Like many kids, Ryan spends his time playing with toys. But, unlike most of his peers, millions of people watch the six-year-old boy open and test toys – a performance that has earned him millions of dollars.
Ryan ToysReview is one of several YouTube channels devoted to unboxing and reviewing toys that has caught the attention of manufacturers. Toy companies that once targeted children watching TV after school have started collaborating with so-called social media influencers, like Ryan, to advertise their products.
"They're more well-known with kids than celebrities – traditional celebrities," said Tara Tucker, vice-president of global marketing communications for Canadian toy maker Spin Master.
Ryan's channel, for example, boasts nearly 10.2 million subscribers and viewers have watched his uploads nearly 17 billion times. Forbes estimates he's the eighth highest-paid YouTuber of 2017, collecting a cool $14.1-million.
Spin Master partnered with the pint-sized millionaire to promote its Soggy Doggy game with a 10-minute video showing Ryan and his parents playing. Since it was uploaded on the channel in early October, it's been viewed nearly six million times.
The Toronto-based company, whose brainchild Hatchimals was last year's must-have holiday toy, started working with influencers about five years ago.
"It's just grown exponentially," said Tucker, adding Spin Master increased the number of influencer campaigns it conducted this year by 50 per cent over 2016.
The shift to include YouTube in a company's marketing strategy comes as children increasingly choose to watch the online video platform and consumers turn to it for shopping recommendations, she said.
Research repeatedly shows kids spend more time online than in front of a TV screen.
Meanwhile, Canadians of all ages looking for inspirations for holiday purchases are most influenced by social media channels, according to a report from PwC Canada. Nearly half of Canadians considered Facebook the most influential, it found, with YouTube in second place at 29 per cent.
PwC's American report showed younger members of Generation Z, those 13 to 16 years old, overwhelmingly found YouTube to be the most influential at 72 per cent.
The busiest season for social media campaigns is definitely the holidays, said Tiffany Kayar, communications media manager for WowWee Group Ltd., maker of Fingerlings, this year's hottest holiday pick.
The Hong Kong-based company recently partnered with influencers to introduce Fingerlings – animatronic baby animals that cling to a child's finger created by its Montreal team– to North American consumers. The company sent some of their partners banana-shaped pinatas with the toy inside and left it up to individual influencers to create a video narrative using the prop, said Kayar.
The company looks to work with YouTubers who engage with their audiences, Kayar said, adding one of the indicators it looks for is the number of comments left on their videos and whether they respond.
While audience size is important, Spin Master's Tucker stresses certain products call for working with influencers with a smaller following in a specific niche.
For example, to promote its Star Wars Hero Droid BB-8 – an interactive, nearly 41-centimetre tall droid that follows its owner around – Spin Master partnered with a channel with slightly less than 130,000 subscribers. The video by Toy, Gadget and Product Reviews by Dad Does received about 15,000 views, 104 likes and 21 comments since late September.
However, partnering with smaller channels like Dad Does allowed the company to reach its target audience of Star Wars fans, pop culture junkies and tech enthusiasts, Tucker said.
"Who best to work with but those that are Star Wars aficionados, that have a voice to other Star Wars fans and fanatics?"
Depending on the campaign, the companies will either give the YouTuber a free product or financial compensation.
What was once an argument over whether to spend money on influencer payouts has since become an easier conversation, said Kayar.
She said she first started to see the shift to social media marketing when the platforms began to influence toy trends.
Fingerlings, for example, were inspired by a viral video of a finger monkey, she said. The pygmy marmoset is the world's smallest monkey and images abound online of the tiny creature gripping onto a human finger.
Hatchimals, on the other hand, were inspired by the YouTube trend of unboxing videos.
Toy makers asked themselves "what if a toy could unbox itself?" Tucker said.
"And the idea of Hatchimals was hatched."