MrBeast: The True Superhero of Clickbait

Clickbait has a bad reputation, and until recently it’s been thoroughly deserved. Loud, attention-grabbing headlines that are purposefully designed to pique your interest but rarely deliver on their promises have been a universal feature of the Internet since the infancy of the medium. Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, has changed all that with one simple tweak to the formula; he delivers on the promises. In the process, he’s cut tables in half with plastic cutlery, spent 24 hours in a slime tank, and even buried himself alive, but he’s also given away enormous sums of money, planted millions of trees, and inspired countless other aspiring True Superheroes to emulate his feats. 

Jimmy in (Mr)Beast mode

Becoming MrBeast

Jimmy was born in 1998 in North Carolina and raised by his mother who was in military service. This meant that the family moved around a great deal in the first few years of Jimmy’s life, and this was unsettling for the young MrBeast who, by his own admission, grew up as a very shy child who did not like being around other people. Jimmy has also talked about having a very focused, obsessive personality and, living with a single mother in the military, he had plenty of time on his own to concentrate on his two main interests: baseball and YouTube. These consumed all of his childhood attention until illness effectively took baseball away from him; at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which left him severely ill for several months, barely eating or getting out of bed. He lost a huge amount of weight until his family was eventually able to find an effective treatment to mitigate the effects of the disease, but his baseball career never recovered. 

MrBeast: The True Superhero of Clickbait

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Clickbait has a bad reputation, and until recently it’s been thoroughly deserved. Loud, attention-grabbing headlines that are purposefully designed to pique your interest but rarely deliver on their promises have been a universal feature of the Internet since the infancy of the medium. Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, has changed all that with one simple tweak to the formula; he delivers on the promises. In the process, he’s cut tables in half with plastic cutlery, spent 24 hours in a slime tank, and even buried himself alive, but he’s also given away enormous sums of money, planted millions of trees, and inspired countless other aspiring True Superheroes to emulate his feats. 

Jimmy in (Mr)Beast mode

Becoming MrBeast

Jimmy was born in 1998 in North Carolina and raised by his mother who was in military service. This meant that the family moved around a great deal in the first few years of Jimmy’s life, and this was unsettling for the young MrBeast who, by his own admission, grew up as a very shy child who did not like being around other people. Jimmy has also talked about having a very focused, obsessive personality and, living with a single mother in the military, he had plenty of time on his own to concentrate on his two main interests: baseball and YouTube. These consumed all of his childhood attention until illness effectively took baseball away from him; at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which left him severely ill for several months, barely eating or getting out of bed. He lost a huge amount of weight until his family was eventually able to find an effective treatment to mitigate the effects of the disease, but his baseball career never recovered. 

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Baseball’s loss was YouTube’s gain, but it would take a while for Jimmy to discover the skills that would later make his content so compelling. When he first started the MrBeast channel - a name he says comes from a randomly generated Xbox Live gamertag - he was mainly uploading gameplay videos of popular titles such as Call of Duty, and videos where he would speculate about the incomes of the more successful YouTubers who he was desperately keen to emulate. This was not an unusual offering for a teenager’s YouTube channel but, thanks to his engaging personality, he was more successful than most. Four years and over 500 uploads later, he had amassed nearly 20,000 subscribers and had also begun to receive small payouts in shared advertising revenues from YouTube. He invested these funds in the channel, buying better equipment to improve the quality of his videos, but it was not high-quality production values that finally enabled Jimmy Donaldson to go viral and become MrBeast. In the end, all it took was counting.

The lore of large numbers

On February 1st, 2016, MrBeast uploaded a video of him laboriously counting from 1 to 10,000, although with his typical savvy for the vagaries of the YouTube algorithm, he deliberately left four numbers out and told viewers that the first person to post the missing numbers in the comments would get a reward. The video - which clocked in at a shade under three and a half hours - did better than Jimmy could ever have expected, and by the end of 2016 the MrBeast channel was closing in on half a million subscribers. In January of 2017, Jimmy decided to take the counting idea ten times further, and this time counted to 100,000; this onerous task took him over 40 hours to complete, although a lot of the footage was mercifully sped up so that the ensuing video would only be 23 hours long. Bigger proved to be better and the video was another enormous success, and within six months the MrBeast channel had sailed through the 1m subscriber mark. Jimmy had achieved his initial goals; he was a professional YouTuber, earning good money and now attracting interest from brands looking to sponsor his videos. With what was swiftly becoming a trademark fluidity, Jimmy’s goals suddenly got a lot bigger.

