Unboxing: Packaging as Theater

Unboxing has become an event that’s putting packaging squarely on center stage. Millions of YouTube unboxing videos, some with over a million hits, attest to that. This trend has been in the making ever since the debut of YouTube, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

The implications of unboxing videos for brand owners are huge

Since 2010, the number of YouTube clips in the “unboxing” category has increased 871%. According to CNN, in 2014, 2,370 days (6.5 years) of unboxing footage were uploaded on YouTube. In a NY Times article in December, 2015, the paper reported: “This year, according to YouTube, people have watched videos unveiling items like toys, sneakers and iPhones more than 1.1 billion times, for a total of 60 million hours.” Watching unboxing videos increased by 57% during 2015 alone and over 20 million searches for unboxing videos were conducted on YouTube. A Google consumer survey reported that one in five consumers have viewed unboxing videos before purchasing products. That translates to 20% of consumers – a staggering number.

Unboxing is brand marketing that doesn’t cost much but is worth its weight in gold. Remember: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. People are visual and seeing great packaging being opened and every aspect of the experience being enjoyed is worth more than all of the advertising spends in the world. Kids especially love unboxing videos, but so do adults. YouTube videos showing the unwrapping of toys brings kids the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning and birthdays all rolled into one. Parents have been catching the excitement from their kids, watching unboxing videos themselves and then purchasing the products that are depicted being unboxed.

Toys are a natural for unboxing videos. This hasn’t escaped the notice of Toys R Us. In October, the retailer started to air short, stop-action animated videos in which toys unboxed other toys on its YouTube channel. The Walt Disney Company, the savviest of marketers, hosted a live, 18-hour YouTube event that featured the unboxing of toys and other licensed consumer products tied to the movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in the fall of 2015. It makes sense that unboxing videos of this nature would precede the holiday gift buying season or herald a new entertainment blockbuster, but this marketing tactic is a year-round endeavor by many brand owners.

Of course there are a couple of dangers here, right? Videos of brands with inferior product packaging being unboxed on YouTube will turn viewers off. Packaging that looks drab or shoddy, has poor graphics and imagery or is hard to open will not inspire any confidence in the brand. In fact, it will do the opposite. Poor package design does a great deal of damage to any brand – on shelf and in any advertising or PR setting – but consumer interaction with packaging is the most telling thing of all.

Then there is the turn-off of suspected self-promotion. When unboxing videos are uploaded by brand owners that are blatantly promotional, consumers will usually be turned off and tune out. The best approach is not to advertise but to use the tenets of PR. That is, to let third party candidates in the form of consumers do the unboxing and give brands and packaging their approval. They can create a lot of buzz and bring fans to the brand. To that end, many brands are identifying YouTubers with a major following in their product categories, and sending them complimentary products to unbox. Smart.

Heightening the customer experience

In light of the huge potential for unpaid publicity, brand managers ought to be considering how to make their consumer product packaging unique and inventive. Think: how can you create package design that will make consumers want to share the unboxing experience with their friends online? How can you create anticipation and enjoyment for the consumer? Then take a page from the best in the business.

We all savor the experience of unboxing Apple products: our new iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. Many of us even keep the packaging; it’s just too beautiful to throw away. But here’s the point: Apple fans are a virtual cult around their favorite brand and the ritual of unwrapping packaging is a brand focal point that is shared with millions around the globe. But they’re not alone. Fans of Mattel’s Hot Wheels and Barbie brands share and view unboxing videos in huge numbers. The same goes for the fans of Marvel’s Superheroes, Hasbro’s My Little Pony and Nerf Rebelle brands and a large number of Disney properties. When brands inspire ritual behavior and huge followings like this, it’s truly significant.

In order for this to happen, package design can’t be an afterthought. It has to be a major consideration and it has to be developed from a strategic point of view; preferably, at the same time products are being developed. If a package refresh is in order for an existing product, then thought has to be given as to how to engage its target audience by creating a captivating experience in the unwrapping process for consumers.

When the pleasure of peeling back layers of packaging is shared within a community as an event, something great has been achieved for that brand, going to the heart of customer experience. Each aspect of interaction should reinforce the brand and provide value, including opening and ongoing interaction with packaging for some kinds of products. Attention should be paid to package design structure and architecture; to unique substrates that invite touch and to powerful graphics and visuals all leveraged to fit the unique personality of the brand. Everything about packaging should pleasure the senses.

Packaging as theater

We all love something shiny and new; something that promises enjoyment. It might come as no surprise that one of the most viewed YouTube unboxing channels belongs to an anonymous woman dubbed DisneyCollectorBR. Only her hands are depicted as she unboxes Disney toys and, get ready for it: her ad revenues came in at $4.9 million last year! According to Yahoo Finance: “YouTube allows certain content creators to monetize their videos through their ‘YouTube Partner Program’, which means ads will play before or around a video, and the content creator will be paid through an AdSense account.” And get this: according to the HelloGiggles blog, “…She (the DisneyCollectorBR unboxing maven) uploads about one video per day, and her highest performing video (over 178 million views!) involved her opening a box of Frozen-themed Play-Doh.” What? I’m sure that did wonders for Hasbro’s Play Doh sales!

In our own consultancy, we see packaging as theater since we specialize in package design and licensing program design for the toy and entertainment industries, which invite fanciful, humorous and theatrical brand packaging. And it’s obvious to us that brand leaders in category after category do as well. Delivering all of the enjoyment and values associated with brands into fans’ hands sets the stage for enduring relationships. Research proves that the content that is most-shared by brand fans involves enjoyment, humor and fantasy. So, leveraging those aspects of a brand create immediate connection and an emotive response from fans leading to deepening relationships.

Perfect case in point: the licensed product packaging program that we created for ITV Studios’ Thunderbirds Are Go brings all of the cues forward that fans of the animated series enjoy most. The brand’s own YouTube channel features great entertainment fare depicting the five Tracy brothers, their mysterious Tracy Island home and their various craft that are standing ready to save mankind from danger. Unboxing and reviews appear on the Thunderbirds Are Go channel, and there are also fan-generated videos populating YouTube as they interact with the toys and toy packaging. There’s deep enjoyment here of a kind that engages consumers of all ages; those who remember and enjoyed the brand in their youth and a whole new generation of budding fans, as evidenced by those who are doing the unboxing. It’s a thrill for them and a thrill for us to see fans interact in this manner with licensed product package design that we created. More importantly, this brand packaging will be a significant contributor to the development of a new cult following for the brand itself.

We’re witnessing this over and over again as fans upload unboxing videos for brand packaging and licensed consumer product packaging that we have helped to create. It’’s as much fun for us as it is for them. But behind all of this enjoyment is the conviction that package design that lends itself to becoming the stars of unboxing videos are creating superstars of the brands which they represent.

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