PewDiePie Just Showed Every Brand Why Influencers Are Dangerous – Forbes
YouTube star PewDiePie has been fired from Google and Disney contracts after several antisemitic remarks in videos and posts. Watched regularly by millions around the world, this is a business decision that will hurt all parties financially in the short and long-term but it does again highlight the tenuous relationships brand have with influencers.
PewDiePie has also been removed from the Google YouTube Preferred advertising program which will also likely impact the forthcoming YouTube Red subscription service which was relying heavily on PewDiePie to push the brand. Based on previous similar situations it is likely other brands will follow suit and distance themselves from the YouTuber.
Continuing on from “his (2016) bad boy streak” (per We AreUnicorns), PewDiePie, or Felix Kjellberg, is no stranger to controversy previously using the N-word in a video to which he did not see nearly the same backlash. The damage is done but what follows is what interests me. Will PewDiePie react graciously (he seems to be so far) or will he go on the offensive? PewDiePie gets to retain his +50million YouTube subscribers and will probably get a few more thanks to the free press this debacle has garnered him but what about his future? All press is good press may not work here but in the world of digital, subscribers usually mean money somewhere. Whether brands give him more money, PewDiePie could just sail off into the sunset – making (per Forbes) $12 million in 2015 alone (more – pre-tax – than Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz and Anne Hathaway).
HOW CAN BRANDS PROTECT THEMSELVES?
Brands that have close relationships with influencers need to understand what little control they actually have in this space. Working with influencers is sensitive for both parties involved. When situations like the one with PewDiePie happen not only do things move fast but armies can be forged. Disney and Google are large beasts themselves but ultimately the +50 million subscribers and followers will probably remain loyal to PewDiePie (Twitter chatter seems to suggest this) and will probably be excited to see what he does next.
Brands need to be clear from the outset but expect and prepare for issues. Problems like this (although not normally to this degree) are inevitable along the course of a proper relationship with an influential figure like PewDiePie. Brands need to be transparent from the outset what is and isn’t acceptable and hope that the individual has the sense to understand what is commercially acceptable in order not to stress the relationship.
PewDiePie was the golden boy for YouTube but that has now changed forever. Brands don’t want to crush the influencer’s creativity that makes them attractive to brands in the first place but nor do brands want to be associated with the sort of content that PewDiePie has been putting out. Contracts and clauses are useful but at the end of the day – a swift “distancing” press release may be the only defence if things do go badly.