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Lego marketing chief says the challenge with online advertising is that so much content is 'damaging' to kids

Key Points
  • Lego CMO Julia Goldin said at Cannes that kids are "on platforms where they are exposed to content that is actually damaging to them."
  • On YouTube, the toymaker is targeting adults, she said.
  • Lego is using its own social network called "Lego Life" to reach children.
The Lego Movie: The Second Part
Lego

Lego faces a conundrum when it comes to online advertising, according to Chief Marketing Officer Julia Goldin. That's because the toymaker's target audience is children, and the big internet companies aren't doing enough to protect them from unsafe content, she says.

"Platforms need to have more transparency and take more responsibility," Goldin said on Thursday in an onstage interview at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. "We also need to take more responsibility for how we work with platforms, both individually as brands but collectively as an industry."

Speaking at a session hosted by The Economist and featuring marketing leaders from Procter & Gamble and Taco Bell, Goldin addressed the increasing concern surrounding the safety of online content and the regulatory issues facing tech giants. Questions about how marketing executives are pressuring Facebook and Google to change their practices came up repeatedly at Cannes, the ad industry's most important annual awards event. 

Goldin is focused on the safety of kids.

"Right now, they are on platforms where they are exposed to content that is actually damaging to them and their privacy is not protected," Goldin said. "I don't think we should accept that."

Goldin added that Lego doesn't advertise on the major sites when the company doesn't "feel that it's safe." When asked if the company promotes its products on YouTube, she said, Lego is "really focused on adults" on that site and is "very careful about where we actually will put advertising that's targeted to children."

YouTube did not provide CNBC with a response to Goldin's comments.

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YouTube is finally giving parents control over what children watch on its 'Kids' app

YouTube says viewers have to be at least 13 to sign up. The company has a service called YouTube Kids, which filters videos for underage children and includes a limited number of ads, all indicating that the spots are family friendly and in compliance with YouTube's policies.

However, there are plenty of ways for kids to watch regular YouTube videos, including by using the accounts of their parents. A Bloomberg report this week said that popular kids' channel Cocomelon, which is part of the main service, has more than 50 million subscribers, double the weekly audience for all of YouTube Kids. 

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating YouTube for allegedly violating a law that forbids the tracking and targeting of users younger than age 13, according to The Washington Post.

Higher standards

Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell's global chief brand officer, said during the session that the restaurant company is so big it has to work with the major platforms but added that it has at times  "hit the pause button, literally and figuratively" to say "there has to be accountability."

For Lego, there's another path to reaching users in a safe way that doesn't rely on Google and Facebook. In 2017, the company launched Lego Life as an online community for children to upload photos of their own Lego creations. As of April 2018, it had 6 million members.

Goldin describes Lego Life as a "super safe digital platform" and said the company monitors all content using machine learning and human review. Kids use avatars instead of personal pictures, everything is done with parental consent and the site doesn't collect private data, she said.

"Those are the kinds of standards we need to continue abiding by," she said.

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