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Are You Buying Under the Influence?

Ahh, the good ole days when you watched a commercial or read a magazine ad featuring a celebrity, sports hero, or cartoon tiger and said, "I'm buying that!". Did we really do that? Agencies and marketing teams would argue that was the only way to get a consumer to buy-in to their product.

Then things changed. It’s now about the Influencers.

Influencer (noun): the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways. (Merriam-Webster)

This cultural phenomenon crept up on us and then exploded, including in the toy market.

Past indicators have shown that millennials, including parents, want to trust and believe in a brand before they buy. That seems to still be true, but to get there, brands now are trying to embrace new ways of talking about their product. Recently according to Forrester research, only 10% of consumers trust brands and HubSpot says 90% prefer to get their recommendations from friends and influencers. More than half of companies in the US have budgets for social campaigns, and that's growing daily. According to a recent Twitter blog, almost 40% of Twitter users claim to have made a purchase as a direct result of an influencer’s Tweet, and it goes on to say it estimates that brands are spending well over a billion dollars per year on Instagram influencers alone. Wow!

So, what’s up with these influencers? To me they tend to fall into two types; those that post on all the social media platforms and have millions of followers, and those that use YouTube to spend what seems at times hours, unboxing product. You know the biggie influencers. They make a lot of money doing their dance around a brand or product, and the brands benefit from their posts. Much like the past, brands help in directly or indirectly, paying for the "talent," who talk about how they use or love a product. Kim Kardashian reportedly charges over $250K+ for an Instagram post! The fascination for opinions other than their own to validate a buying decision is very strange. Not sure what happened in finding out for yourself! Because someone likes a toy, does that make it a good toy? What happened about knowing your child and their interests?

But it’s the other influencers that have me amazed. The unboxers! In 2006 it was reported that the Nokia E61 cellphone was the first unboxing video. It’s rather bland, but here it is Then a considerable growth through sites such as Unbox.It and permeated our lives.

Vicarious (adjective): Experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person. (Oxford Dictionary)

A lot has been written about unboxing, and I see a lot of articles use words like sensual, voyeuristic, satisfying. Indeed, in the past, glam-sizzle was always the go-to advertising schtick. However, I have also heard unboxing defined as humanizing to describe the experience. That certainly speaks to the distrust of advertising. That visual experience seems to satisfy the basic needs of knowing, without really becoming intimate with the brand. The glam is gone and what is on a YouTube camera is not perfectly groomed in the best of light.

All of this now brings me to the toy influencers and unboxers. Product lines have exploded once companies figured out the power of inboxing via YouTube. Like adults, children have that inherent desire to watch rather than participate in playing with the product. Not sure that's such a good thing. Toy influencers like Ryan are making millions of dollars from his videos; and can we say he really is an expert! Because he's a kid? Not every child plays or has the same interests. What happened to discovering an all-new way to play with a toy that you would never get from watching a video. But this is now the norm, and companies again are lining up and sending samples of a product, buying influencers time, as well as, funding new unboxing channels. We've just seemed to move advertising money into a new pocket! Does this mean toy companies need to provide more sizzle to the unboxing of their product? Packaging costs are astronomical enough already sometimes being 30% of product cost!

How about some good product design for new innovative toys! Something you want without having to have someone tell you its okay. Ahh, the good old days. But then again, I'm now telling you what to think! Good grief…am I an influencer?

To end this epic on a fun note here is a video that has been out for some time and it really hits on how anything can seem incredible if you unbox it.

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