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People Buy From People: The Future of Creator x Brand Collabs

People Buy From People: The Future of Creator x Brand Collabs

Celebrity endorsements have been a natural part of advertising as far back as the 1760s with the “royal endorsement” of Wedgwood pottery in the UK. In 1882, Lillie Langtry became the face of Pears Soap, and made her the first celebrity to endorse a commercial product

Thank you for attending my microlecture on artisanal stoneware.

Plenty of examples exist in the sports world as well, with Babe Ruth becoming the first athlete to receive a paid endorsement for Red Rock Cola. We’ve all seen Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods on a box of Wheaties. 

Image: General Mills Marketing Inc.

Once color television became commonplace in the 1960s, movie stars and television personalities were regularly welcomed into homes and into commercials. There have been good celebrity endorsements, and some that barely made sense.  

But more often than not (thanks to the way humans create parasocial relationships with famous people), endorsements have been a successful way to promote a product. 

After several decades of advertising, there seems to be a shift in our current time towards authenticity in brand endorsements. Consumers are much more savvy these days, and the competition between DTC ecommerce sellers has never been higher. A mistake with a celebrity endorsement can destroy a campaign rather than boost it. 

For example, when Kendall Jenner brought peace between protestors and police by offering an officer a can of Pepsi, the attempt to land with Millennials - just didn’t. And the way that fans can turn on celebrities for one false move these days can (and should) make brands think twice before pushing an endorsement that doesn’t land with the target demographic. 

In today’s creator economy, celebrities aren’t the only people consumers might trust to suggest a product. In fact, there’s been a trend of late towards creators having more sway in brand marketing than celebrities. Because people who gain followers by posting their authentic content have made fans simply by being themselves, rather than acting on the silver screen. 

The main point is: people buy from people

And creators have changed the game with who people allow to influence their consumer decisions. 

This is one of the reasons we find Marques Brownlee x Ridge to be so intriguing, as it represents an established creator partnering with an established brand in a unique partnership. It won’t be a one-and-done endorsement that so often happens with celebrities, but rather it allows Marques Brownlee to take on equity, become a board member, and assume the Chief Creative Officer position. Will this inspire other brands to follow suit?

In this blog, we’ll discuss why this type of partnership is mutually-beneficial and why we believe it represents the future for creator-led brand partnerships. 

The Old Way: Creators Starting Brands

In the mid to late 2000s, the rise of social media’s daily presence in our lives made it possible for creators to build awareness through platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. As creators built their following, it didn’t take long for the platforms themselves to understand the value of video-sharing sites that draw in audiences. YouTube only existed for under two years before Google bought it (for $1.65 billion) and started running video ads that generated $31.5 billion dollars in revenue last year. 

Wherever viewers are, money will follow. 

As creators produced great content and collected viewers and subscribers, they were able to grab their share of ad revenue by monetizing their content through Google AdSense. While some of the world’s largest creators are able to make a hefty sum from their AdSense payouts, most are savvy enough to understand they can make more money from their subscriber base.  

Thus, the “Creator Economy” was born: “where brands start from a known personality, not an idea”.  

One of the easiest examples of this is Feastables, the brand started by MrBeast aka Jimmy Donaldson. With over 240 million subscribers on YouTube, MrBeast is the most popular YouTuber ever, with over a billion views to his videos in February 2023 alone. When Feastables was launched in January of 2022, they sold over 80,000 bars in three weeks. 

Creator > Community > Consumer… Crash?

It’s easy to see how a funnel from creator to consumer would work, and most often it is relatively easy to turn superfans into customers. Feastables was able to capitalize on this and create a product that was well-received with MrBeast’s fans. 

However, their journey has not been without hiccups and missteps that might be unique to brand new companies with millions of fans. 

As such, there’s a few reasons why it can be harder than it seems to launch a new company based entirely on one personality:

1. Creators create content, not products. 

Some creators are better off creating more videos versus launching a product. It’s the old adage: do what you’re good at. It’s true some creators can do both successfully, but it’s not always a smooth transition into DTC ecommerce.

