If you’re into gadgets (and since you’re following us, chances say you are), you’ve probably watched at least one “unboxing” video already. You get to see someone – usually just someone’s hands – take out something from its original box, remove the wrapping, maybe even turn the device on, all this while an off-screen voice tells about how it looks and how it feels. Most unboxing videos don’t really go into a proper review of the product’s technical specifications or of how it actually works. It’s really about the initial excitement of getting something new out of the box, looking at it for the first time and just enjoying the thought of using it afterwards. That doesn’t necessarily sound appealing enough to attract massive cohorts of viewers. Yet, what makes them so popular and yet they never go viral? What are the numbers behind this industry and how did it become an industry in the first place? Let’s find out!
How the Unboxing Phenomenon Gained Momentum
So why is vicariously re-living the excitement of opening a box such a big hit? It might not be that difficult to understand, really. Firstly, vicarious unboxing may be the only type of unboxing you are going to experience if we’re talking about an expensive device that you cannot afford. Watching an unboxing video of an out-of-touch object gets us closer to experiencing the real thing. It’s probably not very far off from the appeal of reality shows. We might not be very athletic or very rich or very smart, but we can watch other people who are and think what we would do in their place. Secondly, even if you plan on buying the item later, it can still be a rewarding experience as you are building anticipation for when the real moment comes and adding an emotional investment in the desire to buy the product (“I need to buy this, because look how happy I will be when I finally get it”).
What began as a fad in the early 2000s turned into a powerful trend and even a profitable one.
Checking, by means of Google Trends, the overall interest shown for the term “unboxing” in the course of time, it becomes clear how much this “passion” has evolved. The spikes that you can see, marked with letters, represent news headlines, such as an Apple iPad unboxing mentioned on PC Magazine or the NASA unboxing video mentioned in The Washington Post.
Yet, in order to have an accurate image of how things are really standing, it would only be correct to analyze the interest in “unboxing” over time in relation to something else. And what other better search term to compare it with if not the almighty internet rulers, the cat videos. And although cats may be considered winners in terms of average interest, unboxing leaves a very decent impression given how hype cat videos are.
For our own curiosity (and hopefully yours too), we’ve searched the trend of one of the most searched keywords in terms of unboxing: “iphone unboxing”, “psp unboxing”, “xbox unboxing”. Surprisingly or not, the iphone unboxing seems to win the stage, followed far beyond by the “xbox unboxing”.
Since 2010, the number of YouTube clips with “unboxing” in the headline has increased by 871% . Like any booming “industry”, it grew, matured and diversified. Unboxing is not just for electronic gadgets anymore: there’s unboxing of every item you could think of, from Kinder surprise eggs to blenders and, believe it or not, live reptiles . The increase is visible with the naked eye. If we take a look at the a popular unboxer channel, Blu Toys Surprise Brinquedos & Juegos (which, as the name states, does toys unboxing) we can see that their views have grown exponentially throughout a year.
There’s an almost fetishistic aspect to the concept of unboxing; if you can fit something into a box, you can probably make an unboxing video out of it. But the production of these videos has also evolved. Most of them still retain that home-made quality that makes them so easy to relate to the viewers. But when the market explodes like it did for these videos, you might have to do something different if you want to get noticed. Which is why we get things like the underwater unboxing video of a self-professed water-proof phone, bordering more on MythBusters than on home-made videos.
Other unboxers offer prizes for subscribing (like the video of unboxing two iPhones while offering one as a prize) in an attempt to keep viewers engaged and capitalize on the desires unboxing videos foster. But most of them still appeal to the very basic of emotions: the capacity to mirror someone else’s surprise, excitement, wonder and unadulterated joy – in short, our capacity for empathy.
