Inside Twitch's hot tub streams and advertising dreams
Twitch is a place for gamers, singers, just-chatters, hot-tubbers, ear-lickers, and increasingly, brands that have no idea what any of that means. As Twitch turns 10 years old this month, more brands are starting to understand the vernacular, though. They don’t have much of a choice. Under Amazon’s tutelage, advertisers say Twitch has become a platform that’s impossible to ignore, despite its recent brand-safety hazard involving so-called “hot tub” streamers.
Last month, Twitch codified its rules on this subset of creators, who flirt with Twitch’s “no sexual content” policy by streaming in skimpy bathing suits in settings where bathing suits are appropriate, like hot tubs. The streamers can continue to show off scantily clad activities, but advertisers can avoid showing up within their videos, Twitch’s policies say.
Even with guardrails brands could still find ads popping up on streams that border on the salacious, though. Hot-tub creators appear in other categories like “Just Chat” and “ASMR” with equally limited clothing and provocative content.
On Tuesday, an ad for Verizon Wireless 5G ran on a channel run by Amouranth, one of the most popular hot-tub streamers, who streamed for more than 10 hours to about 20,000 fans promoting “ear-licking ASMR” and bookended by a peach emoji. The streamer rewarded subscribers with sexy mouth sounds made close to the microphone, and that channel was not nearly alone with such performances on Twitch.
Video ads for Discover and McDonald’s also ran on that stream. Amouranth, a.k.a. Kaitlyn Siragusa, did not return a request for comment on how Twitch’s brand controls have affected her channel. The video was technically not in the “hot tub” category, so any brand restraints on that specific category would not have worked.
Verizon declined to comment for this story. McDonald's and Discover did not return requests for comment.
“We give advertisers control over where their ads appear on Twitch, and work closely with them to ensure they reach their target audience,” a Twitch spokeswoman said in an email to Ad Age. “We only serve advertising on partner and affiliate channels. These channels have a track record of streaming responsibly, meeting quality standards, and complying with our terms of service and community guidelines.” Twitch’s policies permit some adult-level content and it’s up to brands to figure out how to avoid it, using Twitch’s controls, which allow advertisers to bypass certain categories, like “pools, hot tubs and beaches.” But Twitch does not have controls that would allow brands to avoid a specific streamer or video.
Twitch’s reporting tools to advertisers are limited, too, and they don’t give brands a full rundown, with the exact channels and streams of where their pre-roll or mid-roll video ads appeared. Such granular reporting is available on Twitch rivals like YouTube and Facebook.
The hot-tub streams may have exposed the tawdry side of Twitch, but it has not dampened brands’ enthusiasm for working with the platform. The brands are just being selective about the types of campaigns and sponsorships they undertake.
A version of Wendy’s iconic, eponymous character is a gamer on Twitch; auto brands like Honda and Toyota have been running multifaceted campaigns, sponsoring music festivals, placing video ads, and teaming up with creators. Procter & Gamble, Chipotle, State Farm and L’Oreal also run ads on Twitch.
“Large-scale, multi-brand enterprises resisted the opportunity to do gaming advertising, and they have now given way,” says Ryan Miller, manager of partnerships at IPG Medialab UM’s Innovation Division. “Since they know that audiences can go across the integrated platforms of Twitch and Amazon.”
The upswing in interest in Twitch is tied to the rise of Amazon as an ad platform, which grows revenue at a clip of close to 70% every quarter. While Twitch still has a distinct ad sales team, it now falls under the purview of Amazon Advertising.
Last year, Amazon incorporated Twitch video ad inventory into its DSP—demand-side platform—which lets advertisers automate campaigns across Amazon properties and publishing partners. The change came with an internal update at Amazon that folded Twitch’s once-independent sales team under the Amazon Advertising umbrella. Twitch still has a sales structure devoted to the platform, and it handles the in-depth brand integrations. Twitch works with brands like Wendy’s and Pringles through its brand partnerships studio.
“We joined together Twitch’s sales team with Amazon Advertising, combining the best of Twitch and Amazon Advertising for marketers and our partners,” Twitch’s spokeswoman said in an email. “Today, brands running Amazon Advertising campaigns can tap into the community of young and deeply passionate audiences on Twitch, through Twitch display and video ad products, and brands advertising on Twitch will have the power of Amazon Advertising’s unique audience insights for their individual campaigns.”
