Nihal Rajagopal, aka Kicha, who hails from Kochi, a coastal city in India’s southern Kerala State, is probably the world’s youngest “chef” who got featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show when he was six. Kicha was visibly overjoyed to showcase how he makes Puttu, a traditional south Indian breakfast, on one of the most popular American talk shows.
The appearance on the Ellen show was a significant milestone in his culinary journey as a YouTuber. And he’s just one of the many Indian youngsters who are riding the country’s social media fanfare to turn themselves into an online sensation.
Pune-based clinical psychologist and school counselor Priti Rishi Kumar was surprised when a ninth-grade student approached her during a career counseling workshop to seek guidance with career options as a YouTuber. She said, “When I asked him what sort of content he wanted to create, he replied that he hadn’t given it a thought and just wanted to create videos and become popular like other YouTubers.”
A young online chef
Kicha, now 11, has more than 43,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, dubbed KichaTube HD. From Milkybar banana payasam to Rabdi parfait, both are typical Indian snacks, he has been impressing people with his culinary skills and approachable recipes that are easy to replicate at home.
A YouTube cooking channel wasn’t Kicha’s first choice. Initially, he was hooked on unboxing toys and has been a big fan of Evantube HD, where a young boy posted videos of unboxing his toys. And Kicha wanted to make similar videos, his father Rajagopal V. Krishnan, an advertising professional, told KrASIA. But he was rather fond of playing with the toys than unboxing and explaining them. Later his father saw his interest in cooking, and things took a turn after one of his videos went viral.
“Kicha started cooking at the age of three-and-a-half. He used to observe his mother Ruby, a professional baker, and help her with baking. When he was four, we made a mango ice popsicle video and uploaded it on Facebook. Some of my friends encouraged me to start a proper cooking show on YouTube for him. When I asked him about the channel, he said the name should be Kichatube HD, inspired by Evantube HD,” according to the father.
He added that the idea behind the channel was not to spike followers but to let him focus on his creativity and passion for cooking. This little wonder chef slash kid influencer became a household name after Facebook acquired his Mickey Mouse Mango popsicle video rights for USD 2,000. Post the acquisition by Facebook, Kicha gained immense popularity, which culminated with his appearance on the Ellen show as well as NBC’s Little Big Shots hosted by Steve Harvey.
Kicha is not alone. Just like him, other popular kid influencers are emerging in one of the world’s largest markets for social media and online videos, getting their hands on the digital space with their seemingly childish but adorable creativity. Kidfluencers—a portmanteau of kids and influencers—is the new term echoing in the adult influencer marketing space. Similar to how adult influencers grow, these kids also get started from a particular field of content that they are interested in and good at. Then after some of them managed to gain popularity, marketers and advertisers will reach out to them for brand promotion gigs the same way they reach out to adult influencers.
One difference, though, is that while Instagram leads as the preferred platform for adult influencers, YouTube has been primarily used by kid influencers.
Parents behind the steering wheel
While Kicha has the initiative in taking the virtual stage, not every other kid shares his passion. In some cases, parents are behind the steering wheel, posting the content of their kids across platforms from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram to local short video apps after the TikTok ban, turning a next-door kid into an influencer.
That’s the case for Anantya Anand, who started to be featured in her aunt’s videos when she was four. Little did she know that her love for the camera would garner 12 million subscribers on her channel and make her one of the leading kid influencers in India. Her channel MyMissAnand is largely managed by her family. Nisha Topwal, Anand’s mother, also a YouTuber, has seen her daughter sharing the same interests when it comes to the camera.
“Anantya started at a very young age. She used to feature in her aunt’s fashion and beauty videos. Gradually we saw her interest in the camera and acting, and her aunt started a YouTube channel where we made sketches,” Topwal told KrASIA.
According to Sanjay Gupta, country head and vice president, Google India, YouTube in India reaches over 325 million monthly active users aged 18 and above. People are turning to this platform to engage with a large audience, and the kids are not spared out from seizing this opportunity.
The guideline over such platforms states that in order to have an account, you have to be 13-year-old or older, and most of these influencers are too young to be on social media platforms. Therefore, like Anand, the accounts are created and handled under the supervision of their parents.
