A box is opened, its content taken out, shown to the cameras from every angle and a voice takes you through their first impressions. A simple but surprisingly popular format that helps you understand what it might feel like to own a certain product. From smartphones to vacuum cleaners, computers to toys, beauty products to lawn mowers, if you can buy it, there’s probably an unboxing video for it.
Unboxing videos work on multiple layers where on one hand, this format has been seen as a functional way for consumers to cut through all the marketing clutter they are subjected to and find out exactly what the product might be like. Is it worth the hype? Does it look the same as the ad? What might it look like in my hand? Anything to get a sense of its worth and value through another person’s eyes without any of the gloss that comes along with an advertisement.
On the other hand, unboxing videos play up to a deeper emotional layer that allows watchers to revel in the joy of watching something being unwrapped. Psychologists have noted that shopping is the modern-day equivalent to hunting, and unwrapping is a way of reliving the ‘kill’ and take pleasure in what we have captured. There is an undeniable pleasure in ripping off the packaging of a new product, peeling off its plastic and holding something unused in your hands. Apparently, it works just as well watching someone else do it. This is a throwback to the strangely hypnotic shopping infomercials on TV that were so easy to zone out with, watching hundreds of products be examined in a detailed and relaxed setting.
According to a Google study in 2014, the appeal of unboxing videos lies in the sense of anticipation within them, regardless of what’s being unpackaged. Most viewers would not intend to make the purchase, or even want to own the product that’s being shown. Our willingness to watch someone else unwrap products seems to scratch a subconscious itch. Essentially aspirational, unboxing videos are a way to satiate consumers who want something they can’t buy yet but are able to share in a fantasy and soak in the raw pleasure of opening a new product. Note – ‘fueling aspiration’ is a key part of successful marketing strategies.
Kids especially seem to love unboxing videos the most, as they get to experience the joy of opening a toy themselves. This format of videos has all the elements that kids enjoy, the surprise of what’s inside paired with being able to see their favorite toys. So popular that it sparked a ‘moral panic’ in the US, with multiple parents lodging complaints and calling for greater regulation. Unboxing videos are seen to blur the line between online content and advertising, teaching children to be materialistic at a very young age and contributing to their growing tech addiction. The greatest hook is that children like to watch things that are made by children for children and the internet has given this common phenomenon a global platform with a seemingly unlimited supply.
It is telling that the most popular genre of unboxing videos are toys taking 9 out of the top 10 unboxing videos on YouTube, with the most watched video racking up 321 million views over the last 4 years. Other popular unboxings are of gadgets like the iPhone, the Xbox and PlayStation. This global demand for unboxing videos even has brands jumping in and competing for views with their own official Unboxing videos trying to craft their brand narrative.
Consumerism is addictive and unboxing videos have a way of fueling the latent desire for new products that lives within all of us, conveying that it’s ‘things’ that make us happy. On the other hand perhaps, unboxing videos give us that space to stop and consider our purchases in detail before clicking through to buy, allowing to have someone who is ‘just like us’ go through the process instead. As noted by Professor Marsh in the UK, “Unboxing videos speak to very human interests, our interest in goods, in surprises and of course in other human beings”
Here are some of the top unboxing channels on YouTube for your viewing pleasure:
Ryan ToysReview – 18 million subscribers
Unbox Therapy– 13 million subscribers
CKN Toys – 11 million subscribers
Eleventh Gorgeous – 1.7 million subscribers
Dope or Nope – 6.3 million followers