By 2030, more than a quarter of the world’s income - an eye-watering $33 trillion* - will be in the hands of a cohort of young adults that is fast becoming known as “Generation Twitch”.
They’ve earned their epithet because of their shared behaviours and attitudes, though they span the three demographics of millennials, Gen Z and, increasingly, Gen Alpha.
That’s a huge swathe of people born since 1981 and one that brands could - shockingly - be failing to connect with.
“There’s a huge scale of cultural change that brands need to adapt to,” says Paul Nesbitt, director of international measurement and insight at Twitch, the Amazon-owned live streaming service which is a natural home for this community. And the financial clout of this demographic is only one in a whole set of learnings for marketers in Twitch’s new global research initiative, Generation Twitch:Leading Cultural Change.
So how can brands adapt - and fast?
What appeals most to Generation Twitch?
There are four pillars that underpin everything that happens on Twitch: live experiences, shared experiences, livestreaming and gaming. In its latest research, the livestreaming service explored these pillars to better understand how to engage Generation Twitch.
Here they are:
1 / Live experiences: the home of spontaneity
The pandemic has changed our attitudes to digital experiences, initially out of necessity but, increasingly, out of choice.
Live, in-real-life (IRL) experiences have been historically defined and constrained by things like geography and ticket prices, but the live digital experience has now become a playground for spontaneity and flexibility - something that’s increasingly hard to come by in the real world.
As Nesbitt puts it: “Digital environments are home to all the kinds of open-ended and spontaneous experiences that we typically associate with in-person events.” Just the sort of thing to appeal to Generation Twitch.
2 / Shared experiences: dynamic and flexible
“As the lines blur between the physical and digital realities, we see that authenticity and participation are becoming increasingly important to Generation Twitch,” Nesbitt explains.
Increasingly, audiences are participating together in honest, raw ways. People are moving outside of their comfort zones to share experiences and opinions in a respectful and supportive way. These exchanges are two-way, interactive, dynamic and flexible.
“What makes Twitch special is the interaction itself,” says one viewer, quoted in the research. “It’s like being at a live concert, there can be sometimes thousands of people sharing emotions at that same moment.”
3/ Livestreaming: no longer second best
Livestreaming used to be seen as an inferior alternative to attending an in-person event. This is no longer the case. “Livestreaming is constantly growing because of access to cheaper technology, as well as high speed internet [connections],” Nesbitt says.
“During the pandemic, livestreaming services and technologies helped to keep us connected. That expansion led to more people creating content and an increase in active participation.”
Gamified technologies and hybrid events give the Twitch community much greater engagement and active participation.
Shifting away from filtered, stylised looks, it is now the more candid filming styles, unpolished aesthetics and unannounced content of Twitch that viewers are realising can offer true intimacy and spontaneity - and they appreciate it. That spontaneity is showcased in the “Just Chatting” category where streamers hold casual, sociable conversations with their communities.
Livestreaming is also now acknowledged as a force for good, with educational, social and philanthropic potential. Case in point: Twitch recently launched a new charity tool, a built-in fundraising stream feature that allows livestreamers to set up and run a stream for charity in just a few clicks. All the charities are part of the PayPal Giving fund, and Twitch takes no cut from donations and receives no tax incentives. For streamers, it makes raising money for important causes easier and transparent. For viewers, supporting those causes becomes simpler, clearer, and more impactful.
4 / Gaming: now a team for all players
The perception of gaming and gamers is changing.
As technology has evolved, gaming has become more accessible and inclusive, a status that is reflected in the diversity of characters and avatars within the gaming environments themselves.
For the first time, FIFA has included female footballers in its game, with the FIFA 23 Ultimate Edition featuring female players on its front cover, for example, and Call of Duty now gives players the option to choose LGBTQ+ flags for their profiles.
Such inclusion is also now more readily discussed - note the She Plays Games podcast from Lauren Kaye which celebrates women in the games industry and aims to raise awareness of the diversity of opportunities for women within it, from programming and producing to content creation.
