Burger King takes heat for using Twitch donation readouts to run advertisements

(Image credit: Burger King)

An advertising agency caused a stir earlier this week when it tweeted about a Burger King campaign that used Twitch's donation feature to get cheap on-stream plugs. The campaign didn't break any rules as far as I can tell, but it was even greasier than a Double Whopper.

The ads took advantage of a popular feature offered by Streamlabs that gives viewers the option to donate to Twitch streamers in exchange for having a personalized message read out by a text-to-speech plugin. Viewers pony up a minimum of $1, type in their message, and then get to hear a robot voice speak it live on the stream. Streamlabs says the tool "can increase audience engagement and encourage users to send in additional donations to hear their message played out loud."

Surprise! It can also be used by multi-billion-dollar global corporations to pimp their grub for literal pocket change.

It is theoretically clever: Burger King gets promotion in multiple streams, and all it costs is a series of small donations to the streamers rather than expensive sponsorship contracts. But exploiting a system intended for individual use to avoid paying proper rates for online advertising was never going to go over well.

Burger King (technically parent company Restaurant Brands International) probably paid major dollars to the advertising agency behind this campaign, which in turn coughed up less than the cost of a single-month channel subscription in some cases to the Twitch streamers it took advantage of.

At the very least, BK could have ponied up a decent sum of money for the readouts. One streamer, Ross O'Donovan, was not happy about his part in the whole thing.

Ironically, the number of people directly exposed to the ads on Twitch would've been relatively small but the social media uproar has put it in front of a much wider audience. The ad actually appeared on the BK YouTube channel in early July, but the majority of the comments have been posted within just the past 24 hours.

Perhaps this is the natural evolution of so much playful brand engagement on social media. Brands and ad agencies are out to sell products, not be our friends, but they'll definitely pretend to be our friends if it means they can skirt proper sponsorship deals for cheap advertising. 

Update: The ads weren't just sketchy, they were also in violation of Streamlabs' terms of service, which specifically prohibits "using the site for commercial or promotional purposes," which includes displaying unauthorized commercial advertisements and "attempting to post messages or advertisements with a commercial purpose."

The TOS also lists "commercial activities and/or sales without prior written consent from Streamlabs" as prohibited content. I've asked Streamlabs what actions it plans to take to address the violations, if any, and will update if I receive a reply. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.