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The ‘unboxing’ craze is where kids watch other kids open new toys. Call it genius marketing, call it morally questionable – I call it an hour off.
As a new father, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. In concert with this confusion, there are the thousandfold articles that help me out…by warning me of the utter annihilation of my progeny if I were to do whatever. And strangely, I listen; as the parent/life coach Eminem espoused, “I’ve only got one shot, bum-da-dum ba-dum-bum-bump”. Because of this, and because this is my first, my actions are not yet proven to have worked, as they had for my parents who can state “back in my day we ate x and didn’t do y and therefore z.” That day hasn’t come for me yet, so until then, I entertain any idea with a good-natured “what’s the worst that could happen?” shrug.
A grand example of this is something called “toy unboxing” on YouTube (yeah me neither), where kids assemble toys (although not to the beat of a drum, or threat of whip in South East Asia) to the booming adulation of the YouTube community writ large.
What it seems to be is the evolution of the schoolyard condition, where the popular kid was popular because he had the new whatever, while the rest of us unwashed masses looked on in gleeful awe, knowing that while we couldn’t touch it, we were near someone who had it, which validated our primary school existence. It did for me during that golden 75 seconds I was allowed to crash Mattias Mandell’s working Crash Test Dummy car into a wall. What a rush.
So, what’s wrong with a video of a kid unpacking toys on YouTube? Well, according to those in the know, adults, it has been hyperbolically described as “toddler crack“. Professor Stuart Cunningham (QUT) addressed the phenomena in his report, explaining that unboxers were a subset of social media entertainment content creators. The YouTube subset is a murky moor to traipse, sharing the vista with video game long players, or dashcam hit and run complications from Russia, or you know, snuff films. Olé.
“Unboxing emerged as a genre as early as 15 years ago but once YouTube was launched in 2005 it has gone through the roof and is one of the most popular online genres of all, growing at a rate of 871% since 2010,” Cunningham said.
There’s nothing wrong with numbing desire by watching someone else enjoy it. I never had that luxury, but at least my daughter can sate her most unrealistic toy desires from the safety (and toyless shelves) of my loungeroom.
Professor Cunningham said government regulators have been lax in their understanding of the near-global nature of digital platforms, making uniform regulation slow to materialise. “Issues of product placement and endorsements are also arising. In the UK, the Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales, Promotion and Direct Marketing requires vloggers to disclose when they are being paid to promote products, brands or services,” he said.
“These rules apply in the UK but are also likely to affect how unboxers in the United States operate or at least require they geo-restrict their content to outside the UK. YouTube, meanwhile, has self-regulated regarding children’s access, privacy and advertising, and although they allow product placements and endorsements they require creators be transparent about these.” Down here, in the merry land of Oz, not so much it seems.
“There is a strong belief children are being exploited but that is ignoring the business model” because “unboxing represents a whole new brand of marketing that can have far greater reach than traditional marketing. Companies are beating down the door of the kids who are doing it best.”
As for my personal view: Would I feel these videos march my progeny to the drum of materialism? I say no. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with slightly numbing the pangs of desire by watching someone else enjoy it. I never had that luxury, nor did I get that train set I wanted that Christmas in 1996, but at least now my daughter can sate her most unrealistic toy desires from the safety (and toyless shelves) of my loungeroom.
Perhaps a YouTube binge is in order for one special little lady’s birthday?