Media Buying Briefing: Can TikTok’s social impact program attract creators as it faces uncertainty?

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

TikTok last week launched another creator program as social platforms continue battling over creators — and media agencies say it could help keep Gen Z and creators on the app and drive growth for brands during uncertain times.

“Gen Z has a deep connection to impactful advocacy, and the associated content seems to make waves with other demographics on the platform as well,” said Nickey Rautenberg, director of content performance at influencer agency HireInfluence.

The TikTok Change Makers Program is the platform’s first six-month social impact program involving a group of 50 creators and nonprofits globally, aimed at supporting them to “drive an even greater impact around their causes,” TikTok said in announcing the program. The goal is to promote social change and creators or nonprofits using #TikTokforGood, with a $1 million donation to 30 global and local organizations to support their work.

While the program doesn’t work directly with agencies, Grace Murray Vazquez, vp of strategy at influencer agency Fohr, explained that this initiative comes at an important time for the platform to show it is investing in social causes and continue growing its influencer marketing. And it could be a boon for agencies that handle pro-social clients. It also helps to cast TikTok in a more positive light.

“This approach is more a statement from TikTok about who they are and the global and cultural value of the platform,” Vazquez said. “The list of creators is a strong counterweight to the perception in the U.S. that TikTok is a hotbed of misinformation and a security threat.”

This comes as ongoing talks of a ban or sale of TikTok continue in the U.S., with the company last week reportedly planning big layoffs of its operations and marketing teams. Cuts will impact support, communications, content, with the current global user operations team dissolving and moving to other departments, per The Information.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment on the program.

Reaching Gen Z and new audiences

With its precarious position right now, TikTok’s move to highlight its social change content could turn out to be a “solid PR play,” provided it can get influencers to jump on the opportunity and perhaps move away from criticisms of promoting consumerism (TikTok Made Me Buy It), Rautenberg contended.

“This feels like a very authentic and organic move for TikTok, while also smart and strategic,” said Rautenberg. “It allows brands to attach themselves to creators and causes that still bring a lot of impressions and views, and doesn’t hold that barrier of simply paying someone to promote your company.”

Additionally, the program could help maintain its appeal to Gen Z audiences with an affinity towards brands involved in social issues. Kevin Gonsalves, director of strategy at Dentsu’s social agency, said using socially-driven strategies is part of a growing trend for agencies – whether it’s participating in TikTok’s programs or collaborating on fundraising campaigns, events and using educational content to align with a brand’s cause.

“Incorporating a takeover where the influencers can share their perspective would also lend a powerful perspective on the cause that is more personal than it might be coming from a brand,” Gonsalves said. “Gen Z and even millennials align with brands that prioritize social responsibility.”

Connor Jones, vp of marketing at social media agency Butterfly 3ffect, added that this incentive could also help the platform attract audiences and creators that go beyond using it as an entertainment app. The move could show “positive impact and [the] value it brings … and given the looming U.S. legal verdict, [it] has never been more important to spotlight for the platform,” said Jones.

Expanding social areas in influencer marketing

As TikTok fights back on a potential ban or sale in the U.S., influencer agencies and creators have been making contingency plans to move their audiences and investments onto other platforms and diversify their reach through other ways. Research this month on creators found 62.7% of them consider TikTok an important part of their social media strategy — but 49% of them are already expanding to other platforms, while 21.1% are planning to do that soon, per audio company Epidemic Sound.

Yet these types of programs can help grow this area of influencer marketing by providing another way for brands to connect with creators in a vetted process, regardless of platform. Haylee Jason, director of influencer marketing at media agency Wpromote, said many mission-oriented clients work with influencers and creators to engage with Gen Z. Programs like this from TikTok makes these creators “even more attractive to our clients,” Jason said.

“From a brand safety perspective, the program will also help brands feel more confident about aligning with specific creators around causes or sensitive social issues because these potential partners have been vetted by TikTok,” Jason added.

Sophie Crowther, talent partnerships director at Billion Dollar Boy, added: “It means that brands for right or wrong are showing more interest in supporting a variety of ethical causes. It also means there’s more space for creators to collaborate on ethical partnership campaigns.”

The impact remains to be seen in coming weeks as the program gets rolled out, but a recent study by Billion Dollar Boy suggests that there is room for growth with influencers in charitable and social impact ads.

“In a recent partnership with Meta, Billion Dollar Boy analyzed over 300 ads by charities and found that less than 1% were using creators in their campaigns,” Crowther said.

Color by numbers

Does in-store advertising actually work? A new study of over 1,000 U.S. shoppers from ADvendio seems to indicate some degree of engagement: 64% of U.S. shoppers admit to impulsive buying when physically in a store, and 67% said they bought a product they hadn’t intended to after seeing an in-store ad. Apparently that holds true for 78% millennials. — Michael Bürgi

Other findings:

  • U.S. shoppers engage with 37% of ads served in-store, compared to 33% for traditional online ads.
  • 54% of shoppers have bought an item after seeing it advertised in a grocery store.
  • On the negative side, 66% of consumers said they receive unpersonalized ads, and 75% often get served ads they aren’t interested in
  • This comes at a cost: 39% are less loyal to retailers who don’t personalize content to them, and 46% of consumers spend less with retailers who fail to deliver tailored content. 

Takeoff & landing

  • Account moves: As reported by Digiday recently, Dentsu X won media AOR duties for southern restaurant chain Zaxby’s … Independent Canvas Worldwide won media AOR duties for health food provider GT’s Living Food … Independent Arm Candy won media AOR duties for Rust-Oleum.
  • Personnel moves: Digital marketing independent REQ named Elizabeth Shea its new president … Cinema ad firm National CineMedia hired former PHD U.S. CEO Catherine Sullivan as its president of sales, marketing and partnership … Pennsylvania-based independent Universal Media Inc./Universal Sports & Entertainment promoted Kyle Cook to president/chief strategy officer. 
  • John Wolfe, who most recently handled communications for the ANA, but did the same for the 4As and GroupM before that, and was once the New York Bureau chief for Ad Age, passed away last week at the age of 72. Many in the industry remembered him on social media as a smart, thoughtful, supportive exec. Digiday sends condolences to his family.

Direct quote

“Margin compression [by clients] led to a situation where agencies were looking for opportunities for revenue, and the supply chain in the buying practices offered some opportunities for them to be able to meet the margin reduction that their clients were asking for — and find the necessary revenue to keep their businesses solvent. Going through that analysis, many marketing organizations began to understand that the way they were paying [their agencies] and the amount they were paying their agenc[ies] wasn’t even covering their costs. How do you expect them to operate as businesses in that scenario? I think it was revealing for clients.”

— Jay Pattisall, vp and senior agency analyst at Forrester, explaining a side effect that marketers uncovered as a result of the ANA report on agency rebates in 2016.

Speed reading

  • I wrote about mini-holding company Goodway Group launching a retail media accelerator called G-Comm, along with a brand visibility agency called Gradiant.
  • Alexander Lee looked into the potential child-safety challenges Roblox can expect to run into as it expands its ad network.
  • Krystal Scanlon got her hands on the pitch deck for Amazon’s Performance+ , which is meant to make campaign creation and management easy for marketers.

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