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  • Quynh Nguyen

What Advertisers Need to Know About the Proposed TikTok Ban

Note: More information on 2020's latest ad formats and advertising channels can be found here.


Citing privacy concerns, the Donald Trump Administration has announced that they are "looking into" banning the China-based short-form social sharing app TikTok in the US. TikTok is wildly popular amongst Gen Z, but do brands and marketers need to be worried about whether this channel to the most diverse generation closes off? What do the privacy concerns say about the future of targeting in the advertising industry, and what are industry leaders saying about it?


We dive into all that here:



Concerns Over China-Based App: Privacy or Partisan Issue?


TikTok, a wildy-popular short-form video social media platform, has been making waves this year ever since it reached 2 billion downloads and set the record for app installs in a single quarter in April 2020. Making moves into monetizing the platform, TikTok launched its new 'TikTok for Business' website to provide marketers the ability to utilize the short-form video app for their ad campaigns.


But the most recent Apple iOS update revealed that the short video social sharing app has been stealing users' data by reading user’s clipboards, despite its promise to stop the practice back in April 2020.

Privacy concerns prompted India (the country with the highest TikTok downloads outside China) to ban the app, along with 56 other Chinese apps like WeChat and Helo.


On July 6, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US is considering banning TikTok over concerns of Chinese surveillance, though TikTok's parent company ByteDance is an international company that operates independently from the Chinese government. TikTok claims that it has not shared any collected user data with the Chinese government.


Many things have been happening in the fallout. Instagram quickly started testing Reels, its TikTok rival, in India soon after the ban. The Byte App has climbed the rankings to become top app on the App Store (as of July 9th) as creators on the TikTok app worry about the platform's longevity and their own livelihood.


Marc D'Amelio, father of Charli and Dixie D'Amelio (respectively the 1st and 13th most-followed accounts on TikTok), tweeted #savetiktok as part of the campaign to keep the platform.

Trump's GOP party is maintaining that their intent to ban the app in the US is purely based on the privacy concerns from the data that the app is pulling. However, some users suspect political motives for administration's pursuit of banning the app, based on the fact that much of TikTok's Gen Z user base has been using the platform to organize opposition to the Trump 2020 presidential campaign (discussed in more detail later in this article).


Brand Considerations


CEOs and brand experts in India, where the ban has already been imposed by the government, claim that while an entertainment gap in the Gen Z market will be created, brands and advertisers won't be greatly impacted. Instead, brands will quickly find ways to redirect ad spend to different social media channels that still target Gen Z, since deep advertising relationships haven't yet had the time to form. TikTok has only just begun the monetization of its platform, and since there are no new product offerings with the launch of the "TikTok for Businesses" platform (the new AR Brand Effects and Partner Program are still to come), the main focus of the newly-launched platform is TikTok's ad slogan - "Don't Make Ads, Make TikToks". Prompting businesses to focus on organic content, as opposed to disruptive ads.


For smaller businesses, TikTok only just launched its self-serve ad platform on July 8, with a similar format to Facebook Manager. TikTok has also foreshadowed the launch of a new 'Business Data Hub', which is assumed to provide more insight for marketers, but brands and advertisers may be hesitant to rely on the company's targeting data amidst the privacy concerns.


We reviewed the new TikTok ad formats in our New Ad Formats for H2 of 2020 eBook (check it out here). Though currently popular with its niche audience, the privacy concerns and looming threat of the platform's ban may make many brands hesitant to advertise on the platform (especially happening alongside the much-publicized Facebook ban).


Possible Political Motivations


Two-thirds of TikTok users are aged 10 to 24, encapsulating the entire Gen Z cohort. In part due to TikTok's algorithm, which recommends content based on interest and user interactions and preferences, the platform has risen in popularity for this generation because it removed the barriers to content going viral. Of primary interest is how the algorithm has allowed Gen Z to rally behind political campaigns on the social platform, even while sheltering in-place.


Much of the political activity on the platform is targeted at Donald Trump. Most famous was the story of how Gen Z TikTokers organized to request over 1 million tickets to the president's recent rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with no intention of attending. Expecting a high turnout, overflow lots were prepared but never used. The BOK Center where the rally was held had an 19,000 seat capacity but only 6,200 scanned tickets were reported. Other organized efforts on the platform include wasting the Trump campaign's advertising dollars with by driving programmatic retargeting spend for non-Trump voters.


Notably, support or opposition for the TikTok ban falls largely along party lines. The more likely a person is to support the Trump presidential campaign, the more likely they are to support the ban, and vice-versa.

Infographic courtesy of Morning Consult


If banned in the US, TikTok's at least 165 million users, particularly its creators, would obviously be impacted -- but there has been little evidence as of yet that brands and marketers will be greatly impacted by the decision, due to the limited adoption of the platform in branding strategies, to date.

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