New media, new culture and how it’s confounding brands


By Mark Schaefer

If you’ve been following popular culture at all, you’ve probably learned by now of the downfall (at least temporarily) of YouTube’s greatest star, PewDie Pie.

PewDiePie, a Swedish gamer and humorist, is the first person alive to hit 10 billion views on YouTube. He pulls in more money each year than most Hollywood movie stars and he’s the epicenter of YouTube culture.

And then it all went south.

The Wall Street Journal documented at least nine of his videos that had anti-Semitic messages. Two in particular went viral, one were two people in Africa held up a provocative sign and another where an actor dressed as Jesus explained that Hitler had done nothing wrong.

The outfall was swift. An affiliate of Disney terminated his contract with a thud. His career was over, right?

Not so fast. Here’s the rest of the story.

  • In his initial apology video, PewDiePie seemed stunned. He said, “What I really don’t understand is how you people did not get the joke.” In a second video he railed at The Wall Street Journal for not understanding new media and accused the organization of targeting him.
  • Millions of online fans around the world defended him, and after the article, his subscriber base increased at its fastest rate ever.
  • Several journalists also came to his defense, including a prominent Jewish writer.
  • Nonplussed, PewDiePie created a video where he goes back in time and kills Hitler to clear his name. It received over 6.5 million views.

On the surface this makes no sense. How can people rally behind a person who sponsored those kind of messages? The truth is deeper, more subtle, and there is a profound message here for every company employing Millennials or selling to them. Something has changed.

This is the topic of a fascinating new episode of The Marketing Companion. Any show that begins with rich Corinthian leather and ends with Hitler has to be interesting (you have to hear it to believe it). I think this is one of better shows and it pulls in some help from Chris Brogan.

If you’ve never listened to the Marketing Companion before, give it a try. If you don’t laugh in the first 90 seconds I’ll give you your money back. Here we go …

If you can’t access the episode above, click on this link to listen to Episode 98

Other ways to enjoy our podcast

Please support our extraordinary sponsors. Our content is free because of their generosity.

Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his amazing newsletter The Full Monty and his new podcast available here:


BuzzSumo is the world’s best way to discover, analyze and amplify your content. Run over to BuzzSumo today for a 14 day free trial. Beyond data, BuzzSumo offers priceless insights into content discovery, monitoring, influencers and outreach, content research and planning, and competitor research. Find out why so many Marketing Companion fans are now hooked on Buzzsumo. Check out BuzzSumo’s powerful technology to look at the hottest content trends down to the hour!

All posts

  • Who watches PewDiePie? Why? And why should we care? I would suggest that deconstructing PewDiePie for marketing insight is more problematic than the presence and success of PewDiePie. The devil is there. [grin]

    Ironically, spending a little time watching PewDiePie doesn’t really provide deep or useful insight. Furthermore, the clumsy excuse that we can not know PewDiePie’s heart is the same problematic that is PewDiePie and so many more internet trolls, neo-geekdom, etc. In fact, the human heart will be known by it’s expression of language and behavior.

    PewDiePie is the antithesis of the Renaissance man. He is the antithesis of the hope of the Enlightenment. He’s a smug fool. And he is the smug fool’s hero.

    That said, I appreciate your curiosity, confusion and surprise. I think Mark has it right – brands need influencers. That’s where the attention is. PewDiePie’s audience is, arguably, one sector of Disney’s audience. They consume Disney products.

    The marketer’s challenge is to figure out how can brands speak to diverse audiences and values without losing market share and attention in some sectors. Broad, so-called enlightened, multicultural strategies are less relevant as once commonly-held traditional values become less relevant. Maybe, if the press would stop interfering with marketing – things would be a lot easier. After all, the modern press is just about money, right?

  • A lot going on here with this comment Stan but I think you hit on some of the key issues. I’m not so concerned about the fame of Pewds versus the falling out that occurred with Disney and millions of people in shock that it happened. Disney made the right move but the millions of people who were dumbfounded are also their customers. I think that it the rub. There is a clash between millennial culture, at least some aspects of it, and traditional views, language, and priorities. Even a Disney division set up to deal with the millennial culture failed here. I think this is a leading indicator of issues to come, which is why I thought it was such a fascinating topic. Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary.

  • Ricardo Ramos

    Hi Mark!

    I would love to read your oppinion about a question concernig websites, if you do not mind.

    In my opinion, websites are fundamental for a company. It’s always a place controlled by the owner and a point of contact to the client. However, with users being able to encounter your brand and services through a variety of channels, makes me think if a website is a vital part of a digital strategy.

    Users have been changing their behaviour towards mobile apps and social media, in prejudice of websites. This behaviour is certainly decreasing the number of clicks/visits on the web page, making them less necessary.

    To illustrate my point of view, imagine this scenario:
    On my Facebook news feed I find an article review about a restaurant, and after reading the review, I feel compelled to visit the place. To get to know others opinion, I decide to make a search on Tripadvisor or Foursquare platforms. After reading positive reviews from others, I decide to ask my wife through
    WhatsApp if she wants to join me.

    To know where the restaurant is, I search for it on Google. The search result provides important information on the right side like the review from others and also includes a button to directly call the place, which I use to make the reservation. Google Maps provides the information of the exact location and I can use Uber to go to the restaurant and Waze to check the traffic conditions.

    This scenario illustrates the possibility of making everything by only using Mobile Applications and Social Media platforms, without the need of visiting one website.

    Websites are only providing content to Social Media platforms, and users only visit the mobile web page of a company if they don’t have the app.

    From an entrepreneur point of view, is it worth to invest in a website? Should he include a website in its business strategy? Does a website continue to be a powerful tool of marketing?

    Can you imagine a different future for websites? Will they only exist to provide content to Social Media and mobile apps or will they evolve due to the development of 3D, augmented reality or virtual reality?

    Ricardo Ramos

  • I do believe we still need websites. People don’t want to be “sold” on the web … except when they come to your website. This is the appropriate place to put your products and calls to action. Yes, you still need a website in most cases.

  • Ricardo Ramos

    I agree that websites will still be fundamental for a company but I have the feeling that 3D, virtual reality or augmented reality might take websites to a different level.. Do you think it is possible to make websites the center of the Internet experience again?

    And why do you think users are changing their behaviour?
    Understand user behaviour change is fundamental to offer different experiences to users when they visit a website.

  • I agree with you that VR will change the game in terms of websites but this is five years off at least, based on my observations.

  • Pingback: What is Generation Z all about? – Generation Z : How we will change the world()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend