Why American Express invests in TikTok ahead of Small Business Saturday

The lead image shows an illustration of money with the TikTok logo in the center.

American Express joined the wave of brands flocking to TikTok to reach its Gen Z user base and niche communities.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the financial brand launched its official brand account and partnered with TikTok, for an accelerator program to further its push in getting people to shop small.

As TikTok becomes an increasingly important marketing channel for small business owners, it made sense for Amex to partner with the platform and “really help small business owners reach a new generation of customers,” said Marianne Rausch, vp of Small Business Saturday and Shop Small, and global ad and brand management at American Express.

On TikTok, #ShopSmall has nearly 5 billion views. As small businesses invest in the platform, Amex too is rolling out its partnership with TikTok as well as a paid and organic strategy. It’s a move to boost Amex’s #ShopSmall campaign with Gen Z TikTok users and connect them with small businesses. (The details of Amex’s TikTok spend are unclear as the company did not respond to a request in time for publication.)

The effort is meant to encourage people to shop small and spurs Small Business Saturday sales. Businesses that sign up for the partnership get access to resources like best practices, insight from big name TikTok creators and become eligible to receive $100 in TikTok ad credit after spending $50 worth of credits.

“We’re seeing more businesses really lean in on TikTok because they feel like it’s a fun and easy experience,” said Sofia Hernandez, global head of business marketing at TikTok. “All they need is really a phone and an idea.”

So far this year, Amex has spent more than $142 million on digital advertising, significantly down from the $222 million spent the year prior, according to Pathmatics. From January through June of this year, Kantar reports that Amex spent $135 million on advertising, a decrease from the $248 million spent in 2021. (Kantar figures do not include social spend as Pathmatics figures do. Pathmatics does not track linear television spend.)

It’s the latest in Amex’s push to get people to shop small, dating back to the 2008 financial crisis and, more recently, post-pandemic recovery. Earlier this year, the company leveraged QR codes and billboards to promote small businesses.

Amex is the latest brand in a slew of them looking to take advantage of TikTok’s fast-growing communities. Earlier this year, Penguin Random House made a deal with the platform that allowed users to link to books in videos using #BookTok. Meanwhile, online literature platform Wattpad is using the hashtag for organic growth. (More on how small businesses are using TikTok here.)

It’s a trend Mack McKelvey, founder and CEO of Salient MG marketing agency, expects to continue, especially as TikTok works to up its ad offerings.

“As you see things like that become much more integrated in TikTok’s offerings, you’re going to see an explosion of DTC and also consumer facing commerce brands really start to come into their own in a big way on TikTok,” she said.

By leveraging a paid and organic presence on the platform, layered in with a community-building accelerator program, Amex is on the right track and creating a presence that’s organic to the nature of TikTok, McKelvey added.

“They are really coming in a three-prong approach, which to me is absolutely the right way to test, because they’re going to get a world of learnings from all three approaches that will feed their ultimate strategy,” she said.

It’s too early to tell what the results of Amex’s TikTok efforts are. But the financial brand says its activations around Small Business Saturday are “very intentional.”

“What we really tried to be very intentional about is listening to our small business owners and building a program around what we hear from them that they feel that they need or are interested in,” Rausch said.


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