What Brands Should Know in the (Unlikely) Event of a TikTok Ban

Avoid losing Gen Z

tik tok
Halting advertising on the platform is not the answer. Kacy Burdette

It’s been a few weeks since the news broke about the Trump administration considering a TikTok ban. With growing tensions between the U.S. and China, loyal TikTok users and brands are wondering when and if this could happen, and more importantly, what a world without TikTok would look like.

Late last year, when its data protection practices were called into question by Congress and the general public, TikTok revealed that it stores all U.S. user data in the United States, with a backup in Singapore, and is currently posturing to make additional changes to distance themselves further from China. In an attempt to thwart a possible ban, U.S. investors in ByteDance are in talks to buy a majority stake in TikTok. Some corporations have advised employees to delete the app from company devices for added security measures. While this ban is unlikely, many are still taking it seriously and are preparing for the worst. For advertisers, it’s crucial to be aware of how a ban would impact their customers and selling strategy, and to develop a plan of action that makes sense.

Until we know for sure that TikTok is going to be banned, why pull out now? TikTok’s advertising value lies in its ability to draw authentic engagement from Gen Z and millennials faster than any other channel available today. Are TikTok ads and sponsored posts really so impactful to warrant running new campaigns on the platform in the face of a ban? Absolutely. For instance, Chipotle’s #GuacDance challenge ran last summer for six days and drove 430 million video starts and 250,000 TikTok submissions, which resulted in a 68% increase in avocado usage.

A ban would certainly cut short the potential for late-coming brands to realize the full value of TikTok, whereas early adopting brands have had a leg up on establishing an audience and driving leads before the ban.

If the viral potential of TikTok campaigns isn’t enough to convince brands that are on the fence about utilizing the app, they can also look to veteran TikTok advertisers who understand the immediate value it can bring. They clearly haven’t been deterred since the ban news broke. For instance, e.l.f. Cosmetics began a TikTok campaign with influencer Marlene Mendez on July 19. Hollister also announced a back-to-school campaign on July 16, partnering with TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Pugliano, that included a viral dance and hashtag.

A ban would certainly cut short the potential for late-coming brands to realize the full value of TikTok, whereas early adopting brands have had a leg up in establishing an audience and driving leads before the ban. But the viral, quick-hitting power of campaigns on TikTok outweigh the risks, even for brands just getting started.

Let’s look ahead now. If TikTok is banned, where will advertisers go? Of course, it depends on the specific brand and the audience they’re trying to reach. And options could be limited due to the Facebook boycott. Even if those brands do end up flocking back to Facebook, it will not be an adequate substitute to the hyperviral growth that TikTok has been able to provide, especially when it comes to reaching Gen Z and millennial users. Brands may shift spending to comparable video-sharing platforms where influencers and creatives migrate, including Snapchat, which experienced a stock bump when the TikTok ban was announced. Or we might see an increase in spending for ads or product placements across streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube if users turn to these venues for entertainment in the absence of TikTok.

While a TikTok ban is unlikely, brands must be aware of the potential implications and prepare for the worst so they avoid losing their footing in the minds of consumers and, perhaps more importantly, losing the attention and buying power of the younger demographic that has come to love TikTok. In the meantime, halting TikTok advertising is not the answer and rather, brands should do the opposite and move forward with quick-hitting campaigns that can drive awareness and engagement even during what might be the app’s final weeks (don’t let the rumors scare you). On the whole, brands must keep their eyes on a post-TikTok future while also remaining conscious of the value it offers them in the present.

Justin Kline is co-founder of Markerly.