Editor's Cut: PewDiePie made $12 million last year. Twelve. Million. Dollars.
And that, ladies and gents, will be chump change compared to what he pulls in this year.
Now, if you are over the age of 20, you could very well be wondering, ”Liz, what in the blazes is a PewDiePie?” Well first, it is a who…or more specifically, it is 25-year-old Swedish college dropout and global YouTube star, Felix Kjellberg. This guy has more than 40 million YouTube followers, has been called a “Famechanger” by Variety magazine, and topped Forbes magazine’s first ranking of Top Paid Stars on YouTube.”
The photo below is what I walked by last month in London—a line that stretched around the block, down an alley and then snaked back on itself because young Felix had just released a book. Yes, a book…you remember, those things made of paper were rumored to be dead by now.
His reach is staggering (56.7 million followers across five social channels, about 300-plus million monthly video views across all platforms, and 9.4 billion lifetime views on YouTube), and while the numbers show that his viewer demographic skews heavily toward males, the line I witnessed was almost equally split between men and women. And almost as interesting to me were the age ranges—from the hungry millennial to the Gen-X gamer.
I stopped and asked one of the packs of girls in line what they loved most about PewDiePie, and after the minute of 17-year-old exuberance about how cute he was, one girl summed it up and said, “He just gets what I think is funny.”
But PewDiePie isn’t the only tastemaker/famechanger out there. Meet Vsauce…think of him as Bill Nye the Science Guy for the next generation. Then there is Michelle Phan, who started posting vlogs about makeup application. Between her deal with L’Oreal, a successful book (again with these digital people and books…don’t they know about books being dead?), a partnership with Endemol that launched Icon Network earlier this year, and a YouTube channel that has more than 8 million subscribers and more than 1 billion lifetime views, Phan might be just a little busy these days—to the tune of $3 million per year.
Welcome the new celebrity, where fame is based on a blend of content, talent, relevance and authenticity. This is the age of the “anybody celebrity”—anyone can become a star without ever needing a casting call or a headshot. While I am not suggesting that we all quit our day jobs to become the next YouTube sensation, we need to shift our mindsets to where taste is now being defined and how these fans and followers want to see their icons.
Tradition says brands should race out and offer Michelle, Vsauce and PewDiePie lots of money to appear as their spokespeople, perhaps in commercials about their favorite snack food, clothing brand or car. Convention also dictates that these campaigns should be splashed across our multi-channel checklist of television, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards, web banners and social posts.
According to our friends at AceMetrix, celebrities may not be the answer. In their study titled “The Impact of Celebrities on Advertising,” ads featuring celebrities tended to underperform compared to those without. Only those ads where the content was relevant, the inclusion of the celebrity was tied to a clear message, and the link between the celebrity and the brand was clear and understandable did the ads perform well. Where these celebrity ads tend to most significantly underperform is specific to relevance. The AceMetrix’s score for relevance in non-celebrity ads is 571; for celebrities, it’s 549.
Most notable is AceMetrix’s conclusion: “The data reaffirms our view that in order for an advertisement to be truly effective, the message, tone and relevance of a celebrity must be clear, well-communicated and justifiable.” In other words, convention be damned. Before racing out to book PewDiePie in a frozen pie ad, let’s take a breath and ask the three As: Is it appropriate? Is it audacious? And finally, is it authentic? If the answer is “no” to any of these, it might be time to take a step away from the new breed of celebrity and reassess.
Speaking of celebrities, a whole group of marketing stars will be descending on Napa, California, in less than a month for the CMO Summit (I’ll give you a moment to revel in that smooth transition). Will you be there? There is still time to register, so take a moment to check out the latest news and lineups.
See you in Napa!
P.S. Follow me on Twitter @lizkmiller.