When was the last time you sat down with friends and family after coming home from the shopping mall to walk them through - in gory details - every single one of your purchases? The natural fear is that if you had done that, you may not have that many friends or family members willing to speak with you ever again.
The concept of sharing everything you just bought at the mall (including intricate design details and even the price you paid) has become a fascinating, new and growing online trend. They're called "haul" videos, and YouTube is currently tracking close to 150,000 of them. Some of these individual videos have tens of millions of views. Young adults (mostly women) are showing off their shopping hauls, adding their beauty and design commentary and turning what was previously a girls day out at the mall into something one journalist recently called, Girl Talk 2.0.
Before you finish shaking your head is disbelief, let's remember that humans have evolved over millions of years. We've gone from wearing pelts and hanging antlers over our mantles to broadcasting our "kills" from the back of our Ford trucks through to YouTube and their massive audience.
And, while it's easy to think that this is simply the latest in human desire to blend technology, shopping and showing off, this activity is not relegated to teen girls and their Mac make-up obsession. In fact, long before haul videos became an online trend, millions of people spent millions of minutes watching people from all walks of life and demographics unbox their latest gadgets and technology. The trend of "unboxing" videos emerged in 2006. In them, people would capture the entire process of opening, setting up and powering on their latest tech toys. Unboxing videos have quickly become known as, geek porn.
Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, interviewed for the Good Morning America online article, Girls Gone Viral: Online Fame From Shopping, says: "It's a vicarious pleasure. You don't have to spend the money and you still get the thrill; it's a bit like pornography."
Maybe those geeks were on to something?
As with all new media channels and platforms, haul videos also have created an Andy Warhol-esque 15 minutes-of-fame celebrity for those brave enough to post their purchases. Two of the biggest haul video sensations are sisters Elle Fowler, 21, and Blair Fowler, 16, from Tennessee. To date, their combined haul videos have been viewed more than 75 million times.
It's the type of numbers and audience reach that makes most major television broadcasters drool, and don't think these audiences and videos have gone largely unnoticed by those who control the mass media channels.
Both Elle and Blair are currently being represented by Shelly Marchetti - a Los Angeles based talent agent. Other haul video bloggers have secured sponsorship deals and advertising programs from major brands. Many have translated their YouTube fame into product deals, magazine spreads and more traditional media/journalism gigs as well. In simple terms: marketing and advertising professionals are all over the haul video bloggers because the content they are creating is, essentially, nothing more than a longer, more detailed and glorified 30-second spot.
Do haul videos ever have anything negative to say about the products? Think about it: would you ever buy anything if you didn't really want and/or love it?
And where there is money, there is concern, fear and government legislation that follows. In the United States, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is watching every pixel being published. They recently enacted laws and legislation for all types of online publishers and content creators (which includes blogging and podcasting in text, images, audio and video). While any publisher (including haul video creators) are allowed to accept free merchandise and advertising, it must be fully (and clearly) disclosed that they are being paid by a brand (be it with money or free goodies) to review a product (which is, somewhat, ironic considering most professional journalists rarely disclose if they were given the product they are reviewing for free - but that's another debate for another time). The Canadian equivalent of the FTC in Canada, the CRTC, also is closely monitoring the space.
In a post-recession world, our political and business leaders are making it abundantly clear that consumers need to go out and spend more to get us out of our financial funk.
Whether we think the notion of haul videos are just another stupid thing that young girls do along with gab and gossip, or whether this could well become the "next big thing" is irrelevant. What we have with haul videos are people shopping, sharing their stories (likes and dislikes) and, ultimately, encouraging others to do the same. Think about it: our economy could well be saved by a bunch of teenagers showing off their shopping hauls.
You'll never look at lip gloss the same way again.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
- Montreal Gazette - Kids and the mall haul: it's more than geeks baring gifts.
- Vancouver Sun - Kids and the haul - showing off their purchases online.