Day 6

How YouTube unboxing videos have created grade-school influencers and a lucrative market for surprise toys

Toy companies are tapping into the popularity of YouTube unboxing videos and creating toys to mimic the experience. L.O.L. Surprise! dolls are just one example of a booming trend.

L.O.L. Surprise! dolls are just one example of a booming trend

According to marketing consultant Kate Harrison, the fun in L.O.L. Surprise! toys comes largely from the process of unwrapping the layers of plastic to find small trinkets inside. (Rich Fury/Getty Images for MGA Entertainment)

Unboxing videos are all the rage — and so are the toys that inspired them.

Toys like L.O.L. Surprise! dolls or Ryan's World Super Surprise Safe are likely to top many kids' holiday wish lists this year. 

While most toys are meant to be played with, the bulk of fun from surprise toys comes from unravelling the layers and layers of packaging to get to the unknown goodies inside — often small figurines, stickers or accessories for dolls and action figures.

The toys were inspired by the popularity of — and designed for — so-called unboxing videos on YouTube.

Kate Harrison, who runs a brand and marketing consulting firm and contributes to Forbes, said she's noticed the trend among her own children.

"What I found was really, really early, they were gravitating on their iPods to YouTube Kids.… They would find or be served up these videos of unboxing videos," she told Day 6.

What are unboxing videos?

Simply put, unboxing videos feature a person unpacking popular items — they began in the early aughts with hard-to-find electronics and gadgets — from their packaging.

The videos offer an outlet for social media influencers and reviewers to show off the goodies, describe their look and feel and reveal the included accessories.

There are countless unboxing videos on YouTube, and the most popular ones have hundreds of millions of views among them.

"We're talking about absolutely viral video content," said Harrison.

Why has the trend taken off?

According to Harrison, toy marketers saw opportunity in a low-cost niche and took advantage of it by building toys designed to be unboxed in front of a camera.

"We're seeing all of these products that the goal of the product is not really what's inside … but it's really focused on that surprise unboxing element," she said.

Essentially, companies could reap the benefits of a high-cost marketing campaign with little overhead by relying on unboxing videos featuring kids made by their parents.

It's an approach that works for a couple of reasons, Harrison said. 

On the one hand, kids enjoy watching and interacting with other kids. On the hand other, she said, "Everyone loves getting a present that's wrapped."

The toys included inside L.O.L. Surprise! kits typically include small figurines, accessories and stickers. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images for MGA Entertainment)

How are companies fuelling this?

Toys like L.O.L. Surprise! dolls and Ryan's World surprises have been growing not only in size — some are the size of a small suitcase with dozens of small trinkets — but also variety.

Imitators have created their own versions, and the company behind L.O.L. Surprise! has created limited edition sets. More than that, parents may have to buy multiples of the same product just to get all the different collectibles.

"Some people will look at the trend and say, 'Well, this has been going on for a long time.' There used to be baseball cards like this or Garbage Pail Kids for people who grew up in the '80s, '90s,"' Harrison said. "But I think this is really different than that." 

"This is an industry that is focused on packaging as the gift. The packaging is more valuable in many ways than what's inside."

How is this any different from regular TV commercials?

Rather than developing big, splashy ad campaigns, companies are attempting to reach children organically on platforms like YouTube.

According to Forbes, YouTube's highest paid creator — a seven-year-old named Ryan — made $22 million US in 2018 with his toy unboxing videos.

They've also taken to hiring young actors to star in official unboxing videos hosted on YouTube.

"If you go out and you buy an ad on TV that's geared at kids, there are certain standards you have to meet," Harrison said.

"In this case, the toy companies aren't doing the advertising themselves. They're using other kid influencers to do the marketing for them."

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