Think Big August 20, 2020

Cancel Culture Part 2: The Case of The Cancelled YouTube Stars

Cancel culture has been around since 2017, although recently, more cases have been emerging as a result of the changing political climate we’re living in.

In June, it seemed as though everyday at least one famous person or brand was getting cancelled. YouTube stars, in particular, were getting cancelled for offensive past videos and actions, which affected digital marketers and brands.

Shane Dawson

In June 2020, popular YouTube star Shane Dawson was cancelled due to his past racist videos including the use of blackface. Dawson had over 10 million subscribers, and his videos always had over a million views. Shortly after social media users cancelled Shane Dawson, YouTube announced they will be demonetizing his videos. 

YouTube advertising works by playing a video ad before the YouTube video, or in the middle of one. Brands get to decide which videos they put their ads in front of, so if for example, a brand wanted to target Generation Z, putting an ad in front of Shane Dawson’s videos would be ideal. Not only did he once have 23 million subscribers (as of this writing, he’s down to 21 million), but his videos were primarily targeted towards Generation Z and young Millennials. A few months ago, having a 30-second ad before Shane Dawson’s video – which usually has over 10 million views, would mean that the ad was reaching at least 10 million potential customers. In June however, during the Black Lives Matter movement, Dawson was held accountable by social media users for his racially insensitive videos and was subsequently cancelled. The response from YouTube was to demonetize his videos.

This means that ads are no longer playing on Dawson’s videos, and that includes past videos that once had advertisements. The brands that worked directly with Shane Dawson, such as Morphe and Target, will no longer be selling Dawson’s products, which included an eyeshadow palette collaboration with Jeffree Star. In either case, the brands who worked with Dawson, whether directly or indirectly, would lose the customers they once had through their partnership with him. The power of cancelling Shane Dawson was so strong that even YouTube intervened, which was unprecedented. Shane Dawson’s videos have been up for about ten years, yet YouTube did not delete them. Cancelling him, however, not only deleted the videos but held him accountable by ceasing to pay him for his content.

Jenna Marbles

Similarly to Shane Dawson, YouTube star Jenna Marbles quit YouTube after getting cancelled because a video of her wearing blackface surfaced, as well as videos in which she makes fun of people of Asian descent and makes misogynistic comments. Like Shane Dawson, Jenna Marbles had 20 million subscribers, with most of her videos attracting around three million views. 

Marbles’ videos of her using blackface in 2014, as well as a video in which she makes misogynistic jokes resurfaced in June, which resulted in many social media users cancelling her. After getting cancelled by social media users for her offensive content from the past, she made a now-deleted video announcing that she will be quitting YouTube and other social media to focus on educating herself about why those videos were problematic. Jenna did not work with brands but was a YouTube Partner program member, which means ads that played before her videos were how she made her money. The difference between Shane and Jenna is that she only used ads for her videos, not working directly with any brands. That means that no brands had to end their partnerships with her, unlike in Shane’s case with Morphe and Target. While her channel is still up, it is no longer active, which means any brands that relied on using her videos to put their advertisements in front can no longer do so. Jenna Marbles was popular among Millennial women for her relatable content, so most brands who targeted this demographic would have relied on her videos. Unlike Shane Dawson, though, YouTube did not demonetize her videos, because she will no longer be uploading any new videos.

Jeffree Star

That’s not to say that cancelling will always work in favour of the social media mob. Along with Shane Dawson and Jenna Marbles, beauty YouTuber Jeffree Star was cancelled due to anti-semitic remarks, including wanting to launch a lipstick line called “Lipstick Nazi.” Although the beauty brand Morphe has discontinued Jeffree and Shane’s eyeshadow palette, his actions didn’t have the same repercussions as Jenna Marbles and Shane Dawson. 

Jeffree Star still has over 17 million subscribers, still has his own makeup line and has not had to apologize for any of his past offences. An Insider article examines why some celebrities are ‘uncancelable’ and an expert states that some YouTubers have controversial personalities that allow them to be exempt from getting cancelled. By setting himself up as a villain, none of Jeffree’s actions shock his audience, which leads him to seem ‘uncancelable.’ For some YouTube stars, such as Jeffree Star and Tana Mongeau, controversy is their brand. These YouTubers build their personal brand around their mistakes and controversy so that audiences are used to it and don’t feel as outraged as they do with YouTube stars who are held to a different standard. Still, Shane Dawson used to seem to be ‘uncancelable’ as well, and that changed in June. In a matter of weeks, the YouTube stars whose brands are controversial can be cancelled to the extent of Shane Dawson and Jenna Marbles.

What this means for advertisers

As a brand using digital marketing, it’s important to know who you’re working with. Shane Dawson, Jenna Marbles and Jeffree Star had all gotten cancelled because of old videos, dating back to the early 2010s. None of the videos were hidden from the public; many were available for brands to see before deciding to work with them. In the case of Jeffree Star, in particular, his entire brand was controversial. Therefore, the brands working with these YouTube stars should have evaluated whether these controversies would be worth working with, both through a moral and financial perspective. 

Digital advertising through YouTube is a great way to reach target audiences by using video advertising. Working with YouTube stars, in particular, is great for targeting Generation Z and Millennials, who make up most of the audience for YouTube stars. If there’s one thing cancel culture can teach digital advertisers, though, it’s to think about who brands are working with. 

In June 2020, three powerful YouTube stars were cancelled, resulting in demonetization, quitting, and getting dropped by brands. The brands who worked with these YouTubers would also face consequences, or at least lose potential audiences they would have been relying on through YouTube advertising. Of course, no one can predict exactly what warrants a social media cancellation, but understanding who you’re working with is key to avoiding trouble when it comes to digital marketing. It also helps to understand how to navigate cancel culture as a brand, which we’ll cover in our third part of our Cancel Culture series. Stay tuned!

These words are by Katarina Vidojevic

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