Print can profit from the unboxing fad

Richard Stuart-Turner
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Online ‘unboxing’ videos are said to attract billions of views each year on YouTube and other content sharing platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, and can be incredibly lucrative for their creators, with many unboxing channels racking up millions of subscribers.

It’s not just the vloggers behind these videos, which typically see them opening various products and discussing the experience in detail, that can prosper from this recent phenomenon, however.

Brands whose products find their way onto videos that go viral or the channels of online influencers can hugely benefit from the publicity.

As a result, these influencers are sent products for free by brands looking for invaluable online promotion at a fraction of the cost of a traditional ad campaign.

Before the vloggers get to the product inside, however, there is the packaging itself to contend with, and this often gets just as much airtime, particularly if it stands out in some way. It is therefore surprising perhaps, that many products ordered online are still sent in plain brown boxes.

Macfarlane Packaging has been carrying out its own research on unboxing for the past three years. Collecting more than 200 survey responses concerning different online retailers, its most recent study found that 31% of items had no branding on the pack, inside or outside, 29% did not reflect the value of the brand and 29% were not a good fit for the product.

As well as leaving an underwhelming first impression, both to regular customers and potentially influential online reviewers, these brands are also missing out on an opportunity to advertise other products and services or even just promote brand values.

Macfarlane Packaging marketing director Laurel Granville says the situation is improving and that “retailers are switched onto it”, but that there are nevertheless “still a lot of opportunities in the market”.

“It’s about making sure that the pack carries the value of the brand. How can a high-end retailer replicate a very nice store experience, where you might leave with a beautiful rope handle bag, online? It could be about looking at different finishes. 

“The other thing that’s becoming more important is engaging with customers through packaging. A lot of retailers are now encouraging their customers to order through apps. So when the package arrives, there might be some kind of augmented reality, maybe through a marking, to communicate further with their customer. Packaging represents an opportunity to further engage using new technologies that exist today.”

The Packaging Experts managing director Paul Marsh agrees that augmented reality will shake up packaging but adds: “It’s going to become a case of when it becomes easier and more cost-effective, because if it’s not easy then consumers won’t use it and if it’s not cost-effective then brands won’t engage with it, unless they want to be groundbreaking.”

In the meantime, Marsh suggests there are numerous ways for brands to ensure their e-commerce packaging stands out, and for printers to help their clients to achieve this.

“We’re working with [Celloglas division] Mirri because their board has a wow factor and they’re looking at putting this into standard transit outers,” he says.

“Everybody wants something that’s different and there’s only so far you can go with printing embellishments currently. Some people still love a spot UV and a foil but more and more people are looking at being environmentally aware so they don’t want anything on there that shouldn’t be.

“They want an uncoated board, no laminations, no foil or anything else, so you have to look to get your strength in other ways, and that’s with your branding.”

James Williams, managing director at Curtis Print & Packaging, highlights Apple as a company that has got the unboxing experience right.

“They are a classic example of a brand that truly understands the importance and the power of packaging. Their packaging is like theatre – as you are opening it, it’s unveiling layers; it’s part of the consumer experience.”

He adds: “We specialise in the beauty industry, so our brands put a lot of credence in the quality and look of their packaging. It’s interesting that with a lot of the beauty bloggers and vloggers online, the first thing they talk about is the packaging.

“You don’t know what the blogger is going to review but it’s a great opportunity to print a positive brand message, even if it’s just repeating the logo, it’s just that awareness of it.”

In the age of unboxing, there is evidently still opportunity for brands to maximise the potential value of their packaging, not only to properly reflect their brand to their customers, but to also potentially get online influencers singing their virtues. 


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