Twitch’s parent company Amazon labels its streaming platform on its advertising website as the “global community” for “gaming, entertainment, music, sports, and more” that is “composed primarily of adult Gen Zers and Millennials.” Some companies targeting the Twitch audience, like a game developer promoting their latest release or a company trying to sell tools to help streamers go live, make sense. Others, like oil companies Shell and Chevron, are a bit more confounding.
At this year’s TwitchCon, for example, Shell sponsored “Fortnite” streamers and plastered its name across walls and banners, in an apparent effort to reach a demographic “phasing out fossil fuels.” Chevron, an alleged worldwide polluter that historically hasn’t done much Twitch advertising, also decided this year to have a booth at the show, handing out plastic bags with sunglasses. After about four hours of circling the Chevron booth like an oil-covered shark and asking the bag handlers if there was anyone I could speak to about why they were at the Con, I was finally told, “Our supervisor said we can’t speak to the press.”
Companies can purchase slots for display ads that show on the Twitch home page, as well as videos that appear before and during streams, which streamers can’t opt out of. Because these ads are part of a streamer’s broadcast and how they pay their bills, an advertiser must show up as genuine (and not just interested in exploiting the $347 billion gaming market) to ensure long-term brand affinity.
For example, insurance company State Farm wouldn’t normally be in the same running as GFuel (an energy drink marketed towards gamers), but the insurance company is focused on the long haul. It has its own Twitch channel and even had a booth at TwitchCon where attendees could play against mascot Jake (whose real name is Kevin Miles).
According to Justin Reckamp, Manager of Media and Partnerships, State Farm’s goal is to bring “value” to the space and not “try to force too much of our brand in an uncomfortable or inauthentic way.”
“It’s about finding and engaging in people’s passions,” Reckamp told Passionfruit. “It’s a long-term play. All of these fans, we are thinking about how we build a relationship now so we can drive growth and business in the future.”
But the gaming market isn’t just great for turning 12-year-old “Minecraft” stans into insurance-buying adults. It’s also packed to the brim with a pool of potential tech-savvy and controller-fluent recruits. The United States Navy and its esports team “Goats & Glory” have been streaming on Twitch since 2020 — when they hit the news cycle after they banned viewers for asking about war crimes, a move that could have straddled First Amendment speech laws. But years passed and the Navy continued to advertise on Twitch, as well as show up with a booth for TwitchCon 2023.
“We travel around the country doing events, hosting our tournaments, the main reason is outreach,” Lt. Aaron Jones told Passionfruit. “It’s just a way for us to connect with the general audience and realize we are just like them with our passion.”
Jones compared the Navy’s esports outreach with that of the Blue Angels, a Navy airshow that’s been going since 1946 where Navy pilots fly around in cool formations to bring goodwill and recruits their way. “For years, these jets have been entertaining people but recently we found that everyone under 5 and over 55 loves them,” Jones said. “Our goal is to be the in-between.”
So what’s going on?
It’s fairly clear that these non-endemic brands are using Twitch to reach that lucrative younger market, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in the case of oil companies or the military, the incentive in reaching out to creator communities is a simple one — to greenwash their image for a more skeptical young audience. On Twitch, you can’t opt out of advertising altogether or even specific ads. So whoever pays the platform affects creators just as much as the viewers who have to sit through that programming.
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