The first sponsor offer he had came from a company called Quidd, who offered him $5,000 in exchange for promotion on the channel. Much to Quidd’s surprise, Jimmy played hardball and demanded they hand over $10,000 - whoever heard of someone going viral with a number as small as $5,000? Quidd stumped up the cash, and Jimmy then informed them of his intentions for the video: he was going to give the money to a homeless person begging by the side of the road. The sponsors were initially perplexed, but the video was an enormous success, and ultimately everybody involved was happy; the sponsors were delighted, the lucky homeless person ecstatic, and Jimmy discovered that this was something that he not only really enjoyed doing but - thanks to the tremendous success of the videos - he was able to do it again and again, with ever larger sums. 

Cracking the positivity code

Jimmy has talked about how he believes positivity “can be just as interesting as negativity, I just think it’s harder. That’s the distinction, I think it’s easy just to trash talk or tear down something. I think it’s a lot harder to make an upbeat, fulfilling video that is also entertaining”. The early years of YouTube were characterized by viral videos that played on negativity, and while there was no shortage of worthy videos on the platform, nobody was watching them; nobody before Jimmy had, as he puts it, “cracked the code”. 

While he invested all of his excess channel profits into bigger, more spectacular giveaways, he also continued to make ridiculous stunt videos that did nobody any good, least of all him; to name a couple, there was a deeply misguided attempt to spend 24 hours underwater under a plastic bucket with an oxygen hose, and an unsettling 50-hour stint buried underground in a plastic coffin. These clickbait stunts kept the MrBeast channel in the foreground of the YouTube homepage, attracting attention from people who may not have been drawn to his more philanthropic videos, and in turn this gave Jimmy room to work on bigger charitable projects that would have a wider impact than merely helping lucky strangers.

In 2019, to celebrate reaching the 20m subscribers milestone, Jimmy hit on the idea of planting 20m trees, and reached out to experts and celebrities for help in achieving this goal. He collaborated with fellow Youtuber and ex-Nasa engineer Mark Rober to set up #TeamTrees, and while Rober began researching the feasibility of the project, Jimmy set about raising $20m to fund the work. Rather than do this through his own channel, he enlisted the help of the YouTube community, with many of the platform’s biggest names posting videos about their support for the project. In the end, only one #TeamTrees video was posted on the MrBeast channel; Jimmy wasn’t doing this for the clicks, but to give something back, and the project has now raised $23m with over 18m trees in the ground. Never one to rest on his laurels, Jimmy has moved on to the next thing, which is #TeamSeas, and predictably it’s bigger than before. The goal was to raise $30m to fund the removal of 30m pounds of marine waste from the oceans, and the target has already been exceeded. 

Beast philanthropy

Meanwhile, the MrBeast network grows at an incredible rate. The main channel now has almost 100m subscribers, and there are also now a host of secondary Beast channels. The most popular of these is Beast Philanthropy, which launched in September 2020 and already has over 8m subscribers. The channel’s initial focus was on providing food to the needy in Jimmy’s home state of North Carolina, with over 1m meals delivered through the MrBeast food bank and programs throughout the state. The channel has since branched out to include global projects, providing water wells in Cameroonian villages and raising $3m for Ukrainian refugees. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of this work, apart from the direct benefits that it brings to the people Jimmy is helping, is the inspiration provided to the tens of millions of people watching. Countless children are being encouraged to protect the environment and do what they can to make the world a better place - and have fun doing it. These secondary benefits of MrBeast’s work are already becoming apparent; one young subscriber, Ryan Trahan, filmed himself traveling across the United States in 2022 in order to give a penny to Jimmy, and in the process raised over $1.4m for charity. Perhaps the most surprising outcome of this story is that clickbait’s bad reputation may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the efforts of a True Superhero. 

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