When about 10 million players watched DJ Marshmello’s live set within Fortnite over Super Bowl weekend, you could almost hear the wheels in the industry’s brains start turning.
The event — better than any halftime show — gave a glimpse into how Fortnite could eventually evolve into a brand-new stage for advertisers.
Not only did the dance party feel epic to those people within the game; it was also shareable. This mix of spectatorship of esports and one-off events piqued the interest of advertisers in the days after the virtual concert, said Richard Downey, svp global new business at The Specialist Works.
But it can be difficult. The cost of creating an in-game promotion in the vein of Marshmello’s concert is high, said Downey. And to survive in esports, brands need to be authentic and creative. “Gamers will call out brands that mess up. You can’t just advertise in a community like the one Fortnite has without authority, especially if you’re a non-endemic brand,” said Downey.
Marshmello’s YouTube channel gained around 699,000 subscribers the day after the event, a roughly 1,800 percent increase over his January average daily subscription figure of 37,000, according to analyst Jose Arroyo. And his YouTube views per day jumped from 7.8 million to 42.8 million — or roughly 500 percent.
The advertisers already winning at Fortnite are those that are part of the community now synonymous with the game.
Fast-food restaurant Wendy’s did this last November when it hosted its first livestream of the game on Amazon-owned Twitch. Wendy’s set up a stream on the video site for free last November when it co-opted the game’s “Food Fight” mission. Missions in Fortnite are only available for a limited period, creating opportunities for brands like Wendy’s to do more “firsts” rather than repeating an existing activation.
The event split players into either playing for the Durr Burger or Pizza Pit in-game restaurants, with Wendy’s asking its fans to play against the burger chain. Going after Durr Burger was meant to be a dig at those rivals to Wendy’s that use frozen burgers, said the brand’s senior director of media and social Jimmy Bennett.
While Wendy’s didn’t appear in the game, awareness of the brand spiked. The restaurant streamed video for almost 10 hours in one day. During that time, Wendy’s went from zero followers on Twitch to more than 7,400. More than 1.5 million total minutes of video were watched by users during those 10 hours. There were around 43,500 comments during the stream. For context, Wendy’s gets mentioned about 3,000 comments per day on Twitter.
“What we did wasn’t down to a paid relationship with either Twitch or Fortnite,” said Bennett. “We see a lot of brands jumping in and trying to use paid media to grow their brand presence, but it’s actually more exhausting to try and do it that way. We didn’t have to do so much heavy lifting and put so much money to support it because we were able to organically lean into the experience.”
Most advertisers aren’t at this stage yet and instead sponsor Fortnite’s most popular players.
High-profile Fortnite influencer Dr. Lupo became the first professional esports player to be sponsored by insurance company State Farm earlier this month, while Ninja, the most followed streamer on Twitch, was paid by UberEats to promote the game last summer.