But their job is not only limited to uploading the content, but it also includes executing brand collaboration and creating eye-catching content, and balancing those against their child’s academic performances.
In the case of the Anand family, the family ensures that her busy schedule for content creation doesn’t compromise her academics. “We take care of the pre-production and post-production, and we just take Anantya’s weekend for the shoot. So, in a week, she dedicates 10 to 14 hours,” her mother said.
The parents of sisters Jinwani and Dhwani Jain, who run Cute Sisters with 1.42 million subscribers, believe parents have to contribute more time if they are exploring this domain of content creation with their kids. Puneet Jain, the father of two, said, “It is a good way to have fun with kids, but it shouldn’t interfere with their studies and fun time, because when there are a good number of viewers, you cannot back out. Parents need to work on their channel much more than kids, and contribute their time as creating a video is a very lengthy process.”
Brands leveraging kidfluencers
Influencer marketing is becoming a popular strategy among brands. There is an array of influencers ranging from children, micro-influencer, senior citizens, young adults, and many more to be hired. While adult influencers often target a wide range of customers, kid influencers hold more sway over other kids and their parents, who hold the purchasing decisions in the family.
The market is also growing. In 2019, auditor PwC published a report estimating that the global kids digital advertising market would grow to USD 1.7 billion by 2021 due to the increase in the number of children going online.
As more and more brands are embracing kid influencers, these kids and their parents have got a certain knack for brand deals. “Collaboration videos are similar to other videos, but you have to be careful of things. I can either say hi or hello in my video, but in a branded video, I have to say the written lines,” said Anand.
Just like their channels, the parents and their team handle the brand collaborations. “The brand collaborations are handled by us, but she is aware that this is a branded video as there are certain guidelines we need to follow for those brands,” added Anand’s mother.
According to Indian Kids Digital Insights 2019, a study by Totally Awesome, a digital media company, 73% of kids ask their parents to buy something after watching the digital content recommended by a child influencer.
While it makes sense to think that kid influencers go through the same competition in their own space as their adult peers, that is not the case. “Today, it is easier for kid influencers in India to grow as it is a new category,” said Apaksh Gupta, founder, and CEO, One Impression, an influencer marketing agency.
Dealing with fame
Even before the kidfluencer sensation, with the advent of cheap smartphones and ubiquitous mobile connections, kids were already spending more time online. As per a 2019 study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), 66 million Internet users in the age bracket of 5 to 11 years access the Internet on the devices of family members.
In her seven years of career counseling experience, Kumar has observed that increasing screen time and social media platforms contribute to issues affecting childhood and parenting. For her, the trend of kid influencers became more evident during the lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. “In the pandemic, I saw a surge in kid influencers on social media, including YouTube. It was a sort of activity for the parents to connect with their kids.”
She suggests that parents should realize there are privacy issues associated with online fame. “On one hand, these platforms foster communication and entrepreneurship skills among the kids, but at the same time it can also increase anxiety and attention-seeking behavior as they are sharing their childhood with online followers.”
Criticism and negative comments come along with social media presence, too. Child influencers’ parents have to ensure that their kids stay away from the risks of online trolling and negative feedback.
Manish Kanojia’s daughter ten-year-old Kyra Kanojia hosts a Kyrascope Toy Reviews YouTube Channel. The father told KrASIA that they had received “snide comments” on her daughter’s “accent and clothes”. “But the good thing is that YouTube has now disabled the comment section,” the young father added.
In 2019, YouTube disabled the comment section after several controversies spiraled up around child’s safety. A year later, the platform restricted certain features on the content made for kids to comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
As some kidinflueners started to snatch up handsome marketing deals, another question regarding how to safeguard their earnings rose.
In some parts of the world, countries are taking precautions through legislation.
A new law in France offers kid influencers the same protection and benefits as those given to child models and actors. Likewise, some California lawmakers are trying to update and expand the kid influencer bill that mandates the parents to open a Coogan account that requires 15% of a child’s earnings to be placed in a trust fund account until the age of 18. In India, the industry and local government have not recognized the issue yet. But as the trend gains momentum, local lawmakers eventually will have to pay attention.