If you scrolled through Instagram around Diwali, you couldn’t possibly have missed the deluge of gift unboxing posts and stories shared by bloggers and influencers.

Unboxing videos are one of the methods employed by brands or digital agencies to promote themselves online, and I have done a few myself. Being a food blogger, I work with some food and beverage brands, and sometimes I get to try new products or gadgets, which I end up sharing on my social media feeds, always with a disclosure that the said product was sent to me. These videos usually start cropping up more often during festivals, and this year, during the Diwali period, gift unboxing took on epic proportions.

Given that it’s a tentpole event (blockbuster days on the internet), every brand wants its share of eyeballs. A number of companies and stores sent Diwali “gifts" to influencers who have a large number of followers with the brand’s Instagram handles and hashtags prominently displayed on the packaging. In exchange for the “gift", the influencer is expected to post videos or stories on the product and its unboxing, along with the inane hashtags.

Scrolling through the endless stream of unboxing videos, one of the things that caught my attention was the fact that each gift came with a lot of needless packaging to make it look “Insta pretty", leaving an enormous pile of packaging material in its wake. Very few posts talked about efficient ways to recycle all this paper and plastic.

Most of these videos are shared in the “Stories" section of Instagram, which is slippery territory—much like the back alley of a busy road where you can drive without following a single traffic rule. Rarely is the nature of collaboration disclosed. Stumble into most influencers’ Instagram stories and you would be served an endless stream of advertising.

It’s obvious that the PR and marketing teams giving these Diwali hampers don’t bother to actually understand the tastes and interests of the influencer and his/her audience. The gifts are generic; part of a mass campaign executed in a last-minute scramble to board the festival fast train. Seema Rajarathnam, a senior PR professional from Bengaluru who currently works as an independent consultant, says influencer lists are often built by the juniormost members of the PR agency, who care only about the number of followers and not whether the influencer is the right fit for the brand. The seniors, who should know better, don’t guide the juniors or the brands to be more discerning.

Sending gifts to 100-odd influencers with the subtle pressure of asking them to do shout-outs on social media is the laziest form of digital marketing. Given the short attention spans of audiences on social media, rarely does a brand choose to do something deeper and more meaningful. This consumption circus has turned the festival of giving into a festival of taking—influencers taking gifts and brands taking whatever publicity they can get.

Imagine a person who follows around 200 influencers—and a situation where each influencer posts a dozen unboxing posts over the two-three days of Diwali. This is peak audience fatigue. I questioned my Instagram followers on what they thought of this Diwali unboxing, and most of them said these videos quickly became monotonous and tiresome. Some said they simply unfollowed influencers who were constantly on a selling spree.

I asked Naina Redhu, professional photographer and blogger at Naina.co, what she thought of these Diwali unboxing campaigns flooding Instagram. “It’s a bad idea from start to finish—for the brand, for the influencers and the audience. A brand spends money and time to create and send the products, but there is no thought or effort going into brand building. Gifting on the basis of number of followers is not even gifting. Most of the stuff that is sent to influencers is of no use to them and it is usually given away," says Redhu, who believes that for most influencers this does not translate into a positive engagement with their audience, which may feel left out of the gifting spree.

So why does an influencer do it? Someone who is starting out feels validated by gifts. Then there’s the fear of missing out, which translates into “brands will stop sending me stuff if I don’t share unboxing posts", prompting them to accept whatever a brand sends and do what is expected in return. Some may do it to further a brand association, in the hope that it will lead to bigger and better-paid campaigns. It’s also a way to show how valuable they are to brands.

Festivals are for looking inwards, being more conscious, giving back in whatever way we can. They are definitely not a time to be “consumed by consumerism", a phrase I learnt from one of my readers. There is much contentment to be derived from minimalism and in enjoying fewer things more deeply. Gifts need to be more meaningful, simple, handmade, and a thoughtful way to reach out to someone, not a commodity shared in the expectation of a quid pro quo. Is it even a gift if it comes preloaded with an Instagram handle and a hashtag?

Earlier, I would go on a sugar-free diet post-Diwali. This time, I am craving a complete digital detox from the unboxing assault.

Nandita Iyer blogs as @saffrontrail and has a fortnightly column in Lounge.

Close