A Profile of Marques Brownlee Allows Me to Digress on the State of Apple Product Launches and Reviews ⇥ fastcompany.com
Harry McCracken wrote a great profile of Marques Brownlee for Fast Company:
Brownlee, who turns 30 in December, has come a long way since he began shooting videos about tech hardware and software in his family’s suburban New Jersey home at age 15. (He uploaded the results under the nom de YouTube of MKBHD — for “Marques Keith Brownlee” and “high definition” — a moniker that has been synonymous with his own name ever since.) By the time he was in college, he was a phenomenon: In 2013, Google’s then senior VP of engineering, Vic Gundotra, declared Brownlee “the best technology reviewer on the planet.”
A decade and a half into his career, Brownlee is still expanding his influence: He’s added 1.4 million subscribers in the past 12 months alone. “He’s only going to grow from here, especially as Gen Z and Gen Alpha become the largest purchasing group,” predicts creator trends analyst Fana Yohannes. An alumnus of Apple’s PR department, she helped get Brownlee invited to the company’s product launch events starting in 2015, once it got its head around the notion of a 21-year-old YouTuber being one of the world’s most important tech experts.
Serendipitously, I was thinking about this exact thing over the weekend, albeit on a tangent. When Apple launched the iPhone X in 2017, it represented a shift in its marketing strategy. There was a time when Apple review units were a scarce resource among tech journalists — limited first to a handful of print publications and tech sites, then to blogs and more niche sites, and then to a few YouTube producers. Now, though, Apple must loan out hundreds of prerelease iPhones given the number of reviews I see when the embargo drops.
There was a larger context in which I was thinking about this. Apple product launches used to be live stage affairs, which came with risks and rewards — occasionally at the same time. When John Ternus announced the thousand-dollar Pro Display stand at WWDC 2019, there was an amazing crowd reaction, which seems to have caused Ternus to slightly flub the next line. It is an electric moment.
Contrast that with the pre-recorded announcement of the new Mac Pro at WWDC earlier this year from a mix of Ternus and Jennifer Munn. A benefit of the video format is that Apple can switch out speakers more fluidly, and it opens up opportunities for people who may not be comfortable in a one-take live setting. But that safety and confidence also means there is no feedback when presenters say something surprising — either positive or negative. When Ternus returns to announce its price — a thousand dollars more than its predecessor even with dramatically less expansion capability — it was like he was telling you the weather.
An Apple product announcement is now fully a sales pitch with none of the theatrical tension of demonstrating something live. If you are into the products, you might go from watching that video to watching coverage of the new products a week later on YouTube in video reviews that are often referencing those same talking points. In the hands of a reviewer less skilled than Brownlee, a YouTuber might also reuse Apple’s own promo footage. All of this is a lot of video that can often feel samey, albeit with different production values between some really successful YouTube producers and one of the world’s richest companies.
My lengthy digression over, I should point you back to McCracken’s article, which is rather excellent and worth your time. The thing it captures well is how Brownlee is so often a calming and rational presence in the too-dramatic world of YouTube. There is little spectacle in Brownlee’s videos and nothing is shouted. I feel respected as a viewer. I appreciate that.