What to do when your influencer offends

This week has seen the fall of YouTube hero PewDiePie, one of the platform’s biggest earners with the user netting around £72 million in 2016 from his YouTube channel and sponsorships.

His fall from grace involved a ‘prank’ in which he used the Fiverr service to pay two children to hold up a sign reading “Death to all Jews”.  Aside from the obvious Anti-Semitic message involved in the prank, there is also the issue of deception with the children involved. You can read more about the details here.

Image courtesy of Daily Stormer

Many are calling his stunt “indefensible” and despite the free press this controversy is offering, his reputation has been damaged to the point where both Disney’s Maker Studios and YouTube itself have chosen to distance themselves from the popular user.  Despite having 53 million subscribers, he stands to lose out on income from Maker Studios and other sponsors estimated at around £15 million, through terminated contracts. YouTube itself has decided to cancel his show Scare PewDiePie 2 and Google have removed his channel from Google preferred.

So what should you do if your chosen influencer offends?

Choosing an influencer to represent your brand can be risky, at the end of the day they are only human and prone to make mistakes. Whether it is a scandal relating to sex or drugs, or racist or offensive comments, you have to be prepared incase the worst should happen.

This can largely be avoided by steering away from controversial characters when making your initial selections – unless controversy is part of your brand – and being transparent about what is acceptable from the outset.

One of the first things you should do is decide whether you want to continue your association with the influencer. Are their actions likely to cause long lasting negativity? Or is their transgression likely to blow over fairly quickly? You need to decide on a case by case basis whether terminating your association will be beneficial in the long run.

It may be that a slap on the wrist and ideas of lost revenue will scare them into behaving, or it may be the start of a long list of future transgressions. As a business you will need to quickly gauge how your target audience feel about the situation and if this incident is likely to effect sales and income.

It is often the case that influencers have their own loyal following willing to defend them.  If their following is made up of your target demographic you will need to weigh up if their actions will damage your own reputation by affiliation, or whether your customers will stick by your influencer.

Once you’ve determined your course of action, you will need to prepare a statement for the press. This doesn’t need to be War and Peace, a few short lines outlining your stance and actions will suffice.

This is what Maker Studios had to say about PewDiePie:

“Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”

And YouTube:

“We’ve decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie Season 2 and we’re removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred.”

PewDiePie was once the shining example for YouTube success, but his latest stunt may have changed this forever. While brands don’t want to stifle their influencer’s creativity, they also don’t want to be associated with the hateful content that PewDiePie recently released. Having a contract is useful for outlining the consequences of unacceptable behaviour, but a swift distancing such as those above may be the only defence if things go wrong.


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