By Miles Klee
You may know 24-year-old Jimmy Donaldson — a.k.a. MrBeast — as the YouTuber behind such elaborate stunts as a real-life Squid Game reenactment and “I Spent 50 Hours Buried Alive.” His videos across several channels have netted him hundreds of millions of followers and billions of views. But Donaldson has business plans beyond social media stardom, and it turns out his fans have a role to play in those pursuits as well.
Last year, Donaldson announced the founding of Feastables, a food brand offering chocolate bars. (One of the latest flavors, “Deez Nuts,” is currently sold out.) The company got off to a strong start, reporting $10 million in sales over the first few months. This month, however, Donaldson took note of a problem: disorganized displays on retail shelves. He tweeted two images of a Feastables shelf at a Walmart — before and after it had been tidied — and said it would make him “very happy” if people could do likewise at their local store, at least until he can build “a team to do this routinely.” Some 35 million people have seen the post, according to Twitter metrics.
The request set off a fierce debate as to whether Donaldson was asking for free labor from his audience, many of whom are children. On one side, people were appalled that a millionaire could expect such fealty to his brand — and started joking about either messing up the displays on purpose (or taking extreme measures against those who did). On the other, a group of true believers were more than happy to attend to Donaldson’s needs. They considered the rack organizing (or “facing,” as it’s called in retail) an easy favor to be accomplished while running their own errands, and did it without a second thought, almost automatically.
.@MrBeast I caught this man after his shoulder brushed a Feastables display and one of your chocolates fell to the ground. He is pleading for mercy but I do not believe he is truly sorry. How shall I deal with him sir? pic.twitter.com/ONDhx1xTb1
Roger that boss 🔥
Love what you do, happy to help! pic.twitter.com/cogdquHTyX
Yes, the MrBeast army was quick to embrace the spirit of the mission he’d laid out for them, sharing photographic evidence of their cleanups. While a theoretical incentive for this was Feastables’ promise of a monthly $5,000 sweepstakes for participants, many were unaware of or indifferent to the potential payday — and only wanted to help.
Quentin, 29, who tells Rolling Stone that he’s only “somewhat” a fan of MrBeast, was among those who answered the call, even though he found it “a little bit” weird. “I was heading towards Walmart anyway for errands,” he says. “I just did it for fun, because I’m not getting anything out of it.” Another fan, Justin, 28, says MrBeast is his favorite YouTuber, and “given all the philanthropic work that he does for people all around him, he deserves the extra help from not just the people that work for him and his companies, but from his loyal fans and community as a whole!” He mentions that he was he was actually going to fix the Feastables display before Donaldson mentioned the group effort on Twitter. “I felt I needed to step up,” he says, calling his contribution “a small way for me to help out with the work he’s putting out there” and an opportunity “to be a part of something much bigger than myself.”
Jimmy, I’m a man of my word. I reorganized both sections of @Feastables @MrBeast bars at my nearest Walmart. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on these areas! pic.twitter.com/GbTWAgLVio
Logan, 25, another MrBeast supporter who pitched in on the shelves, hadn’t heard about the $5,000 drawing until contacted by Rolling Stone. “I didn’t enter anything, didn’t know there was one,” he says. “It’s always been my life goal to be able to help anyone in any way that I could.” He describes MrBeast as “a wonderful human being” and notes that “if I had stuff in stores I would hope someone would do the same for me.” Stevie, 23, though he dutifully rearranged a Walmart display in Kentucky, also didn’t enter the contest: “Someone else out there might actually need that money,” he explains. As for Donaldson’s content: “I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan, but I do watch all his videos when I see them.” Asked whether he thought it strange that Donaldson would ask people to straighten up his chocolate bars, Stevie replies, “Not at all. Man’s doing what he’s gotta do to keep his product cleaned up so I respect it.”
“I worked in grocery retail for over 20 years,” says Frank, 42, whose Feastables shelf video has been viewed almost 200,000 times, “and while shopping with my wife, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw the post from MrBeast. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to help out and make a video showing by doing something so simple that you can bring some smiles out of it.” He, too, “did not know anything about” the $5,000 sweepstakes.
I fixed the aisle at my Walmart pic.twitter.com/hq0snxs84h
One MrBeast fan, Kevin, 28, ended up deleting his shelf cleanup tweet because he felt “bullied” by critics of the endeavor. “I don’t have the time to be around that negativity,” he explains. Already at Walmart when he saw Donaldson’s post, he took action because “the display was right in front of me, so why not, doesn’t hurt… took me 30 seconds to do it.” He watches MrBeast because “he gives back to the people, it’s entertaining and his videos are unique.” That said, he may not put in those 30 seconds of work again: “Probably not. Just that one time.”
Rick Devens, 38, a communications director at Middle Georgia State University who starred in Survivor: Edge of Extinction, the reality show’s 38th season, also caught some blowback for tweeting that he and his son would tidy up a Feastables display on their next trip to Walmart. “My kid and I just like the channel and like supporting our favorite creators. Didn’t think we’d be making headlines as capitalists pigs,” he jokes. His son is eight years old, he says, and “YouTube content can be pretty hit or miss. MrBeast seems to set a good example for kids, and I like watching him more than others, so we bond over it.”
Muaaz, 25, a fellow creator, sees MrBeast’s ability to mobilize his followers as proof that creator-led brands will dominate in the years ahead, tweeting that “no typical chocolate brand could get consumers to care enough to do this.” He tells Rolling Stone that Donaldson’s “community is invested in his success, so if he starts a brand that wants to compete with the traditional brands, ideally they’d wanna see it do well!” People are willing to do this “low-effort work,” he speculates, “because of the return they’ve had from watching his content over the years.”
It’s true that people wouldn’t be scrambling to re-shelve Hershey’s or Snickers bars that were knocked out of place just because the company asked them to. And of course internet celebrities have always depended on the direct engagement of their fanbase for success. What we’re seeing, however, especially in those who organized shelves with no expectation of a financial windfall, is how those fans are able to view a star’s success as their own, even when it’s defined as… selling more chocolate bars. That cynics might view them as a wealthy man’s suggestible minions hardly matters, as the sense of purpose and belonging outweighs any external contempt.
Which is to say, you can scoff at this subservience, but Donaldson’s viewers, by and large, will never consider it grunt work. In fact, they’re more likely to believe it is a noble, positive, selfless and necessary task — if he acknowledges them, that’s merely a bonus. There’s genuine power in this kind of influence. Although Donaldson’s PR representatives didn’t respond to questions about how large his proposed formal “team” for shelf maintenance could be, or how it would function within retail stores with existing staff, he’s already shown that such hires are perhaps superfluous. He tweets, and everything falls into place.
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