NEW YORK, Oct 15 (Reuters) - My 7-year-old fell in love with a food-shaped plastic figurine named Poppy Corn on YouTube the other day as she watched videos of Shopkins toys that fans were unwrapping from mystery "blind bags."
She flipped over to Google Shopping on my tablet, struggled for an hour to count the nickels and dimes in her piggy bank, and finally handed me $11 to order the toy for her.
What is a parent to do?
With electronic devices in the hands of so many kids, YouTube, a Google Inc unit, is becoming a major force in driving their wish lists. As families prepare to spend an estimated $630.7 billion on gifts this holiday season, the smallest screens could have the biggest influence.
"YouTube is kind of like an online catalog for kids," said Paul Solomon, co-chief executive of Moose Toys, the Australian maker of Shopkins whose channel has 96,000 subscribers (here).
Shopkins-related videos on YouTube have garnered over 500 million views. In a November 2014 report, YouTube estimated it would take more than seven years to watch all the videos on the site with "unboxing" in the title that had been uploaded so far that year.
The videos are mostly fan-generated, with low production values and bare-bones scripts. There is a lot of "oohing" and "ahhhing" as the hosts open mystery bags, experiment on camera with toys or participate in staged "challenges."
Sandra Wells, host of the DisneyCarToys channel (here), tries to stand out from the crowd by playing with a mix of toys in interesting ways. Sometimes her guest host, a Spider-Man doll, does the unwrapping with her help.
What started as a hobby for Wells three years ago is now a career. DisneyCarToys has 2.8 million subscribers, and pulls in advertising revenue for pre-roll ads which Wells will not disclose.
Advertisers pay YouTube channel owners to include commercials on their videos, and sometimes sponsor them to feature their products.
Wells' channel mainly targets 7-year-old girls, with the top end being 11 or 12. (Boys may be more interested in her husband's channel, ToysReviewToys (here), which has 622,000 subscribers.)
One of Wells' videos from the last holiday shopping season, a ball-pit challenge in which a man dressed as Spidey has to dig through plastic balls to find hidden toys, has more than 42 million views (here). Wells said she gets 8 million to 10 million views a day.
"I doubt every single view is buying a toy," Wells said. "But it influences what they want for Christmas and birthdays, and if they get (an) allowance."
This holiday season, expect to see a lot of Barbies, Shopkins, Little Live Pets and Yummy Nummies. "I will try to feature everything that is new for Christmas," Wells said.
Fan-generated videos have become part of the marketing strategy for the toy companies, which spend big bucks for pre-roll ads and sponsorships.
For example, on EvanTubeHD (here), which has over 2 million subscribers, the preteen host Evan recently unboxed a giant package of Star Wars toys supplied by Target Corp. That video has had 1.2 million views so far. (here)
Moose Toys launched the Shopkins brand in June 2014 by producing animated webisodes of the toys, but has shifted its focus toward fan videos over the last 12 months.
"Some we work closely with and we have good partnerships that have grown," Moose's Solomon said.
Wells said she buys most of the toys featured in her videos. But companies provide many freebies, and since reviews are largely positive, that can lead to skepticism, noted Jim Silver, editor of TTPM (http:/ttpm.com), an information resource on toys. "There's a credibility factor, and that's something that needs to be earned. Kids pick up pretty quickly."
Advertisers need to be sharper to target the right market, Silver said. "Facebook is strongest for moms, YouTube for kids. You have to look at whether Instagram is where people are, or Twitter. The puzzle used to be two pieces, there are now six to eight pieces." (Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)