Amazon’s Twitch is gaining ground as an ad platform

Gamers aren’t the only people interested in Twitch these days. The live video-streaming platform is starting to attract the attention of agency and brand marketers, with some actively approaching the company about working together on ad campaigns.

On Thursday, Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice brand will launch a new campaign designed around Twitch, inviting Twitch users to control the actions of a real human in a mysterious, booby-trapped forest for three consecutive days. Earlier this month, HBO teamed up with Twitch to promote its comedy series “Silicon Valley,” shuffling the cast over to Twitch headquarters to answer users’ questions and showcase content from the new season. TBS held a similar preview event at Twitch HQ in January for its “King of the Nerds” show.

Twitch is securing these deals on the strength of its growing, highly engaged audience of young men and a vision that extends beyond just video games.

“They have such an engaged audience with gaming content but also beyond gaming content, which is where Twitch is going,” said Jeff Daniel, media director at ad agency Upshot. “Twitch is marketing itself as a social live platform.”

Twitch was founded in June 2011, but it only began to attract mainstream attention after Amazon paid $970 million to acquire the site last August. Today, the platform’s community of viewers and broadcasters still largely revolves around video games. Users log on and broadcast their own gaming sessions or they watch others play, either because those gamers are talented — Twitch is the default online community for professional “e-sports” players — or because they’re funny, cracking jokes about their play sessions and chatting with their viewers.

But Twitch has been inching into new areas, streaming live concerts and other events. More general live-streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat have brought more attention to Twitch and the variety of opportunities it offers brands, said Imari Oliver, vp, director of creative strategy at Sparks & Honey, an Omnicom ad agency.

“Most of our conversations [with Twitch] have been about what they’re doing around music,” said Oliver. “Twitch is hitting a lot of sweet spots for brands. There’s a lot of action that happens through the chat rooms that you can’t do with Twitter. We see people talking about brands, food, music. … It’s funny, I’m probably pitching [Twitch] more than they are pitching us.”

Twitch’s scale and engagement rate among millennial men is piquing advertisers’ interest. The average user session on Twitch today is 106 minutes, according to a Twitch spokesperson, a figure the company likes to tout in meetings with potential advertisers and media partners. Twitch attracted more than 4 million unique video viewers on U.S. desktops alone in February, according to comScore. But with a large presence on mobile devices, game consoles and in international markets, Twitch says it has more than 100 million unique viewers and 1.5 million unique broadcasters per month. And it says 76 percent of users are between 18 and 49.

“Most brands will tell you this demographic is very slippery and hard to keep,” said Oliver. “Twitch has done a great job reaching it.”

Those figures have garnered attention from major brands outside the gaming world. In recent months, Twitch’s roster of advertisers has swelled to include brands such as Coke, T-Mobile, Red Bull, Pizza Hut and Foot Locker, among others. Twitch has some standard ad products, including display and video media, but it is also game to work on custom executions, as the Old Spice, HBO and TBS campaigns demonstrate.

For Old Spice, ad agency Wieden+Kennedy designed an experience that mimics the format of the “Twitch Plays Pokémon” phenomenon, in which people played Pokémon games, typing commands into Twitch’s chat box to control the on-screen action. HBO also saw a natural link between its “Silicon Valley” show and the Twitch audience — and it was thrilled with the results of its custom promotion.

“The live stream on Twitch was a great success as it enabled ‘Silicon Valley’ and HBO to connect with a young, largely affluent tech savvy audience in an authentic way,” said Christa Patrylak, director of digital and social media at HBO, which approached Twitch with the idea. “Hundreds of thousands of Twitch subscribers tuned into the event and remained highly engaged throughout the hour-long stream. … The scale and rate of engagement on the platform is astounding and only solidified that creating a partnership was the right move.”

Twitch is attracting established publishers to its platform, too. Last month, Discovery Digital Networks launched a gaming-focused media property on Twitch. Getting well-known media players on board will also help Twitch make the case to marketers that it should become key to their ad strategy.

But marketers will be hesitant to spend major ad dollars on Twitch until they see how their initial campaigns perform. The platform is growing, but from advertisers’ perspective, it’s still in the experimentation phase. And if Old Spice’s new campaign falls flat, for example, that could dissuade Procter & Gamble from future experimentation.

“We have to be careful of the shiny new object,” said Upshot’s Daniel. “We as marketers are always looking for it, but looking out for it, too.”

Main image courtesy of Old Spice/YouTube

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