Disney recently had to manage quite a controversy regarding one of its influencers, PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellber), a top YouTuber with more than 53 million subscribers and a YouTube show backed by Disney’s Maker Studios. PewDiePie has come under fire for reported anti-Semitic speech and actions in several of his videos, in particular in a video released this January that showed two men from India holding up a sign that said “Death to All Jews.”
Influencer’s Stunt Trigger Business Nightmare
The video in question that sparked the PewDiePie controversy was apparently a challenge posed by the Internet star. PewDiePie claimed he wanted to show how absurd today’s media and technology can be, and how far some people are willing to go to make a buck – or 5 bucks. He offered anyone on the freelance work website Fiverr, which allows members to sell almost any service for a “fiverr”, a mere $5 if they’d film themselves holding up the sign. PewDiePie argues that he didn’t really believe anyone on the website would agree to his stunt.
PewDiePie originally made a name for himself and climbed to a suspected annual income of between $4 and $14 million because of his off-the-cuff, expletive-filled video game reviews on YouTube. This time, however, many think his bold and brash antics have crossed the line. PewDiePie immediately received backlash for his video with the Indian men, receiving scores of comments condemning him for his interpretation of humor.
Disney’s Maker Studios in a Quandary
After the video’s release, Maker Studios, a division of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, immediately cut ties with PewDiePie: they refused to continue backing his “Scare PewDiePie” show, which was set for a second season. The Swedish PewDiePie rose to YouTube fame because of his willingness to push the envelope and dissolve boundaries on his personal YouTube channel; but this scandal begs the question as to whether Disney and its subsidiary properly vetted the online sensation prior to arriving at a sponsorship deal.
Some say that Maker Studios should have realized anything was possible regarding potential content output from PewDiePie. After all, YouTube has always been a platform that allowed almost free reign to create whatever type of content a personality wanted, as long as it didn’t incite violence or hate. YouTube has stated that is would allow satirical content of any sort to remain on a content creator’s channel.
Had Maker Studios watched all of PewDiePie’s videos? Did they realize that he was not about fitting into the status quo? Disney and Maker Studios connected with PewDiePie through Google-owned YouTube’s Preferred Program, which has tighter restrictions for content and aims for more family-friendly programming. Nonetheless, it seems there should have been more extensive due diligence by Maker Studios regarding the type of videos PewDiePie would produce, and whether or not his out-of-program conduct would tarnish the Disney image.
Small Businesses Especially Need to Vet Brand Influencers
Disney and Maker Studios are trying hard to distance themselves now from the YouTube sensation. With such an uproar from the press and the public, this YouTube fiasco serves as a prime example of the importance in vetting influencers. Most brands aren’t backed by a multibillion-dollar company and simply cannot afford a scandal over what should be a thoroughly vetted brand representative. In the ever-expanding realm of digital content, whether published by a small business or a global brand, the importance of vetting influencers has never been more necessary.