Twitch-exclusive streamer Ben Cassell, aka, Cohhcarnage or Cohh, is a professional gamer.
But he’s also a businessman with an estimated net worth of around $5 million and multiple brand partnerships. He’s a brand ambassador for Intel Gaming and has sponsorship deals with Corsair and Discord, his own merchandise and his own “Cohhlition” coffee blend through a relationship with Kings Coast Coffee Company.
Cassell describes himself as a “variety streamer,” meaning he plays lots of different types of games, from RPGs to full franchise playthroughs, such as Mass Effect and The Witcher. He streamed nearly 3,200 hours last year. (As a point of reference, a 40-hour work week translates into around 2,080 hours worked in a year.)
But when Cassell first started streaming in 2013, there weren’t a lot of resources for gamers making a go of it, and brands weren’t hip to the opportunity.
“That’s changed a lot, and these days people in my profession have so many more tools, resources and people looking out for them,” said Cassell, who signed with streaming talent and management agency Loaded in July.
But it’s still early days from an advertising perspective, said Nick Allen, SVP of partnerships and operations at Loaded.
“Advertising is playing a bit of catch-up here as brands realize that even though they can’t get the same level of tracking as they’re used to in other channels, that’s offset by access to a very engaged audience with high intent to purchase,” Allen said.
Cassell and Allen spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: Ben, how do you decide which brands to partner with?
BEN CASSELL: At this point in my career, the most important thing for me is to make sure I’m being honest with my community and standing behind whatever I represent, especially if I accept any type of compensation.
If it’s a game I’m promoting it has to be something I either want or was already planning to try. If it’s a product, I always want a sample first and time to use it so I know it’s something I can stand behind. Sometimes that loses me a good amount of money, but it keeps the integrity of my channel intact.
NICK ALLEN: Creators are in front of their audiences live for hours, so fans have a good perspective in terms of what authenticity looks and they know the difference. The first thing we do as an agency is talk to the talent to find out how they feel about a brand or a game, whether they’re excited and if it’s something their audience would be receptive to.
When brands approach you and say they want to work with a gaming influencer, do they have a clear idea of what they want to achieve?
ALLEN: In the early days, brands were trying to apply a lot of traditional media and ad buying methodologies to this market, whether that was their expectations related to data tracking or just wanting predictability about how consumers would engage with their brand.
That all needed to change, because this is live and that means folks have to get accustomed to some level of unpredictability. It’s been a bit of an educational process helping brands understand why streaming is valuable and why it’s not what they’re used to in terms of traditional ad buying.
Are brands getting the message?
ALLEN: There is a big difference between pre-produced content and live entertainment, which is not the same thing as live TV. Brands are starting to understand that as well as what assets and inventory are available, and we help find them the right streamers to work with.
What does success look like for brands working with streamers?
CASSELL: In my experience interacting with brands, success is in the eye of the beholder. This industry is still very new, and it’s changing and growing all the time. Different companies want different metrics to track success. Sometimes it’s the raw number of referrals and sometimes it’s clicks. It really depends on what a brand is looking to get from a campaign.
ALLEN: Some of this is still unknown in terms of brand impact, but streamers have the high engagement rates that marketers want, especially with young millennial and Gen Z viewers, so it’s a tradeoff.
What do most brands ask for in terms of measurement, metrics and proving that an influencer partnership actually helped them achieve their goals?
CASSELL: Measurement is one of the big things a management team helps you take care of. Usually, it’s the number of views, or how many people had eyes on a sponsored segment. Loaded reaches out to me to deliver this data from the stream and they work with my partners to sort it all out.
Usually by the time an agreement gets signed, both parties are fully aware of what to expect, so it’s just a matter of getting the right numbers to the right people.
Do advertisers make brand safety demands?
CASSELL: They certainly do make demands in what I’d call a factual capacity, like making sure that I mention a game’s release date. They might want to make sure you hit specific points about their promotion, and that’s fair because they are paying for this time on your channel. But from an integrity perspective, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been told I have to say I like a game or to pretend I like it if I don’t. If that happened, I’d immediately turn it down.
What about interest from non-endemic, non-gaming advertisers?
ALLEN: We have a lot of conversations with folks who are exploring this space and have worried about the unknowns, including brand safety and related challenges. As a baseline, platforms like Twitch do a good job ensuring that the really terrible stuff is punished.
A big part of our job as the agency is to help brands evaluate potential opportunities and whether an individual streamer is going to represent the brand or game company in a good light. There are a wide range of behaviors that some brands might consider to be not brand safe that others would be okay with.
CASSELL: But brand safety cuts both ways. I’m going through copyright stuff right now for my own brand, Cohhlition, and I recently turned down a sizable opportunity because of its political nature. My branded self doesn’t do politics or religion. I’m about positive vibes.
This interview has been edited and condensed.