Jenna Marbles may be the most famous person you’ve never heard of.
The story goes that a little over five years ago she started making videos both for someone else and for her YouTube channel. About 5 years ago she published a “break out” video titled “How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking“.
At the end of the first week that video had 5.5 million views, and today it has just shy of 63 million. Since then every video she publishes has AT LEAST one million views.
In addition to her YouTube channel, she has a blog And various social media accounts, on which she publishes content (most notably her videos, but images as well) and has such a large audience that her web presence is a business to her.
The revenue to the business is the ad revenue generated by her YouTube channel, and some other sources (she recommends some products on her website).
The Jenna Marbles phenomena is interesting to me because now every video she makes “goes viral” even though it is easy to argue they’re not very good.
They do not teach useful information, they’re loaded with profanity, the lighting and the production quality is often very poor (in some videos the lighting fluctuates greatly during the same scene), and the best adjective I can find to describe them is “silly”.
They’re sort of a 21st century form of verbal slapstick. There are no pokes in the eye but when I watch her videos I do find myself being reminded of the comedy of the three stooges.
Whatever it is, her videos resonate with her audience, who stays tuned.
But what exactly is it that her audience appreciates?
Here is my take on what I see as common elements of her videos:
- They’re funny. Some more than others. I’m sure if she had to identify her profession on an application of some sort, the most honest answer would be “comedian”.
- They’re silly (which is not the same as being funny). They’re generally about non sense subjects and convey no important lessons or deep philosophical thoughts.
- Profanity. I’m not sure this is or is not significant, but she swears like a sailor.
- They reveal details about her life most of us don’t reveal (apparently the breakup with one boyfriend and the starting later with another was shared with her fans). Perhaps this is another way of saying they expose where she’s vulnerable. For what it’s worth, the new boyfriend appears in many of her videos.
I think that’s about it.
As I scan that list, I find myself asking what would cause millions of people to tune in week after week (she releases new videos every Wednesday).
As I ponder that question I am reminded of a TED Talk by Brene Brown titled “The Power of Vulnerability“.
I’m not a psychologist and I’m just making this up as I write this post, but I’m guessing what endears her to her audience is her willingness to expose her human vulnerability and frailty in her videos. Not every video, but many.
In my opinion her willingness to be vulnerable in public, and by public I mean in front of millions, is very likely why she has such a large audience.
There are a lot of other people who publish videos on YouTube at regular intervals who don’t have nearly the audience Jenna has.
In contrast, I periodically watch science education videos on YouTube. These videos are educational, interesting (at least to me), and generally have a high production value.
One guy even owns an ultra high speed camera so he can more easily demonstrate the principals behind certain concepts. Another shoots scenes where he appears in the scene 30 or 40 times (a lecture hall will be filled with students all of who are him).
Here is a list of some, listing their numbers of subscribers:
Smarter Every Day: 3,407,101
Minute Physics: 3,064,366
Physics Girl: 170,908 (do I detect a little sexism here?)
And for comparison:
Jenna Marbles: 15,634,517
Do I conclude that we’re a shallow lot? Preferring silly escapism to interesting science. I do.
Yet I also conclude that Jenna’s willingness to be vulnerable is the difference that makes a difference.
Can we learn something from that and apply it to our content marketing efforts?
I’m not sure.
If you have an idea or opinions, please share in the comment section below.