Ten billion times a month, YouTube fans click to watch videos of everyday people opening product boxes and talking about the products inside, according to mid-2017 research cited in Fortune. Most of those vloggers are not opening subscription boxes; they are looking at one-time purchases, especially of toys and electronics. Although most of the product review videos on YouTube are not subscription box reviews, a search for “subscription box unboxing” on YouTube reveals a number of subscription-box videos that have over a million views each. Here’s a Marvel subscription box with 2.0 million views. Here’s a review of fake and real subscription boxes with 1.2 million views. And here’s a beauty & lifestyle box roundup with 1.1 million views. There are so many review and unbox videos out there that even a fraction of that total yields millions and millions of views.
This is archetypal “influencer marketing” — YouTube vloggers with hundreds or thousands or millions of followers spend some of their bandwidth talking about products. That influence is intensely valuable, but it is marketing that falls outside the direct control of the people who have been used to controlling their branding with great precision. That’s scary, but the rewards are large, according to Jonas Isaksson at DuffyAgency:
- A brand manager no longer can control all the content out there, as content is daily being shared, changed and produced by customers. This is called user-generated content (UGC), and can be a great tool if used properly. By engaging in UGC companies can create brand conversations, gain customer insights and ultimately it can have a positive effect on the consumer-based-brand-equity. … By watching an unboxing video a consumer can get information about the size of the product, what it can do, and useful information about the product from a “professional” they trust more than the company itself.
Just how popular are these unboxing videos? InfluencerMarketingHub’s recent roundup of the top 15 unboxing channels start with Ryan Toys Review (16.7 million subscribers) and end with vlogger Dom Esposito (0.5 million subscribers):
However, research suggests that marketers should not focus exclusively on the biggest and most popular vloggers. Per this PR Daily report, consider the value of vloggers with followings that only number in the thousands:
- “Nano-influencers” (creators with between 1,000 and 10,000 subscribers) or “micro-influencers” (creators who have more than 10,000 subscribers, some with up to hundreds of thousands of subscribers) offer brand managers the chance to showcase their organizations’ products in front of a smaller, yet highly engaged (often targeted) community.
How often do people actually watch these videos? November 2018 research from YouGov indicates that more than half of Americans have seen at least one vlogger video ever, and 30% watch at least one a week:
(Source: YouGov, via Statista)
As you would expect, the vlogger audience skews young. Here is the same research with age demographic splits:
(Source: YouGov, via Statista)
That’s 73% of Americans age 18-34 who watch at least once a week. And anecdotally, the audience among minors, especially preteens, is equally large. There’s a reason that the Top 15 list above — including the very top one — features several channels starring kids who review toys … other kids love that stuff! And here are some statistics to back that up. In a survey of 3,000 haul and unbox videos, 29% of unbox vids featured toys, the top product category:
But alas, poor kids! They get to watch the toy review vids, yet when it comes time to buy, their parents are more likely to buy clothing, shoes, food, electronics, media, cosmetics, handbags, sporting goods, and small appliances based on vlogger recommendations than they are likely to actually buy the toys their kids desire:
The popularity of unboxing videos has even pushed the format into the mainstream, where large companies have created their own “unboxing” videos to capitalize on the trend. For example, Burger King and Frito-Lay teamed up to show the Cheetos Cheetah unboxing a new fast food item (reported by Ad Age). And Samsung created an unboxing video that morphed into an action movie to promote its S6 product (reported by TheVerge).
Speaking of movies, Deadline Hollywood reports that an unboxing movie is now in the works! The film will feature a “mischievous 11-year-old YouTube star who unboxes her father’s secret safe as a stunt for her channel.” Spooky hilarity ensues.
But do unbox mechanisms actually serve as effective marketing? Academic research demonstrates that unbox videos spread easily through social media and are especially effective with Millenials, who trust people more than brands and “honest” messages over polished ones.
A researcher at the National College of Ireland, Fiona O’Connor, investigated this question. Her study, focusing on Millennials, looked at user-generated content (UGC) on Youtube and found that digital natives find these videos to be especially compelling:
- Major findings from the research were that millennials actively seek out recommendations from their peers by watching a variety of UGC on YouTube. One of the key findings showed that millennials trust people over brands when it comes to making purchase decisions.
A trio of researchers, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the United States, also studied the effectiveness of unbox video. Purvi Shah, Eleanor T. Loiacono, and Huimin Ren found significant publicity value in the medium by increasing shareability on social networks. However, brand recall needs to be boosted with other methods.
- Despite the increased viewership of the unboxing and haul vlogs, there is a void in understanding how much information do viewers retain from these vlogs and why and how viewers decide to share these vlogs in their social network. Our research examines how unboxing and haul vlogs influence viewers’ recall and their willingness to share these vlogs in their social network, revealing that vlogs’ usefulness, humor and involvement have a positive impact on viewers’ willingness to share.
(For clarity, note that “unbox videos” show vloggers opening boxes they get in the mail, while “haul videos” show vloggers displaying the products they buy at stores and bring home.)
According to the most recent Statista Global Consumer Survey, almost a third (32%) of poll respondents say that “usually find out about new interesting products” through video websites and apps (e.g. YouTube). The power of this influencer marketing is becoming increasingly clear to decision makers. In a poll of 102 enterprise brand strategists and marketers worldwide, 58% said that they intend to integrate influencer marketing throughout all marketing activities:
(Sources: Statista estimates; Traackr; TopRank Marketing; Altimeter)
It’s worth noting that only 8% of the branding execs polled thought that influencer marketing will play no role going forward.
Unboxing videos are quite popular, and although some subscription box companies are taking advantage of this trend, subscription unbox videos are still only a small part of the trend. As influencer marketing continues to gain power, especially as younger consumers age and as more of the population depends on these videos for product information, it makes sense for subscription companies to reach out to these vloggers as partners in brand relationships.