However, there is still much more to be done in this area - and brands can play a major role.
“Gaming is the most immersive and personalised form of entertainment that exists and it offers a platform to connect to diverse audiences in a way that other forms of entertainment simply can’t match,” notes international research and strategy consultancy MTM. “We know that gamers are ready for developers to be bolder and start telling stories about underrepresented groups. This presents a great opportunity for brands to contribute positive messaging using games.”
A key takeout from the MTM research warns, messaging from games about diversity needs to feel authentic, not poorly applied. As Twitch’s Nesbitt says: the worst thing is “dad-dancing” - ads need to feel authentic and confident in their understanding.
Another major shift in gaming has been away from the traditional, binary, oppositional conflict of winning and losing and towards co-operation, togetherness, productivity and even fitness, thanks to new technologies.
Take Special Effect, a charity whose aim is to “put fun and inclusion back into the lives of physically disabled people” by helping them to play video games. Or Lego, which used gaming to teach children about internet safety. And Dove is acting on findings, co-published with the NGO Women in Games and the Centre for Appearance Research, that unrealistic beauty standards in the gaming industry make female gamers feel misrepresented. The Unilever-owned brand is working to boost representation and diversity in gaming for women and to reach them with self-esteem education.
Gamers are diverse. Just as, Twitch “is a diverse community,” a viewer says in Generation Twitch:Leading Cultural Change. “The communities that I participate in are excellent. They are always helping each other and talking about everything possible.” It’s a commonly held view: 78% of Twitch viewers sampled for the research agree that Twitch is a diverse community for everyone.
What brands need to know about Generation Twitch
It may come as a surprise to learn that the Twitch audience is accepting of advertisers and even values them.
Rather than being perceived as exploitative, brands are seen as supporters of streamers, allowing them to do what they love as a full-time job. Indeed, 69% of Generation Twitch say they are more likely to consider brands that streamers use themselves.
A leading global drinks brand supported one streamer who held an “unbranded” drinks can, hinting and joking that a sponsorship would be gratefully received. The brand jumped onboard and the streamer and brand surprised the streamer’s community, which then showed an immediate willingness to engage with and purchase that brand.
“A brand advertising on the service is able to reach a more differentiated and varied audience,” says one Twitch viewer in the UK, quoted in the global Generation Twitch: Leading Cultural Change research. “They gain visibility from different groups of people and greater reach. For streamers, [this means] more advertising, more income, and the community gets more content.”
Audiences are more socially aware and impact driven – they value inclusivity and are pushing brands to reflect that in their behaviours, but brands need to go beyond virtue signalling. It’s clear that the Twitch community is ready to donate and support (via technology) causes that matter to them.
Tips for engaging with Generation Twitch
Brands need to build trust by showing their authentic human side; audiences react well to brands which allow streamers to be themselves.
“As long as you advertise with the right feeling, then any company can do it,” says a US-based Twitch viewer, endorsing the research data which revealed that 69% agree any brand can advertise on Twitch, while 60% like a brand more if they know it advertises on Twitch.
The Twitch community wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Brands can invite engagement through collaboration with streamers who share their sense of purpose.
In fact, brands have the right to be bold on Twitch. “In a way the more unusual the brand, the more it can raise an eyebrow, particularly if they put the effort in,” says a UK-based Twitch viewer. “The creative community are kind of up for a bit of dissonance.”
Nearly three quarters of viewers (73%) agree brands can be bold, while 70% are happy for brands to be playful.
Twitch is a place for everyone - and that includes brands which add value to their experience.
The best-performing brand partnerships will be those that embrace the five behaviours of the Twitch audience – being authentic, fluid, collaborative, inclusive and purposeful – and also tap into the four pillars of Twitch - live and shared experiences, gaming and livestreaming.
Now is the time for brands to start adapting to the significant cultural shift at play and to connect with this influential generation - one that they might just be missing.
*Source: GWI, Q4 ‘20 – Q3 ‘21. Global. Bloomberg, 2021; Business Insider, 2021.