Mila and Emma Stauffer, 2-year-old twin sisters who live with their parents and three older siblings near Phoenix, were sitting on the floor, having a discussion about what they might be when they grow up."Maybe a teacher?" Emma said.
"Emma, you hate kids!" Mila said.
"How about a doctor," Emma suggested.
"Emma, you hate blood," her sister said.
"Oy yep, I hate blood," Emma said.
The video of this conversation was filmed by their 14-year-old sister, Kaitlin, this past summer. It appeared originally on their mother's Instagram page, where it has since been viewed 4.4 million times.
Mila and Emma are two breakthrough stars of a new class of social media celebrities: young children who appear in viral videos. In many of the most popular clips, these whippersnappers engage in adultlike conversations, amusingly given their babyish voices. The videos can be incredibly popular. And marketers have noticed.
Mila and Emma have done advertising work for Amazon, Nest, Dollar Rental Car, Macy's and Walmart, among other companies. They're flying to New York in October to shoot video spoofs of movies including Clueless and Mean Girls for Harper's Bazaar.
"It is really lucrative," said Katie Stauffer, their mother."But I wish people knew that this is my job now."
And the talent can be difficult. Emma does not love making videos, and Mila wants to make them only when she wants. Stauffer has stopped cutting deals with companies that insist on giving her deadlines."You can't make 2-year-olds do anything," she said.
Instead she stages photo shoots many times a week, during which the girls do relaxed toddler things: make princess cakes; drag dolls dressed like the twins; or sit in wagons while having staring contests in front of the family's stately red-doored home.
The images are then posted to Stauffer's 2.2 million followers. Recently a Stauffer video got a coveted repost from Kris Jenner, perhaps the ultimate authority on building daughters' brands."#iminlove," Jenner wrote.
Ross Smith, a 25-year-old social media star (he has 4 million Facebook followers, 1.5 million on Instagram, and an average Snapchat post gets about 1 million views), has collaborated with several children.
"Kids are the new social influencer," he said. He is not a parent himself, but he understands the instinct to seize on corporate offers when they arise."Kids grow up and become less relevant. The sweet spot is between 2 and 4," after which, Smith said,"they're not that cute."
Smith lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is best known for videos he shoots with his 91-year-old 'Granny' (whom he prefers not to name). They have worked with Mila, making a video of Granny giving her dating advice. It posted in September and has been viewed more than 31 million times on Smith's Facebook page.
He has also teamed up with Korbin Jackson, a 3-year-old from Dothan, Alabama, who is best known for his soccer and Ping-Pong ball trick shot videos.
Their video pitted Korbin against his sparring partner (whose T-shirt said, 'Straight Outta the Nursing Home') in a trick shot battle. It has been viewed 18 million times on Smith's Facebook page. To film it, Smith flew Korbin and his parents to Ohio. Upon arriving at Smith's house, Korbin said he needed a nap, so the production was halted for an hour or so.
"It's hard to work with kids, but it's fun," Smith said.
Korbin got his start in social media after his parents made accounts to share videos and pictures of him with friends and family. His father, a former professional arena football player with his own large social media following, began to post videos of the bespectacled, ebullient child doing sports tricks.
Ten of Korbin's videos have been featured on ESPN, and he has been interviewed by news stations in Japan and Romania. His Instagram feed has nearly 65,000 followers.
Born with a disability, Korbin spent 2 1/2 years doing physical therapy."He finds so much joy and happiness in life, and we are so proud to share his good energy," said his mother, Stephanie Jackson.
She said when Korbin arrives at school with his father, the older children surround him and ask to take selfies with the local celebrity."When Korbin gets to high school, his following will be huge," she said."That Instagram just set him up for greatness."
Korbin receives a lot of free stuff in the mail, and his parents often tag the brands in posts. Unsolicited, Jackson said, GoPro sent about $2,000 worth of camera equipment. Many sportswear companies send packages. Korbin's feed frequently promotes Under Armour."They send him boxes once a month," his mother said."It's not a paper deal, it's not a contract, they are inspired by him."
She tries to limit the number of people who know the family's home address."We do get weird emails and DMs like 'We will meet him no matter what you say,'" Jackson said.
In May, a video of him putting out the candle on a birthday cake by kicking a ball that hits and extinguishes the flame went viral. His parents sold the licensing rights to Jukin Media, and took him to the bank to open an account in his name, where any payment related to his videos would be deposited. He has earned about $5,000."That's Korbin's money, not ours," she said.
Zoie Fenty, a former Starbucks shift supervisor in Atlanta who now earns a living making videos, finds joy in children's online performances.
"Kids are entertaining; they don't care what anyone thinks," Fenty said in a phone interview."There used to be a show called 'Kids Say the Darndest Things.' This is it today."
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