YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI released their drinks brand, Prime Hydration, in January 2022. One year on, Paul said the drink had generated US$250 million (£209 million) in retail sales worldwide, with US$45 million of that in January 2023 alone.
In the UK, there have been purchase waves across the country, with stores constantly selling out of restocks. The popularity and shortage of Prime led to buying restrictions set by supermarkets, with some people reselling the drink – originally priced at £24.99 for 12 bottles – for over £1,000.
So why has Prime become so popular? Certainly, it could be explained in part by the popularity of its founders, two of the most famous YouTube personalities in the world. Between them, Paul and KSI have over 39 million subscribers on their main YouTube channels.
As a researcher in social media with a specific focus on YouTubers, I would argue that the drink’s popularity is down to the pair’s audience engagement. But their savvy use of YouTube’s algorithmic networks, in which videos with similar content are linked together by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, has also been key.
Prime’s audience engagement
“Audience engagement” describes the combination of consumption (such as watching videos) and participation (such as commenting on, liking and sharing videos) by YouTube viewers.
Establishing audience engagement is key for YouTubers to become popular and develop popular commercial products, such as Prime. To engage their audiences, YouTubers use a variety of strategies. Two of the most significant are “interaction” and “self-disclosure”.
YouTubers interact with their viewers in different ways, from asking and responding to viewers’comments to cocreating activities, such as seeking new video ideas.
Paul has made videos answering viewer questions and comments. KSI also recently made videos reading and commenting on fans’ posts on Reddit, which included some about the Prime drink.
Viewers who interact with YouTubers often feel a sense of community. They may go on to establish ongoing connections with the creator via YouTube – a platform that was created to promote participatory culture – by subscribing to their channel, for example.
Self-disclosure involves YouTubers sharing their personal life stories with viewers. Many of Paul and KSI’s videos involve personal details and feature their family and friends. Sometimes, this disclosure also involves drama.
In 2020, KSI shared updates on a family drama involving his brother – also a Youtuber – Deji. Deji released a diss track (a song written as an insult) calling out KSI after his friend left negative comments on Deji’s channel.
The relationship between the brothers worsened after Deji publicly shared KSI’s bank account history. Self-disclosure can create a sense of authenticity among viewers.
Together, interaction and self-disclosure can create powerful parasocial feelings (one-sided relationships between celebrities and fans), making fans feel as though they know the YouTubers personally. This drives continuous engagement on YouTube.
Therefore, when KSI and Logan Paul promote the Prime drink, some of their fans may feel like their friends are recommending products to them.
Collaboration and algorithmic networks
The algorithmic networks generated by content collaboration on YouTube are also key to creating an engaged fanbase. Paul and KSI have both collaborated with other famous YouTubers.
For example, Paul invited MrBeast to appear on his podcast channel in 2019 and 2022. KSI has collaborated with several big YouTubers such as PewDiePie. Both MrBeast and PewDiePie have over 100 million subscribers on their own channels.
Research has found that famous YouTubers dominate the platform’s recommendation algorithm network. This means that their videos are more visible on YouTube and cause more similar content to be recommended to viewers. Therefore, these collaborations may reshape the video recommendation algorithm for both Paul and KSI’s viewers and those watching the YouTubers they collaborated with.
During the Prime drink launch, other YouTubers such as Markiplier (34 million subscribers) were invited to taste the drink in videos. Their influence may have triggered YouTube’s algorithm to further recommend Prime-related content to viewers, enhancing the online visibility of the drink, even for YouTube users who are not fans of Paul and KSI.
Through their audience engagement strategies and savvy use of YouTube’s algorithmic networks, Logan Paul and KSI have given Prime a great chance of commercial success. Combining this with other marketing strategies such as limiting the supply to create demand has created a hugely popular brand.
Their win may form something of a blueprint for other content creators as YouTubers become more professional and look to harness the platform’s algorithm for their commercial success.