While a tomato-headed character swings a pickaxe to destroy a freezer in Fortnite’s fictitious burger joint Durr Burger, a team of Wendy’s social media strategists engages in a live chat with thousands of viewers. The fast-food brand is “waging a war on frozen beef” and has taken the battle to Twitch by streaming games of Fortnite with the sole intention of destroying freezers.
Twitch.tv, a streaming platform Amazon purchased for $970 million in 2014, has become the home of esports. But the platform goes far beyond formal events. The most popular broadcasts are usually streamers playing video games and interacting with their audience through the site’s chat functionality. More than a million people are tuning into Twitch at any given moment, according to research done by the company in 2018. And now, brands see an opportunity.
Brands have always had a home on Twitch through cut-in ads and rotating logos, alongside other graphics on a streamers channel, but now they’re getting into the streaming game themselves, creating accounts like any typical streamer and given free rein to promote their brand however they prefer.
Nike and Adidas both recently released new products through Twitch; Wendy’s has streamed three different video games while Nissan used Star Wars to show off the 2018 LEAF. But the first brand to open its own account was the Old Spice Nature Adventure in 2015. Created by Wieden+Kennedy, the activation allowed Twitch chat to control a man in a forest filled with on-brand experiences.
“Twitch was a no-brainer, because there is a lot of overlap with their core user and Old Spice’s core consumer,” said Mike Davidson, director of production for Wieden+Kennedy. “In order to continue to keep Old Spice culturally relevant as their community grew, we knew we needed to be there.”
Since then, dozens of brands have turned to Twitch to try to connect with a hard-to-reach and sought-after demographic: men between ages of 18 and 34.
“[The Twitch demographic] is a very elusive audience you don’t find on other platforms,” said Andrea Garabedian, vp of advertiser marketing at Twitch. “We have a different kind of audience compared to a place like YouTube or Instagram.”
One of the main issues is that this demographic is notoriously brand-averse. While influencers on Instagram are paid thousands to take pictures with products, product placement in esports/gaming is quickly called out by Twitch chat. When Twitch viewers are bombarded with brands on normal channels, they often react negatively. However, when the brand itself is doing the streaming, the activation is much more authentic. Instead of a brand being an annoyance, viewers specifically seek out and engage with it.
The challenge for Wendy’s was finding ways to bring viewers to their channel and balance branding with enjoyable content.
“We’ve been very intentional about making sure we are not turning into an overly branded experience,” said Kurt Kane, Wendy’s chief concept and marketing officer. “We wanted to bring the Wendy’s personality and the way we engage on social into gaming. Twitch is a very social gaming platform, so it was a natural fit for us.”
Since the first freezer crusade, Wendy’s has brought the brand back to Twitch for streams in two more games. When Rocket League (a popular esport that’s basically soccer with cars) held its Frosty Fest, Wendy’s jumped on the opportunity to promote its signature soft-serve dessert. And when Overwatch—another massive esport with franchises all over the globe—celebrated its Year of the Pig event, Wendy’s placed its Baconator burger in the spotlight.
Over the course of those streams, Wendy’s channel jumped from a brand new account to one with nearly 20,000 followers. In the Fortnite event alone, they fielded 43,500 comments on Twitch Chat. For comparison, their very active Twitter account receives about 3,000 tweets a day. Throughout the stream, a team of social media managers kept the official account active in chat, responding to viewers and often taking shots at McDonald’s.
The chat function keeps viewers coming to Twitch day after day. Communities are developed in streamers’ channels, and unique emotes are used to reward loyal viewers. But the chat function can also be brutal. Like any anonymous Internet message board, plenty of bad actors will do anything they can to be as offensive as possible.
Twitch has developed a suite of moderation tools and streamers promote loyal viewers to moderators who are in charge of keeping the chat as clean as the streamer wants. For brands wanting to stream on Twitch, moderation of the chat is a chief concern.
“We’re always looking out to make sure that we’re not positioning ourselves next to anything that is too negative or too questionable,” said Jimmy Bennett, Wendy’s senior director of media, social and partnerships. “On Twitter, [leading the conversation] is something we do every minute of every hour of every day so we can translate that experience to Twitch.”
On the platform side, Twitch recommends that two representatives for the brand go to the Twitch offices during the live stream. Twitch also helps the brand by downloading every moderation tool available and has their corporate moderators paying close attention to the chat during the stream.
Twitch, naturally, is eager to help brands make a smooth transition to the platform; they want corporate streaming to be a larger part of the site going forward.
“What I see brands utilizing Twitch for three years from now is a grander service that will allow them to reach people in real time and live,” said Garabedian. “Twitch allows everybody to watch the brand’s content together at the same time.”
With activation examples from Old Spice and Wendy’s, it is likely more brands will hop on this opportunity for free advertising in a highly coveted market.