No, PewDiePie’s career as an influencer is not dead—even after Disney and YouTube severed ties with him for posting videos containing anti-Semitic content.
PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, reportedly paid two Indian men via the website Fiverr, to hold up a sign reading "Death to all Jews" for a video he posted last month. Fiverr is a site that enables people to provide services for $5.
Disney’s Maker Studios, which produces videos for YouTube channels, backed out of a joint venture with PewDiePie earlier this week after his offensive videos came to light. Yet because he has such a massive following—53 million subscribers on YouTube, making him one of the platform’s most-followed stars—some brands will work with him in the future, said experts. He will no longer, however, attract the caliber of brands such as Disney, predicts Maria Sipka, cofounder and president of influencer platform Linqia.
The future of PewDiePie, who made $15 million in 2016, according to Forbes, is dependent on how he reacts to this incident, she said. He can salvage his reputation if he expresses remorse for his actions.
"It is going to take him some time to rebuild, because as human beings we all make mistakes," she said. "But he is going into a different realm here if he has no regret."
PewDiePie’s response on Thursday came in the form of a YouTube video.
"I think some companies will see this as a chance to jump on the bandwagon as something that has become sensational," said SVP Clint Bagley, head of influencer relations at Current. "Not everyone out there is sensitive to this, or maybe they are a little more opportunistic."
PewDiePie explained that his intention was to show how "stupid" the website Fiverr is and how far he could get someone to go for $5. He noted that his video channel is a growing and learning experience and he will keep this incident in mind going forward.
"I am sorry for the words that I used as I know they offended people and I admit the joke itself went too far," said PewDiePie in the video. "I strongly believe you can joke about anything, but there is the right way, and not the best way to do it."
His humble apology was short-lived, however. PewDiePie then attacked the media, specifically The Wall Street Journal, which wrote a review of his channel concluding he had posted nine videos since August that "include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery."
"It was an attack by the media to try and discredit me, to try and decrease my influence, and my economic worth," PewDiePie said, about the WSJ report.
He ended the video by flipping off the camera and calling the WSJ "mother______."
Takeaways for brands and influencers
With a great internet reach comes great responsibility, and as a Disney partner, it was PewDiePie’s job to understand where the line of acceptability is, said Bagley.
"One of the things we are focused on covering with our clients is how important brand safety is and adhering to Federal Trade Commission guidelines," he said. "I am shocked so many huge brands would not have really taken him to task and gotten it in contractual writing that he understood that."
Sipka added that influencers should ensure their messages and values are aligned with their partner brands. Transparent communications is the best way to make sure that happens.
"Influencers need to think about the stories and content they are creating and the impact it has on the partnership," she said.