Was a time I wondered why anybody would watch boxing. So barbaric. So corrupt. Such silly shoes. But those questions are behind me. Now I wonder why anybody would watch unboxing.
That’s a genre of YouTube video. Someone orders, let’s say, a Samsung tablet -- and records the process of opening the carton to examine the contents. That anybody would video this process is unsurprising; social media are overflowing with the self-indulgent documentation of stuff nobody else could possibly be interested in. (“Just touched down in Dayton!” “My rash is now blistering.” “Cashews. Yum!”)
What’s baffling is that many people are interested in unboxing videos. The category consists of thousands of people, among them amassing hundreds of millions of views. Because YouTube isn't just bad entertainment and good entertainment and kittens and collapsing skateboard ramps and cell phone footage of police brutality. And it certainly isn't just an advertising medium. It is also the world's largest repository of video utility: tutorials, reviews, hacks, testing and so on.
Which is why it is stupid for consumer marketers to treat YouTube as online TV. I've been trying to explain this for a long time, but now I can prove it. This exercise, however, requires two disclaimers.
1. Yes, this is me saying “I told you so,” which I acknowledge is totally obnoxious, but nonetheless feels extremely satisfying. 2. The study I am quoting comes from Pixability, a Big Data software company I advise. Its success directly (albeit slightly) benefits me, so keep that explicit conflict of interest in mind as I use their data to prove how smart (super) and incisive (remarkably) I am.
The report is titled Consumer Electronics and YouTube: How YouTube Is Changing Consumer Behavior and How The Best Brands Adapt, and the data are staggering. For one thing, when I say “data,” I don't mean a sample extrapolated from and reliable within a margin of error. I mean an analysis of every single video about game consoles, smartphones, tablets, computers, audio, cameras, smart-devices and accessories. Then there is the astonishing scale.
CE videos? There are 902,615 of them -- both advertiser-created and consumer-generated, attracting a total of 18.9 billion views.
In 2013, the category pulled in 483 million views per month. This is not trivial, which such brands as Apple, Samsung, Google, Nokia and Sony well understand. While other consumer sectors have forsaken YouTube nearly altogether, CE has been very active, and the Big 5 especially so. As a group, they command 84% of the views on YouTube CE-brand channels. The other 16% of the views are divided among the next 20 competitors.
Yet as hip as the hardware makers are to the value of YouTube, Pixability concludes, they still woefully misallocate resources.
For instance, a mere 10% of those views are devoted to repurposed TV commercials -- yet those spots constitute 37% of brand uploads. Does that not suggest YouTube is a different beast? Meanwhile, consumers do respond to teasers for upcoming products -- they're the most popular genre -- yet teasers represent only 12% of uploads, also most likely because the TV mentality prevails: get 'em curious but save your budget for a huge launch campaign.
But if marketers are waiting for product introductions to begin pouring it on, that is exactly when they are beginning to lose their audience. The good news is that in the tablet segment, for instance, 40% of consumers check out videos before making a purchase decision. The rest of the news is that they are mainly looking to third parties for the dope.
Did I mention that YouTube is not television? People don't just sit there passively until some ad shows up. They are at all times looking for what they are looking for. The moment new CE gear is available, consumers begin searching for information from objective sources who have managed to get the goods in hand.
Hence the demand for unboxing. And reviews. And hacks. And all independent assessments of the product.
Those vloggers, by the way, also understand that YouTube viewing dynamics are unTVlike. TV's ingrained fear of the short attention span has influenced brands to err on the side of brevity; even their instructional videos tend to come in at 3 minutes or less. Vloggers average more than 5 minutes, and viewers hang on to every pixel.
Because YouTube IS NOT TV.
It is also not just a video platform. It's equally a search engine. Unfortunately, Pixability data-crunching reveals that brands tend to do a haphazard job of SEO, under-tagging posts and as such suppressing audience potential. This is approximately like hiding a needle in a haystack, and enhancing visibility by painting the eye yellow.
Mind you, Pixability finds that CE is among the most advanced categories using YouTube, and still it blunders in ways broadly suggesting obsolete articles of faith. Other categories are entirely clueless, reminding me for all the world of old timey carnival attendees suckered into a boxing ring to take on The Champ. If they can go a whole round they will win $1000. But they never do.
That's another kind of unboxing -- and the crowd has a perverse interest in that, too.