Thousands of brands look to sponsor those who can push their product onto the screens of millions of potential customers, and they continue to take advantage of this on the one platform that has continuously drawn any and all kinds of people to it for nearly fourteen years—YouTube. If you log onto YouTube, you come across videos of people singing covers, giving makeup tutorials, and playing video games. One of the most prevalent videos that continues to grow in popularity on YouTube is the “unboxing” video. These typically show an influencer or popular vlogger opening up boxes of stuff that they purchase, or most often than not, are being sent by fans and sponsors. These types of videos bring up a few questions, like why are these videos even entertaining? And what effect does a sponsor have on the video, as well as on the brand that’s providing the sponsorship? Are these videos really an effective business tactic?
Those that are even slightly familiar with YouTube know the name Shane Dawson. He makes all kinds of videos from trying different foods, to making ‘life hack’ crafts, to showing viewers an inside look at other influencers’ lives. Many of his videos are sponsored by companies and apps, such as SeatGeek and Best Fiends, which he takes about 30 seconds to a minute telling the viewers about. Advertisers like these typically pay YouTubers an average of $0.20 per ad view on a video. This doesn’t seem like very much, so how are some YouTubers making so much? Because of their fans. Shane, for example, has almost twenty million subscribers that view his videos regularly. When he released his “$1000 Mystery Box” opening video, it received almost ten million views, meaning that his advertisement of his sponsor Quidd received the same number. He begins the video by telling his fans what the video will be about, hyping up how exciting and mysterious this box opening will be, then immediately explains how awesome the app Quidd is before getting into the main content of the video. By doing this in his videos, Shane earns anywhere between $41.6K-665.9K per month. When YouTubers gain a big enough following, usually once exceeding at the very least twenty thousand subscribers, they’re more easily able to pick up sponsorships and brand deals for their videos. We’ve seen that this allows influencers to earn a living simply making videos for the platform, but what about the fans? How do videos like this keep viewers interested?
Another form of the unboxing video is the “sent me” or P.O. box videos. In these videos, influencers and vloggers open up their P.O. boxes for fans to send them stuff, which they then film themselves opening. This type of video has begun picking up in popularity with viewers because there’s something very exciting about the type of connection these videos form. Sure, regular unboxing videos are entertaining because fans can see what their favorite YouTubers like and there’s a sense of excitement and suspense in waiting to see what they’re going to pull out of the box next. But videos like the P.O. box openings show gifts from fans, who are just like the viewer that’s watching the video, being opened by the influencers. Viewers feel like there’s something more real and raw about these videos because it’s possible, especially if they tried sending in a gift to the P.O. box, that they could see their gift being opened by somebody that they idolize. If they didn’t send anything in, they still feel a similar satisfaction vicariously through others’ gifts.
Vloggers like Julian Solomita, and his girlfriend Jenna Marbles, have caught on to this trend. Jenna is one of the most popular YouTubers on the platform, inching just above Shane, exceeding him by about five hundred thousand subscribers. She, too, has made a wide variety of videos, typically appealing to viewers through her relatable experiences and entertaining rants. She and Julian make these P.O. box videos mainly showing themselves opening up fan gifts, but they also incorporate the more standard characteristic of an unboxing video—brand advertising. They tend to do it more discreetly, however, focusing the attention of the video on the fan content. As they film the video above, Jenna shows off a coat that was sent to her by Dolls Kill, an online clothing brand based in California. Although this isn’t a direct sponsorship, they’re showing off a product that was sent to them by a clothing brand, benefiting Jenna and Julian, the recipients, as well as the brand. This allows Jenna and Julian an increased opportunity to receive free items and further sponsorships, while Dolls Kill gains Jenna and Julian’s fans as customers. Would this video have been just as popular if they were only opening items from Dolls Kill? Maybe, maybe not. Videos that do feature only brand products, or “hauls,” have proven to be just as successful as P.O. box videos.
Haul videos, too, fall under the umbrella of unboxing, although they are slightly less literal. Instead of watching the YouTuber cut open a box and pull out products, we watch them open up and show off items that they themselves have bought. One could argue that this type of advertisement, whether it’s a paid sponsorship or not, can be just as successful for the brand as “sent me” or typical unboxing videos. The video above shows influencer Bethany Mota holding up and trying on clothes that she’s bought at popular clothing stores including Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. It’s not clear whether she’s being directly paid by the companies for mentioning them and their products in the video, but either way, both parties benefit. Bethany, although she doesn’t have quite as many followers as Jenna or Shane, has just under a staggering 10.5 million subscribers. She rose to fame for her haul videos and remains best known in this genre. By showing off things she’s purchased from stores, such as the ones in this video, she’s drawing her fans in by showing them where she likes to shop and what kind of clothes she likes to wear. Why does anyone care about that?
Anyone that’s watching this video for the first time, not knowing who Bethany Mota is, may believe that she’s simply promoting these stores to cultivate her personal business. YouTubers are criticized by some viewers for “selling out” and taking brand deals because they feel that the partnership can make the vlogger’s video seem less sincere. However, the majority, and of course dedicated fans, seem to understand that brand deals and sponsorships are how these influencers earn their living, and trust that they wouldn’t push any brands or businesses that they themselves don’t truly support. This trust between viewer and YouTuber is a key component in the three-way relationship between influencer, viewer, and sponsor. No, not everybody is going to be interested in a Bethany Mota clothing haul video. However, her target audience of girls in their preteens through twenties are able to see her obvious excitement about what she’s purchased from these stores, and can get inspiration from somebody that they look up to and who is popular on the platform. That viewers can shop at the same stores and wear the same clothes makes them feel more connected to Bethany, the influencer, thus drawing more and more people to watch her videos and follow in the same footsteps. Consequently, brands that are shown and mentioned in the haul videos gain business from viewers that want to be like their favorite influencer.
These are of course just a few examples of the types of unboxing videos that circulate on YouTube, but they all tend to have the same effects on YouTubers success and companies’ business, and are clearly not going anywhere anytime soon. By showing off all of the stuff they’re able to buy and are being sent, influencers are demonstrating their financial and professional achievements, therefore cultivating their popularity; viewers want to see what influencers are doing and what they like in order to be more like them, possibly be successful like them, which draws more and more people to their channel. Over the years, YouTube has grown to become the platform for social media influencers to gain popularity for their craft. It also has become a very possible occupation for many people that is based on both fan base and business connections. The symbiotic relationship between YouTubers and the brands that sponsor them continues to grow stronger, and as long as there are fans there to fuel it, it’s a relationship that will continue to thrive.