Twitch is one of the world’s fastest growing social media platforms, and experts are warning that the platform could be playing a role in America’s obesity crisis because of its rampant advertising of unhealthy snacks and drinks.
Researchers at Penn State University found that 15 percent of regular Twitch viewers reported craving food products they say advertised on the platform, and eight percent actually bought the products. Industry research shows that the usual advertising conversion rate is below five percent – making Twitch promotions very successful.
Many of the products being advertised are unhealthy energy drinks, snacks and candies, though. Energy drinks like G Fuel, Red Bull and Bang Energy have all become instantly identifiable products for any Twitch viewer, advertising with major streaming personalities and esports organizations.
America is suffering from an obesity epidemic, and the younger generations have not been spared. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 40 percent of Americans are suffering from obesity, and more than 70 percent are overweight. Around one-in-five minors are obese as well.
A study finds that young people are often craving and purchasing unhealth food products that are advertised to them on the live streaming platform Twitch (file photo)
‘Endorsement deals on Twitch can be worth many millions of dollars, and younger people — who are always attractive to advertisers — are moving their eyeballs away from television into these more interactive forms of entertainment, often to Twitch specifically,’ Travis Masterson, an assistant professor of nutrition at Penn State said in a statement.
The research team, which published its findings last week in Public Health Nutrition, recruited 568 Twitch viewers via Reddit for the study. The study population was almost entirely made up of white or Asian males. Nearly every participant was under the age of 35.
They were given three different questionnaires that would indicate how effective Twitch marketing was to making them aware of certain brands, whether it made them crave food products, and whether or not they would be willing to act on those cravings by making a purchase.
Researchers found that 15 percent of participants felt cravings for some of the foods that were advertised to them on the live streaming platform.
More than half of those that felt cravings acted on them, and purchased a food product they saw advertised to them on Twitch.
Popular online streaming personalities like JJ ‘KSI’ Olatunji (pictured) have partnered with companies like G Fuel to promote the energy drink products
The research team is concerned by these findings, as they indicate that Twitch viewers are more likely to purchase the foods advertised to them. Many of these foods are highly unhealthy too.
‘In academic research, we are playing catch up with food advertisers,’ Masterson said.
‘Advertising is pervasive for a reason: It works, and companies understand how it works. People tend to understand that children are susceptible to advertising messages, but we often like to think that once we grow up and start making our own decisions, adults are immune to advertising’s power.
‘But advertising didn’t grow to be a $100 billion-plus industry in the United States because it is ineffective. Advertising works on us, and on a subset of us, it is especially effective.’
Realizing how valuable the market is, energy drink manufacturers in particular have made a massive investment into Twitch.
G Fuel sells an energy drink featuring the names and likeness of popular streamers Charles ‘Moistcr1tikal’ White Jr and Felix ‘Pewdiepie’ Arvid Ulf Kjellberg
Red Bull partnered with the popular video game League of Legends to sell cans of the drink featuring characters from the game. The partnership was advertised on official Riot Games Twitch channels
G Fuel, which describes its products as ‘gaming and esports energy drinks’ has built an army of popular streamers that fall under its marketing umbrella, including Felix ‘Pewdiepie’ Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, JJ ‘KSI’ Olatunji, and Charles ‘Moistcr1tikal’ White Jr – with some even having their own custom flavors branded under their own name for sale.
Red Bull, one of the world’s top energy drink brands, has partnered with companies like Riot Games to sell specially branded cans featuring characters from the popular game League of Legends.
Bang Energy is a relatively new player to the market, but it has rocketed into popularity due to its heavy reliance on influencer marketing as well.
Market research has also found that companies like McDonalds, Doritos and KFC – none of which are a bastion of healthy foods – have earned popularity on the platform as well.
As a gamer and Twitch viewer himself, Masterson says he is worried about how these brands are able to so effectively market themselves on the platform.
‘I am a gamer. I am on Twitch and am part of these communities,’ Masterson explained.
‘It bothers me when I am watching League of Legends, for example, and I see a branded candy ad in the middle of the game. It bothers me because I know that these ads affect people, including me.’
The age demographics of Twitch viewers skew especially young.
A report published by Stream Scheme last year found that 41 percent of viewers are between the ages of 16 and 24 and 32 percent are between 25 to 34 years old. Only 10 percent of viewers are over the age of 45.