Twitch reached 30 million daily viewers this year, an increase from 17.5 million on average in 2020. Amazon says that its video properties combined, including Twitch, reach 120 million U.S. viewers.
“Twitch has become an important player for us,” says Phil Hruska, who leads media strategy for American Honda Motor Company. “Our presence on Twitch has been a way for us to build this emotional and authentic connection with Millennials and Gen Z.”
Honda was recently in the top 20 most-mentioned brands on the site, as ranked at the end of May by Spiketrap, a Twitch marketing technology platform.
Hruska says gaming, sports and music are three pillars of Honda’s marketing game plan to reach the type of audience found on Twitch.
Honda sponsors a major esports clan known as Team Liquid. They embarked on some innovative campaigns, like unveiling the 2022 Civic in a livestream, last year. In April, Honda sponsored a Honda Civic Tour with singer H.E.R., to launch a 2022 sedan.
Honda is testing all the components of marketing on Twitch, which range from the sponsorships with channels, concert live streams, banner ads, and video ads in the middle of streams.
But Hruska says that Twitch has not presented any problems that brands are not used to dealing with everywhere online. “We found the conversation [on Twitch] to be like most of the internet conversation,” Hruska says.
“Honda places a very high priority on brand safety and we align our advertising with appropriate online content,” Hruska says. “We work closely with all partners, but with Twitch, in particular, we have multiple brand safety measures.”
Honda, like many brands, works directly with Twitch to understand exactly how the controls work. Honda applies category restraints and other filters in line with its brand suitabilities.
Twitch also recently expanded the official marketing partners program, which is a more-controlled live streaming environment. The marketing partners sponsor Twitch-run channels, like “Twitch Rivals” and “Twitch Gaming.”
In many ways, Twitch is going through a process that has hit almost every major internet service populated by creators. In 2017, a number of brands, including Verizon, paused spending on YouTube because ads appeared in objectionable settings. Last year, more than 1,000 brands paused ads on Facebook in a protest of hate speech and disinformation on the site. YouTube and Facebook have had to develop better controls and to issue reports to advertisers about how well those controls perform. TikTok, Reddit, Twitter and others have also faced brand safety questions over the years.
Platforms are trying to allow the greatest degree of freedom of expression, even if that means some adult themes make it online, while also giving advertisers security.
Toyota is sponsoring a summer concert series, which runs through September, on Twitch. Music has become a major category on the site, which is a place for up-and-coming artists to stream their studio sessions. Toyota is the “presenting partner” of The Bowery Presents live concert series, streaming from Brooklyn.
“We would hope that we drive more of the awareness of our broad product portfolio and increase consumer interest, and … we are looking to move metrics in how our brand is perceived,” says Angie White, senior manager of media at Toyota Motor North America.
The concert series gives Toyota one of the best opportunities to interact with the Twitch audiences, who participate in the concert through chat messaging on the side of the screen. Viewers can request songs and converse during the show.
Toyota will have in-stream branding opportunities and surrounding media, as well as other promotional materials like newsletters, websites and social mentions. There’s also integrations where talent discuss their own experiences with Toyota, White says.
Brands are understandably concerned about the high-wire act that can be livestreaming. Twitch chats can become chaotic, and the rapid internet chatter can be indecipherable.
Companies like Spiketrap help brands decipher the billions of chat messages and pull out relevant points for advertisers amid a sea of animated emojis with names like “CATjam.”
“Like, holy crap, that looks just like a crazy word vomit of a bunch of random chit-chat,” says Kieran SeanFitzpatrick, CEO and co-founder, Spiketrap. “We’re able to show, ‘OK, well sure, it looks like just jibber-jabber, but here are the main features of the conversation.’”
For brands, that type of analysis could be useful to see if a channel has a particularly offensive chat, which they may want to avoid. But understanding the conversation also tells brands when a channel has ready-made fans. “They’re able to understand what creators and brands are good matches,” Fitzpatrick says. “What channels have a high affinity or organic conversation around a specific brand or topic.”
Monitoring the conversation is more important than ever, especially during “hot tub” streams, when the peach emojis are flying.