Pew Die Pie, the ‘Bro’ Army, and Deep Audience Empathy

By Steve Frechette, Jump Associates

The other day I heard about someone called PewDiePie, who, turns out, is the most subscribed-to channel on YouTube, with a 20 million subscriber lead over the second-place contender. I decided to watch a bit of his content, but I was unable to find anything not chock-full of profanity and obscene references. What’s going on here?

Enter Felix Kjellberg, known by his YouTube handle PewDiePie (pronounced like “cutie-pie,” but with a “p”). Bored with his economics studies at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Kjellberg dropped out in 2011 to record himself playing through video games (mostly horror), which was his real interest. In 2013, Kjellberg became the most subscribed user on YouTube; a title he has held consistency since then. He currently has over 54 million followers and his videos have received over 14 billion views.

His core audience, unsurprisingly, is young men with a penchant for irreverent entertainment — called the “bro army.” PewDiePie delivers consistent content aimed at this group, ending each video with the “bro fist” — a fist bump that acknowledges his followers as friends. His videos, in fact, play out like he’s a friend in the room, as viewers laugh along at his ridiculous antics.

The fact that his videos are laced with inappropriate content and vulgarity is a broader issue at play. He has in fact pushed the envelope so far that Disney-owned Maker Studios has severed ties with him, and YouTube has canceled a show in development with him. Nonetheless, there is much to learn from his meteoric rise.

What is the takeaway for insights-driven managers? Developing an emotional connection with your audience is incredibly powerful. Turn your interactions into relationships rather than transactions. Often this can start by simply walking in the shoes of your audience to deeply understand them. And, importantly, be mindful of the responsibility inherent in this bond and the danger that comes with abusing the connection.