If we searched what Wikipedia has to say about unboxing, intuitively we would find out that unboxing is the unpacking of new products, especially high tech consumer products. The product’s owner captures the process on video and later uploads it to the web. This might not be the most appealing definition yet, what it’s particularly interesting about the Wikipedia page dedicated to “unboxing” is the fact that the non-commercial online encyclopedia uses a sort of embedded marketing, placing a photo depicting an iPhone 6 unboxing. We are not going to linger on this matter no more as we’ve tackled the advertising on Wikipedia in a previous post.
The Unboxer’s Profile
A large part of the appeal of an unboxing video comes from the “unboxer”, the person who does the deed and walks us through the actions with a mostly superfluous but soothing speech (“we are now lifting the top part of the box” – as they are lifting the top part of the box).
The unboxer is not, in most cases a technical expert.
This may seem puzzling at first, when one tries to explain the success of unboxing videos, but then you realize that the mechanism relies on being able to imagine yourself as the unboxer. Which is why a lot of unboxers remain firmly behind the limelight. The face missing from the picture, the use of an unexceptional voice, the scarcity of technical specs, these are all elements that make a video more relatable to a larger audience.
The fact that the person who does the unboxing is an “average Joe” is, strangely, among a video’s strongest assets.
Of course, that’s not a universal rule. The market is popular now and everyone with a smartphone and Internet access is trying to get in on the action. Which means that to keep viewers engaged, you will have to bring a unique style to your videos. You might first have to pick a specific product category, to differentiate yourself from others. You might also have to put your personality front and center, rather than keep it in the dark. People can identify with a variety of traits, so if you’re a bit eccentric or unconventional, there’s probably a lot of people who identify (or want to identify) with that. Your shooting style can also be different from the crowd. Home-made is good, but if everyone’s using it, why not try something different? Time-lapse, catchy music, close-ups are just a few of the possible twists and tricks you can use to stand out .
Let’s analyze a bit one of these kinds of videos with an impressive number of Youtube views: no fewer than 87 million views in about 9 months. You are surely familiar with Celine Dion’s famous “My Heart Will Go On” song, Titanic’s soundtrack. Guess what? As famous as it may be, having “only’ 50 million views gathered in about 5 years, it cannot even dare to compete with this huge surprise egg opening.
As we are in the SEO world, checking links is more of an automated practice or, let’s say, a “professional habit”. Therefore, we couldn’t help checking how such a popular unboxing video link profile looks like. Imagine our surprise when we saw that an almost 90 million views video has only …8 links. Don’t you believe me? Take a look at the screenshot taken from the Instant Backlink Explorer and see for yourself.
Yet, this is not an isolated case in terms of unboxing videos link profile. We’ve checked the link profile of the most popular unboxing channel, FunToyzCollector, a channel that has hundreds of videos uploaded which sum altogether a billion of views. We’ve mentioned above that a particularity of unboxing videos is that they are very popular and yet, they never go viral. This might explain why the most popular unboxing channel managed to collect around 3k links only. In terms of social sharing , they are doing a bit better, with a higher number of shares on Google Plus. Actually, it’s interesting to point out that most of the unboxing videos are performing considerably better on G+. Don’t get us wrong, 3.000 links is not that bad for a medium site or a local business. Yet, it’s the most popular unboxing channel we are talking about.
Who Are the Highest Unboxing Earners?
It’s quite interesting and impressive at the same time to see how an addiction has turned into an online industry worth millions of dollars. Yet, how does money-for-boxes work? Well, YouTube’s payment system is complicated, but apparently you can make $2 to $4 for every 1,000 views.
DisneyCollectorBR’s unboxing videos get millions of hits — her “Play Doh Sparkle Princess,” video has been watched 177,743,026 times. Her channel has a total of 3,481,507 subscribers and 4,750,324,337 views. Opening actual toys (and not electronic toys) actually holds the largest appeal. The highest YouTube earner of last year made nearly $5 million just by opening Disney toy packages. That’s crazy, right? It has to be, because that means that person won more than Taylor Swift did from YouTube. Of course, this is an estimation we cannot be entirely sure of. We do not know most of the unboxers’ faces, let alone their bank account.
