As the news of a Trump-approved deal between TikTok, Oracle and Walmart broke over the weekend, brands and agencies alike breathed sighs of relief. Our ad budgets can stay! Our data will be protected! TikTok will live to see another day!
Then I woke up on Monday morning to a dizzying twilight zone as Bytedance and Trump seem to have read two completely different deals, issuing statements in direct contradiction with one another. However nauseous we may be, we agree with TikTok when they say they’re here to stay.
Despite the looming ban, TikTok remains the #1 downloaded app across all three app stores.
And, while many brands feared its audience would abandon ship, TikTok has also maintained its 800M global active users, 100M of which are here in the states. For comparison, Twitter has less than half of that at about 49M US users, Snapchat has about 101M US users and Instagram has 120M US users.
So, my message to advertisers remains: stay the course. Here’s why:
- TikTok is continues to show its commitment to making it work — No brand has worked harder on every single angle of this situation than TikTok. It’s set up an offense and a defense that should assure advertisers that it’s not going anywhere and, in fact, where it’s headed is safer & more lucrative for brands than ever before.
- Showing its cards – Earlier this summer it created transparency centers, a facility in their LA office allowing experts to come learn how TikTok is enforcing its policies. TikTok also allowed for an open investigation of its data policies and hired a very reputable US-based CSO, Roland Cloutier.
- Making the deal – Bytedance knows what’s proprietary and what’s mandatory to TikTok’s success and that means keeping ownership of the platform. But it also knows data privacy is a legitimate concern that they it can’t lawsuit its way out of. To that end, it developed a deal with a one of the biggest data providers, Oracle and retail expert, Walmart. Two companies that may not be the first choice for such a hip, up & coming platform, but companies that can answer legitimate data concerns and solidify its commerce-forward future.
- Sweetening it – While there’s still speculation around some of these deal points, a part of this deal is TikTok’s commitment to creating 25,000 new jobs in the US and developing an AI-enabled virtual learning platform to teach children a variety of courses from basic reading and math to science, history, and computer engineering.
TikTok may not be doing exactly what Trump is asking of them, sell, but they are addressing the legitimate data privacy concerns that exist and ensuring its own ability to monetize long term all in one deal.
- Filing suit – While the most recent suit is likely to be dropped pending the ultimate deal, TikTok has filed two lawsuits against the Trump administration. The first lawsuit filed in federal court, was a response to President Trump’s executive order that would ban TikTok if it didn’t find an American buyer for its US operations. TikTok’s lawyers said that this violates due process protections of the Fifth Amendment, since they were given no time to react to the news. The second lawsuit is in response to the US banning US downloads of the app. This was filed last Friday as the company awaited a decision from President Trump regarding its deal with potential US partners, Oracle and Walmart. The complaint states that the Trump administration is acting beyond its capacity and violating the First Amendment of free speech.
- Lobbyists – Bytedance has reportedly spent over $300k on lobbyists helping make the case that Trump will sour millions of voters against him.
- Mitigating Attrition – The $1B creator fund was developed to reward all types of creators on the app for their creativity, passion and ability to connect with their audiences. This fund keeps creators around and when creators stay, their audiences stay.
An offense like this shows TikTok isn’t going to just sit still and look pretty. It’s going to fight for what makes the platform special and that should give advertisers more than enough faith that they have their users, brands and creators interests in mind every step of the way.
- Social ad dollars are easy to reallocate – First and probably most reasonably, reallocating advertising dollars is pretty easy. Whereas linear and some digital buys have long lead times, the self-serve nature of social advertising makes it fairly easy to change at a moment’s notice. Should the TikTok ban take effect in 45 days, the IOs you’ve created with TikTok will be flexible and you will be able to reinvest that money elsewhere. If your media is running on auction, once the ban takes effect, the cancelation happens immediately. No matter what, create a backup media plan, but don’t get hasty and reallocate dollars today. The user base is still there, it’s still active and your ads will still be effective.
- Unique Ad Options – Here’s the kicker, though. If your campaign was inherently UGC-oriented or counted on one of TikTok’s more unique ad options, like a branded hashtag challenge, you can’t easily change your creative or your buy. It wouldn’t be an apples to apples switch. In this case, you’ll need a contingency plan that is potentially a rework of your entire strategy and approach. While there are hashtag challenges on Instagram, they’re not buyable just yet and advertisers won’t get the same exposure as branded challenges receive as a part of the For You page on TikTok.
- The TikTok Mindset – In paid media, every impression isn’t the same. When trying to gain brand favorability, it helps if you meet users on a platform where they’re already happy. Just when Snapchat claimed the happiest mindset of any social platform, TikTok came around and changed the status quo. Because of the dancing and the originally younger demographic base, the platform became an environment of positivity, education, silliness and fun. Ads on this platform meet users in an open-minded and happier mindset, something invaluable to advertisers attempting to create positive context around their brands.
- Lean In Nature – The only platform that can reproduce the lean in nature of TikTok is YouTube. And even it doesn’t have the same addictive, time-agnostic feed that TikTok has. Generally, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. are all platforms that can be second screens. These feeds are ones that can be mindlessly scrolled through, with less attention placed on the content itself. Simply by forcing audio-on, TikTok required its users to lean in and more actively consume content. For advertisers, an active impression is much more valuable than a passive impression.
All these factors considered, indicate that keeping your ad commitments to TikTok make sense. Certainly, living in uncertainty is not our favorite. But if we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that any sense of ultimate control over our advertising month over month is a myth. All we can do is plan against what we know today, and what we know is that TikTok remains one of the most popular social networks, that takes up the most time spent by any platform and it is as resilient as they come.