With over 4 billion views on his YouTube platforms, a Marques Brownlee review can make or break a tech company

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 11, 2024 7:55 AM EDT

The rise of influencer culture and content creation has become a defining aspect of the 21st century. From choosing where to eat to deciding on which fashion brands to shop from, there has been a noticeable shift in how people make consumer choices. This influencer revolution has also impacted the world of technology and startups. With over 20 million subscribers across all his YouTube channels and more than four billion total video views, Marques Brownlee, who goes by the brand name MKBHD, is a leading figure in creating hands-on technology review videos. Tech enthusiasts and consumers rely on his insights and critical analysis to make well-informed purchasing decisions.

A Brownlee review can boost a company’s stock price or precipitate its descent.

His ascent into stardom began with the upload of a single video. As a teenager, Brownlee was interested in tech and browsed YouTube videos to guide him on which laptop to buy. When he eventually bought a computer, Brownlee noticed that it had some specifications not mentioned in the videos. Only 15 years old at the time, he was inspired to make a video about his impressions and upload it to YouTube in case someone else needed help with what laptop to buy. That first review evolved into Brownlee making other videos with the computer, and its accessories like the mouse and keyboard, laying the genesis of his tech YouTube channel.

“The first several years and hundreds of videos were made with zero ambition of making money or intention of optimization. I think that’s the reason why the best thing that never happened to us was a video going viral. I make videos about products I’m interested in and that I find interesting to the audiences that watch our videos,” Brownlee explained his recipe for success.

From being a YouTube novice filming with a blurry webcam, Brownlee’s skills and equipment tremendously improved as he made more videos.  He knew how to express himself efficiently and engagingly with his likable on-camera presence endearing viewers. He continued to grow the MKBHD brand even during his time at Stevens Institute of Technology, an institution renowned for its technology programs. In 2013, Brownlee held a Livestream interview with the CEO of Motorola (an arm of Google at the time) who sought to tap into the rapidly growing MKBHD audience. By the time he graduated in 2015, Brownlee’s YouTube channel had reached the one million subscriber mark.

Brownlee became a full-time YouTuber after graduating from college. He dedicated his time and efforts to growing his audience and scope of content. His first celebrity interview was with NBA legend Kobe Bryant, discussing his new Nike shoe. Brownlee would go on to reach greater heights, interviewing prominent figures such as Bill Gates and President Barack Obama. At only 24, Brownlee was named “Creator of the Decade” at the Shorty Awards which celebrate digital and social-media content creators.

He has expanded his media empire beyond YouTube with the launch of the Waveform podcast, which he co-hosts. The podcast provides listeners with analysis of the latest tech news and interviews with industry leaders and is currently one of the most popular in the technology industry. Brownlee has also launched new channels such as the Studio, which shows the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the main MKBHD channel’s higher-profile videos, and Auto Focus, which is devoted to cars. In 2023, he helped design Atoms’ “251” high-top sneaker, paying tribute to the running time of his first tech video. The shoe was so successful that it led to the creation of a second-generation version.

Recently, Brownlee’s reviews of two tech products caused the stock prices of their respective companies to dive, leading to potential bankruptcy. He posted a critical review of the electric vehicle Fisker Ocean on 18th February 2024, calling it the “worst car I’ve ever reviewed.” The review led to a major loss of trust in the company, prompting layoffs of more than 15% of its workforce and a drop in share price from $28.50 at its peak to a measly $0.056. Brownlee went on to criticize the AI pin by Humane Inc. designed to reduce phone distractions in a video posted to YouTube on 15th April 2024. The AI pin required a constant internet connection (subscribed for separately) and had underwhelming performance, especially considering its $700 starting price.

On the flip side, Brownlee’s review of the Nothing Buds One yielded positive results. The earphones were designed to compete with other TWS earphones but had several issues that he addressed in a YouTube video. Subsequently, the British tech company Nothing collaborated with Brownlee to create the successful Nothing Ear(2). They carefully considered his criticism of the product and made changes to ensure that the next iteration was better.

Startup founders, prominent tech enthusiasts, and tech employees of major corporations like Amazon Web Services have criticized Brownlee for orchestrating the demise of brands, products and firms. They have also accused him of misusing his platform. However, as a tech reviewer, Brownlee is accountable to his audience who consider his review before making expensive purchases. It is the very essence of being an influencer. The onus instead lies on companies to receive the feedback and make appropriate adjustments.

“Did one review kill the entire company? I would say to zoom out a bit. All that any honest review does is just accelerate whatever was already going on,” Brownlee said about the impact his reviews have on companies.