Surprisingly it’s not a crazy, hilarious, YouTube practical joke. Especially surprising as most of his videos are indeed stunts. “I Gave People $1,000,000 But ONLY 1 Minute To Spend It!” and “I Uber’d People And Let Them Keep The Car” are his oeuvre.
Turns out he’s popped up 300 ‘restaurants’ selling a small selection of burgers based on him and his crew. That sounds pretty crazy, but he’s managed it. The ‘restaurants’ are really delivery locations - that people can access using UberEats and similar apps.
What he’s actually done is team up with a company called Virtual Dining Concepts who handle all the logistics. Their model is pretty fascinating. They work with brands - generally brands around people, like MrBeast (they also do rapper Tyga’s Chicken Bites and Mariah Carey’s cookies) - to do these sorts of restaurants. They also sign up restaurants who are already on UberEats to do the cooking and packaging of the food.
It’s clever. If you’re a restaurant that already delivers through apps, it’s likely that you have spare capacity. Virtual Dining turn up and give you the necessary packaging, food ingredients, run you through how to make the menu and off you go.
As they describe it:
Virtual brands offer restaurant owners independent, delivery-only food brands that leverage their existing kitchens, staff, and equipment. This not only brings added revenue to the business, but also supports their employees and the entire food ecosystem.
There’s a line in the release where MrBeast says:
We have put months of hard work into putting this together and can't wait for our fans to have a taste of what we've cooked up!
Months! And to him, that’s a long time! Well, to be fair, in the life of a YouTuber that probably is a long time. YouTubers generally have a limited shelf life, they grow up with their fans, and then their fans get caught up in their own lives. Good ones probably have around five years at their peak.
This virtual dining concept is not that dissimilar to drop-shipping for merchandise. You outsource production and fulfilment to others and use technology to print on demand or white-label other products using the power of your brand and your curatorial eye.
What’s all this got to do with radio and audio? Well, we are in the people-brand business. Whether that’s hosts or radio station brands - we have the ability to create products that resonate with customers, who like our brands and we then have the means to market them too. It’s just not something that happens very often.
Some podcasters have explored merch, but no-one’s really weaponised it at scale. Could Kiss launch a burger? Could Magic do a meal boxes program?
Lots of stations have an affiliate deal - like Bauer’s wine boxes or a re-badged service like Heart Bingo, but really these are just handy uses of excess airtime. No one at the stations really cares about them. I think the opportunity lies in making them a true, core part of your brand.
Back in the late 90s Capital bought a restaurant chain for nearly £60m - MyKindaTown - and launched Capital Radio Cafes where it had radio stations. It was a massive disaster. When talking to someone involved they told me that teens would grab a table and nurse four cokes for an hour. Not a great return on investment!
The difference then and now is the opportunities to use technology for fulfilment at scale, massively reducing the need for much sunk cost. MrBeast did not need to spend £60m to get his restaurants up and running. But as a brand-led opportunity you really need to involve and activate the whole brand. It can’t be something knocked off, promoted once and ignored.
For MrBeast, he did a YouTube stunt to announce the service:
Using a fake restaurant (they just hired one for a few days and re-branded it) they gave away burgers (and free cash) and caused a mile-long tail back. With 20million views in 48 hours - it wasn’t a bad launch!
Individual, Personal Brands
Podcasters and radio presenters with scale and a committed fan base, are also in a good position to build a well aligned product business.
In radio there’s a couple of examples at the moment. Chris Moyles has launched an online shop selling branded apparel. He’s using Catalyst to sort his fulfilment. Whilst printed ‘merch’ is a fairly safe road to go down, it’s had good publicity from Chris on his social media.
The one I find slightly more interesting is what Iain Dale’s been doing. For a while he’s been doing branded merch, with the more hands on of getting stock made and then dispatching it. But more recently he’s re-launched his old bricks and mortar bookshop Politicos, as an online endeavour. The background on the Politico’s site says:
In February 2020 someone emailed Iain to ask how they could get a signed copy of his about to be published book WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG. Iain launched what was supposed to be a one page online shop purely to sell his book. Orders started flooding in and he then added some old stock of mugs and cards from the original Politico’s days. He then decided to commission some politically themed mugs, and he was soon inundated with orders. Over the 2020 lockdown period the shop grew to host more than 100 products. He sold more than 1500 signed copies of WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG, so decided to take the plunge and relaunch Politicos.co.uk as a new online shop.
I think this is a nice execution of Iain’s public brand - that of political expertise - and one that he can happily promote and point to on his own platforms. He’s also probably got the ability, through his relationships, to make products ‘special’ - signed copies, exclusive publications - providing real value to his, and his store’s brand.
It’s never been easier to leverage technology platforms to launch new products. The challenge is having a tight relationship with your fans, vision about your brand and the right amount of effort, time and resource to make it a success. I mean, if a YouTuber can do it..?
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