If you’ve never heard of PewDiePie, odds are you don’t have a child in middle school. The YouTube star has a huge following among the tween and teen set, making him an ideal candidate as an influencer for Disney – right up until the moment when PewDiePie’s brand of ‘humor’ included virulently anti-Semitic commentary including the phrase “Death to all Jews!” being shared on videos that have at this point been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Disney, Google and most other brands involved in sponsor-relationships with PewDiePie dropped him immediately, but the damage was done. While PewDiePie’s audience doesn’t seem overly concerned with his commentary – shocking, offensive ‘jokes’ are pretty much par for the course – the parents of that audience are asking, “Shouldn’t you have known what this guy was about before you promoted him?”
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Due Diligence Isn’t Necessarily Easy
Influencer marketing is popular because it gives brands easy access to a ready-made audience. It’s not really hard to figure out why Disney wants to connect with a tween and teenage market: these kids are a big part of their target market. Most of Disney Channel’s original programming is aimed at children ages 9-16; the audience for most animated features is the same.
YouTube stars and other influencers are often much cheaper than full-fledged celebrities, making them attractive to budget-conscious brands. That being said, these savings come with a cost: when you’re not paying for a polished, professional celebrity, you wind up working with a personality that can be a little rough around the edges – or even capable of grossly inappropriate insults and commentary.
If you’re considering working with an influencer, it’s on you as the brand manager to be fully aware of the type of content that influencer produces. This can be a huge undertaking: PewDiePie has had multiple YouTube channels over the years, with hundreds upon hundreds of hours of content. However, brands are being held accountable for what the influencers they work with say. This means due diligence is no longer optional: you really have to do the hard work of knowing what a star’s about before you hitch your company’s name to theirs.
One strategy to avoid being blindsided by this type of situation is to work with a newer, less established influencer. As they build their audience, you gain access to a larger audience. This can take time, but you also have the ability to enter into conversations with the influencer to make sure brand expectations are clear. More established influencers may be more resistant to direction: in that case, you want to really think through whether working with that individual. The worst case scenario is for a brand to work with a very high profile individual like PewDiePie and wind up associated with their hateful rhetoric. As his name suggests, that’s a situation that stinks. Luckily, you can avoid it, by doing your homework!