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Skip Ad? | How (not) to Destroy your YouTube Brand in 3 Easy Steps

By Rory Witt    |    February 5, 2016

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So you have taken years building your YouTube brand, gaining support and goodwill from your subscribers but what does it take to make all that crumble in a matter of days? At DigiMar we  give your business a consistent tone and approach for your Social Media and Youtube Brand and can guide past these pitfalls.

When the internet isn’t already discussing important issues such as Twitter rap battles between the rapper B.O.B. and scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson over the whether the Earth is flat or another hilarious twitter rap battle over a misunderstanding between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, it’s constantly assessing itself and its content creators for signs of perceived arrogance or weakness.

Without a doubt the internet can be a harsh mistress but it is one that demands understanding and respect to function on and interact with effectively. Just as there is content that goes viral so too can scandals and backlash.

I am of course referring to the meltdown in progress over the YouTube channel The Fine Brothers, who ran a popular series of videos  consisting of people just reacting to things. Now when I say popular I mean (previously) nearly 15 million subscribers popular,  it might not be quite as stratospheric as internet commentator PewDiePie’s 45 million subscribers but it’s not an insignificant number.

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The patron saint of YouTube (apparently)

In a previous article I mentioned the compelling power of infomericals, how people can’t help but be drawn into them, the same is true for reaction videos. I know right, how is this even a thing, it’s like that one friend that constantly looks at you to see if you are laughing when you watch a comedy. Anyway reaction videos are an accepted staple of internet now, so just go with it. Everything somehow makes sense on the internet.

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Especially this.

So why the drama? Well due to The Fine Brothers making some rather sweeping announcements about copyrighting, trademarking and franchising the “React” concept, other influential YouTubers and in turn the rest of the internet collectively freaked out. As a result of the backlash, The Fine Brothers subscriber numbers are in free fall losing hundreds of thousands in several days.

So you came here for drama, wailing, gnashing of teeth and empires crumbling and more importantly, you want to know how do I (not) get the internet to collectively take up arms and try dismantle my brand?

Let’s use The Fine Brothers drama as a case study, because it’s unfolding as I write.

3. Build A YouTube Brand By Squashing The Competition

dont start none

A lot of this might not have come to a head so dramatically if The Fine Brothers had not shown a history of using takedown notices and infringement strikes on multiple YouTube content creators that even vaguely used similar content or formatting, sometimes even removing competitors videos before launching their own versions of those videos. They even threw some serious shade on Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmies Fallon and Kimmel for using a similar format on their TV shows, while expressing outrage they were not consulted or credited for the concept. Now the Fine Brothers aren’t alone in some lousy copyright infringement jabs, Sony tried to copyright “lets play”, Nintendo were issuing takedown notices when fair use for review purposes applied to that material.

wont be none

The Fine Brothers were not the underdogs fighting for their brands existence also leveraged off the popularity of their internet show and launched a show on the Nickelodeon channel. Clearly they felt that this was their concept and possibly to post millennials they might have been right, but for those that remember a time that Americas Funniest Home Videos *was* YouTube and Mystery Science Theater *was* movie commentary, you might remember a show called Kids Say The Darndest Things.

The original run of this show aired from 1945(!!) and its more recent version 1998, this show was literally pre atomic.

Hosted by Americas favorite entertainers!

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Bill Cosby hosts KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. Photo cr: Monty Brinton/CBS
Photo cr: Monty Brinton/CBS

And some other guy.

2. Try To Franchise A Concept & Offer No Value

So The Fine Brothers next step was to announce that they were going to launch a global franchise model and copyright any videos using “REACT”.

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To claim a widely used preexisting concept as your own unique brand is absurd, to enforce your ownership of that legally is ridiculous. Also a key point in their “React World” video was how they had their format “ripped off and blatantly stolen” by others and wanted to offer a way of doing it via franchising legally.

Now the problem here is that the majority of their own content uses “fair use” by showing people other people’s content and filming peoples reactions to it. So you couldn’t therefore sue them for showing your content and have someone reacting to it, but they could sue you if you had your own video of people reacting to your material being shown on their show. I know, I felt my brain shorting out a bit too.

Their proposed business model was put under the microscope and seemed to provide little in the way of support, exposure or incentive for anyone to use, the revenue sharing was of course weighted towards the Fine Bros and if they was already a MCN (Multi Channel Network) involved the content producers revenue shrinks even further.

The message appeared to be, anyone now creating reaction based content would be given the choice, franchise or f- off.

1. Make Things Worse with A “Sorry, Not Sorry” Apology

Inevitably there was an internet backlash, an #UnSubFineBros campaign started, live streams of their subscriber count falling were underway to view them losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers in a matter of days.

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The Fine Brothers responded with a clarification video, clearly under stress while sounding exhausted and irritable. Their effort to explain everyone simply misunderstood what they were trying to do came off as desperate and patronizing and was received with about the same enthusiasm.

The React debacle then upgraded from a fecal storm to sewage tsunami, YouTubers Reacted alright. The overwhelming consensus was, they did not trust The Fine Brothers to have that level of control over what concepts could be used on their own channels.

The Fine Brothers then pulled their React World video and their Apology video from YouTube.

Ultimately this was not a battle they were going to win, many companies may be able to get away with pushing the ethical envelope now and then, even if there is outcry it’s usually limited in scope and for the most part things remain as they are.

With a YouTube Brand they are on the exact same platform as the people that are upset, in a context where relevance and attention are the most prized assets, The Fine Brothers burned much of their goodwill they might have accrued within that community.

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Sensing defeat and faced with the plummeting subscriber numbers they issued the following statement.

Hello,

We’re here to apologize.

We realize we built a system that could easily be used for wrong. We are fixing that. The reality that trademarks like these could be used to theoretically give companies (including ours) the power to police and control online video is a valid concern, and though we can assert our intentions are pure, there’s no way to prove them.

We have decided to do the following:

  1. Rescind all of our “React” trademarks and applications.*
  2. Discontinue the React World program.
  3. Release all past Content ID claims.**

The concerns people have about React World are understandable, and that people see a link between that and our past video takedowns, but those were mistakes from an earlier time. It makes perfect sense for people to distrust our motives here, but we are confident that our actions will speak louder than these words moving forward.

This has been a hard week. Our plan is to keep making great content with the help of our amazing staff. Thank you for your time and for hearing us out.

Sincerely,

Benny and Rafi Fine

So it seems a minor victory for internet content creators, and a painful lesson learned for the Fine Brothers as well as others looking to monetize and monopolize intangible concepts. But time will tell whether this trend will continue in future. This blunder has no doubt caused millions of dollars in lost revenue (the very thing the Fine Brothers were worried about due to their fears of intellectual property being infringed upon) and may very well damage their brand irreparably.

It highlights and illustrates quite clearly that if a business brand is squarely based within the internet community it must take care to not antagonize that same community before making major changes to their brand. Through trying to cling too tightly to their IP The Fine Brothers damaged their YouTube Brand more than any amount of copyright or trademark infringement could have.

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