I soon discovered that trying to explain the difference between marketing—in all of its increasingly blurred manifestations—and “pure” content to a preschooler is not unlike explaining the merits of Snapchat to your dad. Mutual frustration is sure to ensue.
I’ve noticed Lili has been less interested in unboxing videos since she turned four, however. So I figured the whole “cottage” industry of people commenting on the stuff they’ve unwrapped--sometimes concocting ad-hoc stories involving the figurines and their vehicles or habitats, sometimes not—was probably best targeted to a 24- to 36-month demographic. How wrong I was, apparently.
YouTube reported last November that unboxing video views had grown 57% over the past year, with uploads increasing more than 50%. In aggregate, those videos had more than a billion views in 2014. And the purpose of the YouTube Insights post was to alert marketers how to “make sense of this intriguing genre of videos to better connect with their consumers.”
The phenomenon had not escaped the notice of the likes of Walt Disney, which acquired Maker Studios, the largest content network on YouTube, for $500 million in March 2014. Maker specializes in a vast variety of short-form video content including unboxing channels such as EvanTubeHD, which stars a toothy, chipper preteen.
This week, Disney used Maker to create a live, 18-hour unboxing event in 15 cites around the world centered on the toys that are being merchandised with the soon-to-be-released--well, Dec.18--The Force Awakens, the next Star Wars installment. Those live streams have been consolidated into a four-hour video here.
The production values, as you would expect, are light-years superior to your average garage-brand video. Multiple hosts. Interviews with fans. Clips from the films. Tie-ins with Toys-R-Us and other retailers. Exposure on the ABC Super Sign in Times Square along with a segment on “Good Morning America” featuring the aforementioned Evan. And, of course, the stars themselves: more than a dozen toys, ranging from the Bladebuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber to the smartphone-app-controlled BB-8 Droid.
Personally, I put it all on a par with watching a golfer line up a fairway shot on TV. But that’s me. The U.S. Open averaged 3.5 million viewers in June, and the crowd of kids in the Disney-owned GMA studio cheered wildly—albeit with encouragement from hosts George Stephanopoulos and Paula Faris—when the veil was lifted on two of the toys.
Other marketers no doubt will be tempted to jump on the unboxing juggernaut, even if they don’t have anywhere near the resources and global reach of Disney. Caution is in order.
Some of the producers whose videos come across as “user-generated” on the YouTube kids app have undisclosed relationships with product manufacturers, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission by several advocacy groups in April. You can’t do that on TV, according to FTC guidelines, but whether the same rules apply on the Web have yet to be determined.
One thing you can say about the Disney effort is that there was no hidden agenda. It was as blatantly commercial as it gets.
Meanwhile, everyday folk will continue to try to attract eyeballs, too. The more enthralling the visual or audio tales they tell in categories as diverse as toys, electronics, makeup and even luxury goods, the more page views they get which, of course, translates into revenue for video ad views.
FunToyzCollector (née “DisneyCollector”) alone has attracted nearly 5.2 million subscribers and an aggregate 7.8 billion views since it launched in April 2011. And the famously anonymous women in the videos—all we see are her fingers and fastidiously painted nails—reportedly made somewhere around $5 million last year from YouTube. Now that’s something I’d like to unbox.