It's hard to believe that YouTube has been an essential part of our modern lives for over a decade. Whether it's learning how to do the Shmoney Dance, killing time at work watching cute animal videos, or educating yourself on future purchases, the platform is one of the easiest ways to search for relevant content. Over the past few years, sneakerheads on Twitter have had endless debates about the community-appointed experts who unbox sneakers and reviews them on YouTube. Once a semi-niche "market," we are now flooded with literally hundreds of people grinding in the lane.
Eventually, the people WHO aren't able to carve out their own lane will move on to something else.
Some of the most respected ones have arguably built their own brands and made a decent living doing so. Others will tell you that every shoe is the greatest as long as their plugs keep sending them free product. Whether you are a fan of the videos or not, YouTube sneaker unboxing videos aren’t going away anytime soon.
"There are views in unboxing videos. There has been and there will continue to be," says respected reviewer Mike Lyttle, who's more commonly known as Mr. Foamer Simpson on YouTube. "Is it the most original or creative content at this point? No. However it does offer a certain connection with the viewer."
And Foamer is dead right. There are views in this—for some. The content has been over saturated with the nearly identical reviews and looks at the same kicks over and over. A lot of people have been turned off to the whole concept of the unboxing and initial thought videos. Newcomers struggle to get consistent views while respected veterans continue to try and hold on to the audiences they have. But for those who are putting out the best videos, they still see favorable results.
Jacques Slade, known better by his blog/channel name "Kustoo," is one of the fortunate people who have made talking about sneakers and sports a big part of his life and livelihood. He makes a good point about how unboxing videos have been a staple in product unveiling throughout media. "Unboxing has been a part of popular culture for a while, just in a different form. Late night television and news programs used to reveal and show off all the cool stuff for people to see,” Slade says. "Now those cool things are unboxed by guys like me on YouTube."
Anthony Bartoloni, who is known for his on-the-fly unboxing reviews on YouTube under the moniker "YoAnty," shared a similar sentiment.
"One of the best parts of unboxing videos is watching the experience of someone getting their hands on a product for the first time. Whether it's a pair of sneakers, an action figure or an Apple Watch, the person who's unboxing is going to have excitement and be passionate about whatever item they are showing," Bartolini says. "There is always an element of surprise with what's in the box and the person’s reaction and first thoughts to that item."
For those who have grown annoyed with the never ending videos of people slicing open their new boxes of sneakers, it’s likely not stopping anytime soon. Eventually, the people who aren't able to carve out their own lane will move on to something else. The ones that are doing just fine will still get a few ad dollars and deals with brands for pushing out content.
There are still many people who can’t pick up every sneaker they want but are made to feel like they are part of the experience.
"Every sneaker lover can relate to the excitement that comes along with opening a fresh pair of kicks for the first time," explains Foamer. "From checking the tracking to maniacally stalking the mailman to slicing open that box. It's all part of it—it's like Christmas when mama dukes lets you open that one present the night before. Unboxing videos allow you to share that with the viewers. I think that's what's cool about it."
I was with a handful of the top reviewers in NYC over All-Star Weekend during a meet up, which included Foamer, Kustoo, and YoAnty. Kids convinced their parents to drive from as far as Maryland for a chance to meet up with these guys and just chop it up—simply from the connection they made with their viewers on YouTube.
Statistics from social media marketing firm Digital Sherpa show that videos are favorable for sales as well. Here are a few numbers to consider:
- YouTube is the number two search engine in the world
- Website visitors are 64% more likely to buy a product on an online retail site after watching a video
- Videos increase people’s understanding of your product or service by 74%
- 22% of Internet users visit the website named in a video ad they viewed
- Click-through rates increase 2-3 times when marketers include a video in an email
You might not be a huge fan but you can see why marketing teams are looking for the next "it" guy in sneakers and why so many new people are trying to do it every day.
How many times can you reinvent the wheel though? There is no doubt that people like Brad Hall’s hilariously dry approach and Complex's own unboxing videos laden with satire and profanity are the future. To want an end to YouTube unboxing videos just isn’t realistic for all the reasons pointed out in this piece. A challenge for innovative and better content is totally fair.
It will be interesting to see where this genre of content goes next. Will it gain mainstream attention where brands will try and integrate them into sales strategies? Will some of your favorites get a chance to go commercial and team up with big brands on a consistent level?
Changes are coming, and the ones with the most subscribers will likely survive.
Brandon Edler is a contributing writer for Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.