I make a lot of effort to avoid advertisements in my media consumption. I use an adblocker when browsing the web, and selectively whitelist sites I want to support. I pay for YouTube Red each month so I can watch Let’s Plays and Buzzfeed videos without ads, and having to endure 4 minutes of nonsensical advertising for every 10 minutes of programming is what pushed me over the edge to give up on cable television in the first place.
And then there’s social media.
Twitch opened up an Affiliate Program today, basically giving people who don’t or can’t stream for over 40 hours a week the opportunity to make some money. The requirements are a lot lower than a full partnership, for example only needing 3 concurrent users on average over the last month. Needless to say, this news has overstimulated the novice streamer community, and my Twitter feed today is a maze of demands to view streams and encouraging viewers to buy cheap “bits”, or Twitch currency. I realize this is a symptom of my follower list as much as anything, but I bet this pattern is reflected in any hobby community on social media.
Here’s the problem: in an era when we are all encouraged to “be your own personal brand” and get our gig economy side hustle going, what is the difference between Jane Q. Streamer advertising her Hearthstone pack opening stream and Wendy’s advertising their newest cheeseburger? Both are designed to be a call to action, both want me to enjoy my experience in their relative establishments, and both hope to part me from my money and perhaps turn me into a fan who can be reliably counted upon to spend more money in the future. Yes, Jane makes a lot less money than “Wendy”, and they’re in different industries, but at the end of the day their goals are the same.
I’m picking on Twitch streamers here because I’m an old lady and it’s my pet peeve lately, but you can replace it with “food blog” or “crafting videos” or “fashion Instagram” or whatever a hobbyist can effectively monetize. Once you bring money and potential profit into the equation, things can get a little murky. There’s no super good answer to this because it’s impossible to say that Person A is mostly doing it for the art so hey, advertise away, while Person B is trying to pay their rent with their work so don’t show me their promotions.
But if we’re all brands now, as seems to rapidly become more and more the case, is there really any difference between a Nordstroms promotional tweet and a PewDiePie promotional tweet? Hobbyist and gamer culture so far has said that there is one, but I’m not so sure.