2. Building a business from the ground up just isn’t easy.

There are so many things to consider when starting a new business, including product ideation, production, marketing, shipping logistics, and whether to go DTC or retail, to name a few. All of this work isn’t easy for a regular person or small company - a creator will have to deal with millions of fans clamoring for a product when getting everything off the ground. Usually people are twiddling their thumbs waiting for their first cha-ching. A creator wouldn’t have that luxury of time to get things working smoothly.

3. Logistics can be a nightmare. 

As mentioned above, any logistics issues will be magnified tenfold when considering the sheer volume of online orders, retail store stock logistics, and customer service demands on a product made popular by the creator. The very reason a creator-led brand might be successful can also be why it runs into supply & demand issues. 

A creator-led brand is kind of like the barnacle that latches on to a whale. There’s no harm at all to the whale to have its little cling-on friend, and the barnacle gets a stable place to live, a free ride, and access to food. 

But what’s in it for the whale?

The New Way: Mutually-Beneficial Partnerships

When it comes to symbiosis, we’d much rather see a mutualistic partnership like we see between clownfish and sea anemones (yes, like in Finding Nemo). The clownfish gets to stay safe from predators while hiding inside the anemone, and the anemone benefits from nutrients the clownfish donates as waste. 

In a similar way, a creator may bring their engaged audience to a brand partnership, while an established brand has all of the know-how necessary to successfully capitalize on the new viewers.

For example, the majority shareholders for Prime Hydration are a couple guys named Trey Steiger and Max Clemons of Congo Brands - but you wouldn’t know that based on the content shared by the brand through Logan Paul and KSI. Congo Brands has several years of experience creating other successful energy drinks (like 3D Energy Drinks and Alani Nu) before launching Prime in partnership with Logan Paul and KSI. As such, the logistics of launching an energy drink product were already well-established, and adding Logan Paul and KSI as the face of the brand provided the virality necessary to create a movement. And this means I get to call Logan Paul a clownfish.  

MKBHD x Ridge 

Similar to Logan Paul & KSI x Prime, MKBHD x Ridge is a partnership that benefits both parties. Dissimilar to most brand partnerships, Marques Brownlee is taking an ownership stake in Ridge, joining their board of directors, and has signed on to be their Chief Creative Partner. Marques is a prolific YouTuber that has been reviewing tech products since 2009, and currently has over 18 million YouTube subscribers. According to Fast Company, Marques is YouTube’s biggest name in tech.

Marques has been doing product activations with Ridge since 2020, when he used Ridge’s carry-ons to demonstrate the size of a Tesla Cybertruck’s frunk.   

MKBHD built an audience of over 18 million subscribers, and it all started 15 years ago when he was in high school with short tech reviews he never knew or cared if anybody would watch. What started as explainer videos shot with his laptop’s webcam evolved into more sophisticated reviews over time, and he developed his skills as a storyteller by doing it over and over again. He’s stated that his goal was “to make videos that I would want to watch”, and he’s clearly succeeded. 


What began as a 2013 Kickstarter campaign featuring minimalist wallets has evolved into a profitable and trendy accessories company that now manufactures keycases, rings, and bags. In 2016, Sean Frank joined Ridge as CEO and has grown the brand to a valuation of over $100 million without investors (besides the original Kickstarter supporters). In August of 2023, Sean Frank posted on his Twitter with an offer of of $1,000,000 to a content creator to come work in-house with Ridge: 

Last week, Sean posted again to state that the MKBHD x Ridge partnership happened because of this tweet. Sean said that “creator brands are the future” and “people buy from people”. He admitted that Ridge needs to learn how to navigate in this new world, which is refreshing for a big brand to admit. 

As a creator whose content bridges the gap between consumer trends and tech, Marques’s partnership with Ridge represents a practical approach that can be applied across ecommerce with other brands. 

Why the MKBHD x Ridge Collaboration Works

Our own John Coyle is a very big fan of this partnership, and believes that other ecommerce brands should create their own versions with content creators that work for their brand. It presents a scalable model for generating creatives compared to how companies normally approach the concept of content creation. Instead of picking up 200 creatives from different UGC influencers, a company can instead find those few people who are really, honestly into the product. A true evangelist can sell a product better than someone who was hired to say nice things. Why?

Because people buy from people. So nice we said it twice. 

When you nail the product market fit and have the right person sell the product, that is where you create the real magic. 

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