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Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

What Parents Should Know About Toyota’s ‘Small Talk’ Campaign

Integrated marketing campaigns can be immersive experiences that add to an ongoing dialogue, inspiring positive change. But more often than not, they can be creepy as hell and make me vomit in my mouth a little. Enter the “Small Talk” Campaign, a new partnership between Toyota and YouTube that encourages parents to whore out their young children for money.

It’s deceptively simple – you just record your toddler cutely answering a company-approved question about cars, upload the video and wait for instant fame.

Toyota (click the image for full screen)

But wait – read the fine print. There’s that giant paragraph of incomprehensible language about signing your child’s life away:

“By entering this Contest, and to the extent allowed by law, entrants grant Contest Entities and each of their affiliates, licensees, promotional partners, advertising and promotion agencies, and third party marketing entities the absolute right and permission to edit, modify, cut, rearrange, add to, delete from, copy, reproduce, translate, dub, adapt, publish, exploit, and use the content of and elements embodied in the Video Submissions, entries, and the entries themselves, in perpetuity in any and all media, including but not limited to digital and electronic media, computer, audio, and audiovisual media (whether now existing or hereafter devised), in any language, throughout the world, and in any manner, for trade, advertising, promotional, commercial, or any other purposes without further review, notice, approval, consideration, or compensation.”

It goes on, but the gist is that, by uploading, you are signing away the rights to your child’s image in that video. They can use it however they want and you have no say over it. They will profit from your child’s image, and you will get NOTHING. NADA. ZIP.

That’s a lot to give up for a $10,000 pipe dream.

Remember Charlie? I love that stuff, because engagement like that, between parent and child, enriches their relationship. Your children know you are focusing on them because you genuinely care – not because you are reenacting something for a company.

But kids doing adorable things is big money, and now Toyota wants your child to help them sell things with their “aw factor.” Referencing “Charlie bit my finger” is a sneaky way to embed themselves into an existing culture of parents on YouTube.

I don’t have children of my own, but this still pisses me off. Why? Consider these points:

1. Social Media Makes It Easy To Be A Fame Whore
You upload your toddler crying over Justin Bieber, she gets to be on TV and meet Justin Bieber. If your daughter screams on camera over a “Twilight” hunk and sends that video to a major media company, she might get to meet Oprah. This is the message we’re selling: “When choosing between options, do [the thing] that leads to instant gratification. Do what will bring you attention.”

2. Companies Like To Use Your Babies
Yes, they do. All the time. Why? It saves them money. It provides the illusion that they are connected with their “community,” that they “get” their “audience.” Bullshit.

Toyota is losing money. They need to make more money. They need their product to appeal to families so they can sell more units. By giving footage of your daughter or son away to them, they are turning around and using it to sell your endorsement – without paying you a cent! They dangle a prize that most won’t win, and you come in droves to help them make low cost commercials — brilliant!

Is Toyota paying your bills? No? Then why are you paying theirs?

3. You Don’t Want Your Child To Be Famous
No, you really don’t. Think about it. Your may want more for your kids, but the chances that your darling is ever going to be the next Dakota Fanning are slim to none.

If you really want to help your children, read with them. Listen to them. Help them with their homework. Teach them how to use the internet. Talk with them about sex, body image and self respect. Google The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and find out how it applies to your life.

Young parents are especially vulnerable to these campaigns that want “non actor” children to sell adult products. Toyota’s video description is tongue-in-cheek, but it clearly states that they want you to use your kids, so they can use you:

“Radio personality, television host and all-around great guy Ryan Seacrest is giving parents a chance to make a little coin off their little miracles. Welcome to YouTube Small Talk made possible by the new Toyota Sienna. For more mom and dad funny, check out The Sienna Family web-series at”

Toyota should be engaging you with deals, better products and parent driver resources – not USING YOU. The actual miracle will be that any of this was worth your time, and that the hours you lost working for free for a big company will ever be returned to you.

In closing, some kids do want to be actors — that’s fine. Fame is another story fraught with complications that the average parent isn’t trained to spot. Chasing fame is not going to get you a new home, vacations or more food in the house. Educate yourself and your children, learning about realistic resources — these steps should be a primary focus in your life.

Think twice before you let big media profit from your innocent child who’s picking his nose, biting his brother or pooping his pants. You are the only one, in the end, who needs to value how “adorable” your kid is. Not Toyota.

For more information on how to protect your kids from advertisers, visit and


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