MKBHD’s real responsibility

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read
MKBHD’s real responsibility

Ben Thompson on Stratechery: MKBHDs for Everything

Surely the responsibility for the Humane AI Pin lies with Humane; the people who benefited from Brownlee’s honesty were his viewers, the only people to whom Brownlee owes anything. To think of this review — or even just the title — as “distasteful” or “unethical” is to view Humane — a recognizable entity, to be sure — as of more worth than the 3.5 million individuals who watched Brownlee’s review.

The referenced tweet is so hilariously bad that it got me to post my first thing on Twitter in 18 months just to have the great pleasure of quote tweeting it to the folks over there who still follow me. For those who won’t go to Twitter, here’s the post:

I find it distasteful, almost unethical, to say this when you have 18 million subscribers.

Hard to explain why, but with great reach comes great responsibility. Potentially killing someone else’s nascent project reeks of carelessness.

First, do no harm.

The fact Brownlee’s review felt like such a dagger when it it wasn’t because he was a popular YouTuber who said a product sucks, it’s because he’s built up such a sterling reputation over the years that when he says this is “the worst product I’ve ever reviewed,” you know he means it, and you know it’s true.

Brownlee is a critic and he has no responsibility to any company to give them a good review. His responsibility lies entirely with his audience who comes to him to know what products are worth their money. In this case, it’s a $700 pin with a mandatory $24/month subscription, making it a $1,000 product over the first year you own it, and it’s from a company VC funded like crazy. That’s not even to mention that they’ve been hyping this thing to high heaven for a year at this point as a revolutionary new product.

Companies seed review units to critics for marketing purposes, I get it. A part of this is that they want people talking about their product to build awareness, but they also hope that they get good reviews that can act like “free” marketing for them. Believe me, I get it! I reviewed Lofree’s Flow keyboard, loved it, so I gave it a rave review, and now my review is embedded on their product page for the keyboard.

It’s a risk, though. It would have been great press if Brownlee liked the Pin, but now it’s a liability since he really (really) disliked it. If they wanted to guarantee a positive video, they should have asked for a sponsored video, not a review. Marques Brownlee didn’t kill the Ai Pin, he gave it a fair review, which is exactly what his 18 million subscribers need him to do.