As time ticks on TikTok, what impact might a ban have on marketers?
Social Media

As time ticks on TikTok, what impact might a ban have on marketers?

Alex Sheppard
Alex Sheppard • 22/05/2024

The Rise of TikTok:

TikTok first in launched in 2017 but usage accelerated in the COVID pandemic – in Q1 of 2020 alone, the app had 315 million downloads, which is the best quarter ever experienced by an app (JWI). There are now approximately 1.12 billion TikTok users who use the platform daily or more, worldwide (GWI Core).

Social Media Platform Usage
Source: GWI Core, Worldwide, Waves: Q4 2020 – Q4 2023, Social Media Usage: Daily or More

TikTok has become a regular feature on media plans, especially for brands looking to target younger demographics. Amongst the leading social media platforms, TikTok’s ad revenue has overtaken X (formerly Twitter) and Snapchat and is expected to reach $13.79 billion per year by 2026 (Statista).

As TikTok has expanded its user-base, concerns about data security have also grown and the USA is looking to ban usage of the platform. Calls to ban the platform have come from both sides of the political spectrum with lawmakers fearing that the Chinese government is receiving data on the 170 million US users of the platform from the platform’s Hong Kong-based owner ByteDance. Legislation banning the app has been signed by President Joe Biden (BBC).

The ban of TikTok would send shockwaves through the media landscape, but proactive action from brands can help minimise potential losses. An effective understanding of your audience’s media and social media behaviours can not just help the effective re-distribution of budget, but marketers can also have faith that their channel selection can still maintain impact.

Awareness & Support of the Ban:

In the US, awareness of plans to ban TikTok is high, with 91% aware of the potential ban.

TikTok Ban
Source: GWI April 2024 Zeitgeist: TikTok Ban, USA, Awareness of TikTok Ban, Number of Responses: 2,075

When it comes to whether US consumers think the ban is a positive or negative move, attitudes are varied. Just over a quarter (25%) feel apathetic to the prospective ban while 22% are very unsupportive and very supportive.

TikTok Ban
Source: GWI April 2024 Zeitgeist: TikTok Ban, USA, Support of TikTok Ban, Number of Responses: 2,075
TikTok Ban
Source: GWI April 2024 Zeitgeist: TikTok Ban, USA, Support of TikTok Ban, Number of Responses: 2,075, Split by Demographic

Unsurprisingly, over a third (38%) of Gen Z are ‘very unsupportive’ of a US ban but what is a surprise here is the % of Gen Z who are neither unsupportive nor supportive (25%). Is this because they have no say on the issue? Or is this because Gen Z can get their favourite elements of TikTok on other social platforms?

Alternative Platform Usage:

Which platforms do you use for the following?

Alternative Platform Usage
Source: GWI Core, Waves: Q1 – Q4 2023, Social Media Actions by Platform

For Gen Z, TikTok is the top social platform for finding funny/entertaining content, but Instagram provides the same use for 48%.  Similarly, 32% use TikTok to keep up to date with news/the world but X also serves that use for 31%.

While TikTok has a huge cultural role and impact, shaping trends, influencing fashion and music, Gen Z are able to lean on other platforms for different uses. With 62% of TikTok users also on Instagram and 47% also regularly using YouTube, it’s likely that we’ll see an influx of TikTok users on these platforms to create and share their short-form content.

Alternative Platform Usage
Source: GWI Core, Waves: Q1 – Q4 2023, Social Media Platform Usage: Daily, More Than Once Daily, Base: Regular TikTok users

What it means for marketers:

As we move forward, there is a sense of unknown surrounding ByteDance’s next steps: both the total ban of TikTok and its sale face potential hurdles.

Not many companies can afford to buy TikTok. With US revenue between $16 billion and $20 billion in 2023 (The Information) a valuation of $100 billion doesn’t seem far-fetched. Companies like Meta have the problem of anti-competition laws while another possible deterrent is whether TikTok’s recommendation engine, which is responsible for the platform’s addictive algorithm, would be included in the sale (Reuters). Without it, it’s hard to believe that the new owner could emulate the core component of the platform that users love.

If ByteDance choose not to sell, TikTok would not immediately disappear from phones. It would however disappear from Apple and Google’s app stores, so users won’t be able to download it and it also means that updates, security patches, and bug fixes won’t be sent, making the app eventually unusable.

If TikTok does not sell and slowly becomes defunct, then we may shift towards a new media landscape that benefits Instagram, YouTube, and even Snapchat who have the highest share of users who also use TikTok at 58%. Whether platforms will shift to prioritise short-form video content to help fill the gap left by TikTok will be interesting to see, but what’s for certain is marketers need to evaluate where the opportunity for their brands can be found across other social platforms.

For marketers, either US-based or running activity in the US, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start considering what the absence of TikTok means for your media plans and budgets.

USA TikTok users spend an average of 3 hours and 02 minutes on social media (GWI Core), and we know that TikTok users are likely to be on Instagram and YouTube in particular, so upping investment in these channels means driving impact with your audience is still possible. The vertical short-form aspects of these platforms also mean your curated TikTok creative can still apply to stories and reels on Instagram and shorts on YouTube.

To find out more on how ROAST can support your business, or more specifically to find out more about a ban on TikTok get in touch here.