TikTok's potential ban and its effects on marketing

TikTok’s Potential Ban and Its Impact on Marketing

By Adwright, 26 Apr 2023

TikTok might be banned in some places – here’s how it might change marketing.

TikTok and data privacy concerns 

Gaining attention for its entertaining short-form videos, the popular social media app attracted an average engagement rate of 4.25%, higher than that of Instagram (0.6%) and Facebook (0.15%). Along with its meteoric popularity among social media users, national governments like the US are increasingly concerned with the security risk posed by TikTok, fearing that its China-based parent company ByteDance may potentially share user data with the Chinese government.

Even before last month’s viral Congress hearing with TikTok’s CEO, India had instituted a complete ban on the use of TikTok and other Chinese apps due to national security concerns after a military clash with China. Since then, the app has been banned for similar reasons on governmental devices in several countries including the UK, Taiwan and several Australian government agencies. Some universities have also banned the app, however students often switch to cellular data to bypass these restrictions.

Striking the delicate balance between social media and data privacy

Compared to over a decade ago when today’s social media platforms first emerged, striking a balance between our social media usage and our data privacy has increasingly taken centre stage in consumers’ minds. Over the years, breaches of user data privacy on other social media platforms have made the spotlight. Notably, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data breach caused 50 million American profiles to be illicitly harvested for political targeting purposes. YouTube and its parent company, Google also paid $170 million to settle allegations that YouTube had collected personal data of children without obtaining parental consent.

While TikTok is not the first nor the only social media app to encounter such privacy concerns, a ban of the app would massively impact digital creators, advertisers and marketers not just in the region but globally. In light of this possibility, American MNC brands are making back-up plans. Smaller companies are also becoming wary of investing in TikTok ads, should the platform suddenly cease to exist.

Marketers have been, and are expected to spend more on TikTok

A marketing agency quoted by Digiday estimated that 25% of their clients’ social ad budgets are allocated for TikTok, growing approximately 50% year-on-year since 2020. At the same time, Insider Intelligence projects TikTok’s advertising revenue in 2023 at an increased $6.83 billion, from $5 billion previously in 2022. Late last year, marketing intelligence company WARC also forecasted how marketers’ social spend will change by platform in 2023. In line with shifts in audience usage toward creator-led platforms, 76% of global marketing executives surveyed in WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2023 intended to increase investment in TikTok this year.

Image credit: Digital in Asia, WARC Marketers’ Toolkit 2023

If a ban were indeed to be enforced, marketers in the region would be at a disadvantage. In terms of competitiveness, brands without access to TikTok would be unable to keep up with the dozens of trends emerging on the platform regularly, whereas their competitors overseas can adapt their content in line with the latest trending videos. Losing this marketing channel from a brand’s media mix means losing a platform full of highly engaged, younger audiences. This would also mean additional time and resources incurred to find and target this younger segment at other touchpoints.

How can marketers future-proof their brands?

Marketers are divided in their response to a potential TikTok ban. Some remain unruffled about continuing to spend on TikTok to maximise reach now, while others are “refraining from boosting spending on the app”, according to The Information. Such ad spend is often split among your typical mainstream social media channels – decreasing spend on TikTok means bigger pockets for Instagram and Facebook. While advertising on TikTok means an effective, sound-on, full-screen video ad format that fits intrinsically into the larger feed, placing higher allocation of resources on more established platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in relation to newer platforms like TikTok can be a safer bet for marketers.

How then should marketers recalibrate their social media strategy? Here’s some ways marketers could minimise the effects of a potential TikTok ban:

  1. Diversify social spend. Whichever your approach to spending on TikTok, avoid relying too much on one platform only. Industry experts are cautioning advertisers against putting all their eggs in one basket ahead of potential bans in the US or other regions. Luckily, the other social media giants have their own short-form, vertical video alternatives – you might already be familiar with YouTube’s Shorts and Instagram’s Reels which have also gained popularity. Consider establishing or strengthening brand presence on these platforms and building awareness with their followers, if you have not already.
  2. Capture the TikTok ‘flavour’, whether on existing brand channels or new ones. Should it be absent, users will be flocking to other channels for the raw, unfiltered content TikTok is known for. Find ways to incorporate this content that TikTok users crave, whilst retaining your brand’s consistent, unique persona.
  3. Explore other avenues of ad spend beyond traditional social videos and posts. Get creative to connect with Gen Zs, who frequent a multitude of platforms for their entertainment needs. Think out the box beyond like-for-like posts and employ experiences that offer different facets of engagement – for example, give livestream video a try or experiment with filters and gamification elements.

Making your brand present is just the first step. Making your brand relevant and engaging for your audience in the midst of uncertainty can be much more difficult. Besides engaging the right platforms, be sure to invest in developing a consistent, strong brand identity that can hold up across platforms.



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