on safety websites.

COACHING WITH DR B: Feeling like you need a little support and shame-free TLC? I have reserved office hours to coach you through the most challenging issues. Whether you love the privacy of 1:1 coaching or the vibrant energy of a motivated parenting group, I’ve got easy-to-schedule coaching options ready to go!

Thanks to Jack Riley, GKIS intern, for watching hours of YouTube for the research on this article and his clever insights.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty


Works Cited

[1] Hale, J (2018, August) How Much Did Logan Paul And KSI Make From Their ‘Youtube World Boxing Championship’? A lot. tubefilter.com

[2] Tea Spill, BEAUTY GURU’S ARE LYING TO YOU!?, YouTube.com
[3] kenzacosmetic.com

[4] bermona.com


Rich Lux., YouTube.com

[7] Mansson, E (2018, December) Sister Stocked? Not A Chance. The James Charles x Morphe Palette Has Sold Out For A Second Time, thetalko.com

[8] Dr. Bennetts Marketing Manipulation advice

[9] Forbes Communications Council, Seven Tips To Improve Apologies During A PR Crisis, forbes.com

[10] Morris, C (2018, December), Popular YouTube Streamer promotes Channel that publishes Anti-Semitic Content, Fortune.com

[11] Aja, R (Feburary,2017), The controversy over YouTube star PewDiePie and his anti-Semitic “jokes,” explained, Vox.com

[12] PewDiePie’s Teammate gets killed, he says it with a hard R out of frustration, Livestream Fails, YouTube.com

[13] Cancelled, gabbie hanna kenza cosmetics scam, YouTube.com

[14] Logan Paul Vlogs, I’m Sorry., YouTube.com

[15] Deceased Laura Lee apology with original captions, YouTube.com

[16] Oldford, S (2018, October) Manipulation in Marketing: How It’s Used, and How to Use It Ethically, entrepreneur.com

Photo Credits

“YouTube” photo by Esther Vargas

Photo Taken fromFreeStocks

“Serious Woman with Laptop Photo” photo by Matthew Henry

“Man Crying” photo by Christian Erfurt