Sitting in his bedroom in Hoboken, N.J., in June, 20-year-old YouTube tech reviewing sensation Marques Brownlee held a secretly leaked iPhone 6 screen up to a camera and began stabbing repeatedly at its supposedly indestructible glass surface.
His outrageous routine and exclusive tidbits about the then-yet-to-be-released iPhone 6 proved to be a potent combo for the highly influential phenom.
Employing a mix of descriptors that come natural to college students – “super high-quality” – and the hardest-core of tech geeks – “zero percent opacity” – Brownlee’s five-minute review instantly went viral, attracting nearly 8 million video views.
Although it contained what turned out to be inaccurate information – Apple never did opt for the never-bend “Sapphire” screen for the new phone — the video was the latest on Brownlee’s channel of buzzy posts that have become a must-see among young tech lovers ardently wooed by Madison Avenue.
Brownlee’s influence is reflected in his online traffic numbers. He has arguably the most subscribers – 1.8 million – among individual YouTube tech reviewers. As of last week, he was ranked top three in the most influential “science & tech” channel rankings by YouTube performance measuring firm SocialBlade, which looks at social media referrals, online traffic and interactions with and among subscribers in its metrics. (Unbox Therapy, a tech product channel run by Lewis Hilsenteger, and CrazyRussianHackers, which runs videos on science pranks, ranked higher.)
His 686 videos have been viewed 158 million times. And last year, Vic Gundotra, a former Google exec who headed the development of Google Plus, called him “the best technology reviewer on the planet right now.” Google “best tech reviewer” and his name floats to the top quickly.
While tech companies once moved mountains to placate influential newspaper reviewers, tech-savvy Millennials now often get the latest from short clips on YouTube, a trend that helped breed a new generation of home-based YouTubers who churn out review videos cheaply and quickly with a mixed bag of motives.
Brownlee’s persona – technical but not condescending; youthful but sophisticated; measured but lively – has resonated deeply among review seekers. Brownlee is also just as eager to reach back and answer questions from his fans, resulting in free-flowing chats on YouTube and Twitter that lend immediacy and incite affinity. With thousands posting gadget videos and “unboxing” shows on YouTube, Brownlee, still a full-time college senior, has managed to emerge from the crowded competition while also giving legitimacy to the medium.
“Marques is in this sweet spot of being a consumer expert,” says Adrienne Hayes, Motorola Mobility’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “He’s looked at by followers as one of us, and that’s very powerful. His fans are following him and listening to him with a specific purpose. This is very hyper targeted.”
His ascendance in the gadget review universe also says a lot about Silicon Valley marketing that is increasingly coming to grips with a customer segment that is earnest about unearthing product data but eschews conventional wisdom and sources. His ability to boost or deflate sales of a product is no less feared than what may be published in The Wall Street Journal. That he’s an African-American pontificating on the performance of an industry heavily criticized for lacking diversity adds to his mystique.
Like other YouTubers, he’s reluctant to talk about money, but suffice it to say it’s no longer just a dorm hobby. Now an incorporated entity, his video operation – run under the channel name MKBHD (his initials plus “high definition”) – brings in enough advertising revenue to pay for his expensive equipment, the devices he reviews, travel and other expenses, he says.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” Brownlee tells me in the cramped room that he rents from a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment. He flashes a rubber bracelet with hashtag #NoSleepTeam. “When I sit down and make videos, my No. 1 thought is that I want to make a video that I want to watch,” he says. “That it’s technical, watchable, easily viewable. There is that challenge of meeting experts and people who are just getting into tech. I definitely think about the intersection of these two groups.”
Academic, athletic, artistic
Brownlee’s interest in technology wasn’t spotted early, but his sense of curiosity and poise have always stood out, say his parents, Jeaniene and Marlon Brownlee, who raised Brownlee and his sister, Simone, in Maplewood, N.J.
From early on, Brownlee’s parents stressed the importance of public school education and maintaining “the three As” (academic, athletic and artistic) to rear well-rounded children.
An honor student throughout high school, Brownlee also played ultimate Frisbee and golf – he has a 9 handicap – as well as the trombone. “We would bring him around to golf tournaments, and I’d see him talking about loft and the degree of elevation. He’s always had a sense of efficacy,” says his father.
Brownlee also excelled at time management, says his mother, who quit her career in financial services to raise kids full time and is his business manager. While appearing regularly on the Dean’s List at Stevens Institute of Technology, where he is majoring in business and technology, Brownlee also plays professional ultimate Frisbee for several clubs, including the New York Rumble of Major League Ultimate.
“He’s made me proud by thinking really long and hard about how he spends his time. He’s not wasting any of it, though I’m not seeing him as much as I’d like,” says Jeaniene Brownlee, who began watching his videos only after her son left home for college. “I’m not a tech person. But I missed him. I’d look at the videos and (say) “Oh, he sounds nasal. He must have a cold.”
While engaging and direct in the videos on his channel, Brownlee is still something of an introvert, says his roommate, Austin Chung. “He’s a quiet guy.”
Mark Watson, a competitor of sorts who has his own tech review YouTube channel, SoldierKnowsBest, recalls a Samsung-sponsored event at which he, Brownlee and other tech reviewers were about to go out for a night on the town. “He just disappeared and went (back to the hotel),” Watson says. “He was all about work. He’s a little shy. He’s 20 years old, and I couldn’t imagine the type of exposure he has.”
Click here to continue reading.
SOURCE: USA Today – Roger Yu