Other top earners include PewDiePie, a Swedish video game commentator who made $3.99 million in 2014 and littlebabybum, a channel that plays animated children’s songs and made $3.46 million over the year.
Last year alone, 2,370 days, or 6.5 years, worth of unboxing footage was uploaded to YouTube.
Two of the most successful unboxing videos on YouTube are probably not what you expect at all. Each of them has amassed over 80 million views and they’ve got nothing to do with phones, tablets or computers. They are, however, about toys, just not the gadget-like ones. The most watched unboxing video is about the Disney Toy Story Surprise Egg. Sounds weird? Prepare for an even weirder feat: the second most watched video is also about surprise eggs, only this time it’s the classic Kinder. In fact, toys are generally the most popular subject for the highest viewed unboxing videos.
The question remains: how come “unboxing the new iPhone” gets a “meager” 2 million views while the Kinder eggs gets a ridiculous 80 million views?
Why Are We Mesmerized by the Surreal World of Unboxing Videos?
As mentioned before, unboxing videos are popular, they have millions of views but yet, they never go viral. Unboxing videos have a very simple concept behind them, they’re easy to make and don’t really give a rational verdict about whether we should like (and buy) the product or not. Yet there’s a strange element of appeal to unboxing. Because it really zeroes into a very narrow, specific emotion. Remember, most unboxing videos don’t really ever turn on the device. So what is explored is probably closer to the experience of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. Yes, you will eventually get to play around with your new toy, but the first and most exciting feeling is that of discovering the toy.
Even as you grow up and realize Santa is actually your parents (and your parents paycheck), you still get very involved in the unwrapping moment. As Santa becomes your friends, or your significant other, the emotional investment always stays there and can result in either elation or disappointment – there’s rarely a middle ground. Even at the point where you know what the other person got you for Christmas (or for your birthday) – most likely because you dropped not so subtle things along the way – the excitement remains as tied to the confirmation of projected joy.
This confirmation can only come from the indisputable evidence of holding the object of desire (be it a phone, a watch, a book, or anything else) in your hands, touching the buttons, flipping the pages, opening the box.
That’s one explanation of the phenomenon and it’s been suggested by others as well. It’s also probably a correct explanation and resonates with a universal – and innocent – theme. But there’s also a less innocent perspective, one that equates unboxing with a number of striptease – the grown-up version of unwrapping – rather than Christmas morning. There’s something tantalizing about the whole unwrapping business tied with the “look-but-don’t-touch” scenario of watching someone else unbox a new product.
There’s an even less innocent way to characterize unboxing, which is, “porn for nerds”.
This interpretation takes the visual and vicarious aspects even further and could be supported by the common thread of instant gratification – you watch someone else perform an act and imagine yourself doing it (the unboxing, that is). There’s also a lot of “dirty” nerd talk, the equivalent of real dirty talk, catchphrases meant to get you in a specific mind set, such as “let’s take a look at this sucker”, “let’s get a closer look at this bad-boy” or “just look at how thin and smooth it looks”. These have become common place in unboxing videos of tech gadgets and at this point are rarely genuine or spontaneous exclamations (and more likely strategically employed).
The unbox shows us a real person with a real item. It’s not like one of those marketing videos showing us just how an item looks like but it really gives us an insight of what the object in question really is. Yet, why is an unbox video way more successful than an advertising one? We would say that it’s because of the”reality” flavor. No photoshopping, no retouching, just the “realness” of those objects. Marketing communication thought us to be a bit distrustful when it comes to advertising images and videos. And though unbox presents us with another set of images with a product, the context is completely different from the street banners, billboard or TV commercials and so it’s out mind set. At some point, unboxing videos are like how Game of Thrones is regarded: outside, not much is widely known or well regarded, but inside the TV show is a staple.