When Honda reveals its next Civic on Nov. 17, the brand will bypass gear heads and car nerds and go straight to gamers. The compact car—one of the most important nameplates in the automaker’s fleet–will get its world debut on Twitch, the Amazon-owned video game-streaming platform whose popularity has skyrocketed during the pandemic.
Honda will show off the new Civic during in a special episode on Twitch’s “Honda Head2Head” channel, which has carried the automaker’s name since it debuted three years ago as the first and only auto-branded gaming channel on the platform. Tuesday’s show will feature a Fortnite battle pitting top players of the game against well-known Twitch streamers who go by the names of Benjyfishy, Jordan Fisher, Dakotaz and ChicaLive. The show includes a musical performance by Cordae, a rapper who got his start as part of the YBN, a gaming-turned-rap collective.
Honda says the Civic debut is the first-ever global vehicle debut on a Twitch-branded gaming channel.
The all-digital event is a departure from the typical approach of showing off new cars at auto shows or other events more closely tied to the auto industry. That approach has been waning in recent years as automakers seek new ways to create buzz—and even more so in the past nine months as brands navigate around the pandemic, which has cut them off from in-person events. Hyundai recently used a virtual event staged at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills to debut its Tucson, for instance.
Honda’s decision to go straight to gamers illustrates how important the audience has become, not just to automakers but to brands of all kinds that are drawn to the youthful demographic. According to figures provided by Honda, 67% of Twitch viewers are under the age of 35—and there are a lot of them: Twitch draws a total of 17.5 million average daily visitors, according to its website.
The young demo is particularly important for Honda’s Civic, which aggressively courts first-time car buyers. “This makes sense for us to get to younger audiences on their home turf,” says Phil Hruska, Honda’s manager of media strategy.
Other automakers are also upping their gaming investments. For instance, BMW in April announced partnerships with five esports organizations across the globe—including Cloud9, Fnatic, FunPlus Phoenix, G2 Esports and T1—accounting for about 200 players who compete globally in tournaments involving games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Fortnite.
But esports can be a minefield for brands because enthusiasts are known to punish marketers that appear to be exploitive and display a lack of knowledge of the finer points of the sport. Burger King got called to the carpet in August for seeking cheap PR by taking advantage of Twitch’s donation feature to promote its $5 value meal.
Honda is relying on its history in gaming as proof that its Twitch reveal is not a one-time stunt. The automaker has sponsored esports team Team Liquid since early 2019. The deal included a six-part video series called “Level Up” that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of esports players. Honda followed up that deal by becoming a sponsor of Riot Games’ League of Legends Championship Series, which made it the first North American automaker to sponsor both an esports league and team.
“We are not a brand that tries to just come in and slap a logo on something and call it a day,” Hruska says. “We really have to try harder to create something truly authentic in this space.”