Media Buying Briefing: Influencer agencies prep worst-case scenarios if TikTok gets banned

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 →

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill, sending it to the Senate that would force social platform owner, China-based ByteDance to sell — or face a ban in the U.S. Although influencer agencies expect to see delays and pushback to a potential ban, they believe there could be other long-term consequences for social advertising.

“If you’ve been reliant on one platform, perhaps that’s what you’re solely known for, you’ll need to reinvent yourself and get out of the pigeonhole of being a TikTok influencer agency,” said James Hacking, founder of influencer agency Socially Powerful. “It will encourage global and small agencies to put their eggs in many baskets, both market and platform-wise.”

Impact on brands and platforms

In the short term, a TikTok ban could cause investments to move to Meta platforms, YouTube, Amazon ads or even some emerging apps like Flip — sort of “a TikTok shop on steroids,” Hacking explained. “We’ll see a lot of diversification from brands who are looking to deploy budgets onto other platforms.”

Ed East, co-founder and group CEO of Billion Dollar Boy, referenced that TikTok’s ban in India in 2020 resulted in creators and brands moving their budgets to YouTube Shorts — this “demonstrates the resilience of the creator economy,” East added.

Heather Nichols, CEO of Acorn Influence, agreed that money could shift to YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels if TikTok is forced to leave the U.S. Nichols mentioned that YouTube Shorts in particular shows “great cost effectiveness for paid amplification to accomplish qualified reach.”

But migrating from one platform to another may not be as easy as it sounds. Nichols noted that many TikTok influencers are not on Instagram, and this will affect their reach on different apps. East mentioned that it’s uncertain whether other social media apps offer a comparably “potent algorithm” like TikTok’s, which has helped the platform reach massive followings.

“This will be significantly disruptive for [millions of influencers] that are small businesses [owners],” Nichols added. “Creator content is specific to platform and does not translate one to one.”

Shifting social strategies

While the possibility of a TikTok ban or limitation is still evolving at this time, social and influencer agencies are putting certain measures in place to protect from losses in audience, commerce business and other traffic from the app. For example, Socially Powerful always utilizes at least three platforms per influencer to minimize risks and ensure they have audiences in different apps.

“Should the ban happen, it would be a disaster for brands that have developed huge audiences – especially for those where TikTok is a crucial driver for traffic to e-commerce websites,” Hacking said.

Nichols added that having influencers go through a request for proposal during this time could be helpful in “aligning campaign opportunities and brand goals with a vetted, proven and curated roster.” But it will take time to educate their influencers as changes happen — the strategy is to focus on a “parallel process” with clients on pivoting and meeting campaign metrics on other platforms.

“Share your view on the benefits of YouTube Shorts and Reels, leveraging platform specific content that performs,” Nichols said.

Michael Dobson, global chief digital officer at Involved Media, said he expects disruptions or a ban to fuel more competition and increase advertising costs on the other platforms. This might push advertisers to get creative on adapting other kinds of content and formats on similar platforms to continue engaging users.

“While this would be beneficial for other platforms on media spend, one of the challenges would be that TikTok is known for its unique and engaging ad formats, such as sponsored challenges and branded content,” Dobson said.

What about TikTok’s photo app?

Right now, agencies are also keeping an eye on recent talk of TikTok developing an Instagram-like photo app called TikTok Photos — and whether the company releases it as a standalone app or rolls it into the existing platform. Thomas Walters, Europe CEO and co-founder of Billion Dollar Boy, noted the curious timing of creating a potential TikTok Photos app while the flagship app faces increasing risk.

“Is the parent company looking to diversify its suite of platforms in order to protect itself?” Walters asked. “If so, it could be a risky strategy, with legislators previously exploring ways to force ByteDance to divest its U.S. operations to an American tech major. Would TikTok Photos be forced to face a similar fate?”

As Dobson noted, uncertainties remain with regulating TikTok, but ultimately this process will “require advertisers to adapt their strategies” as they navigate scrutiny across social media businesses going forward.

Color by numbers

With estimates for 2024 political ad spending in the U.S. going as high as $16 billion, thanks to what’s going to be an epic (and terrifying for both sides) presidential election, the out-of-home media industry is making its argument for why it will attract some of those dollars. The OAAA and firm Morning Consult surveyed 1,616 likely 2024 voters aged 18-64, and their findings about OOH as a vehicle for political ads show that:

  • 34% say the ads don’t interrupt their listening, reading or viewing experience like most other political ads
  • 28% say the ads are readily visible
  • 25% say the ads are easily shared on social media
  • 24% say the ads are short-form

Additionally, OOH ads are more likely to be seen as informative (53%) compared to most other media sources including:

  • AM/FM radio: 50%
  • Other streaming audio: 49%
  • Cable TV: 49%
  • Social media: 38%
  • Subscription streaming video: 35%

Takeoff & landing

  • Omnicom’s OMD partnered with attention firm Amplified Intelligence and Snap to measure and assess how augmented reality lenses capture audiences’ attention. The testing will start in the U.S. and U.K., but plans are to expand to other markets.
  • Havas expanded its social chops by purchasing independent shop Wilderness, which specializes in social marketing efforts for entertainment clients including film studios and networks but has more recently expanded into FMCG, food and travel categories.
  • Marketing experience company Quad expanded its media-side offerings by rebranding its digital marketing arm Rise Interactive to Rise, as it widens its palette to include brand, performance and content services.
  • Account moves: Dentsu’s iProspect landed U.S. media duties for Ferrero Group, rounding out global media duties for brands including Nutella and Kinder, among others … Independent Mediassociates won media planning, buying and analytics duties for retailer Destination XL Group, which operates Big + Tall stores … Independent performance/brand agency Within won North American media duties for Foot Locker.
  • Personnel moves: Publicis Collective made several hires and moves last week, hiring Meghan Grant from Havas Media Network to be chief client officer for global integrated accounts; moving Ben Ochnio from president of investment to chief investment officer; promoting Kate Masen from evp to president of strategy, and Larry Marantette from evp to president of insights and analytics … Horizon Media named Robert Jenkyn its new president of Canadian operations, replacing Kevin Kivi.

Direct quote

“There’s an expression that I grew up hearing: You’ve got to work your jelly. It’s about whatever you got, how little of an amount of jelly you’ve got to work around the bagel. You got to make it work. And Michael knew how to his jelly better than anybody — he had to.”

— Lou Paskalis, founder and CEO of AJL Advisory, on MediaLink founder and CEO Michael Kassan, who’s embroiled in lawsuits with the firm’s current owner UTA. Read more about it.

Speed reading

  • Ronan Shields looked into the ANA’s efforts to bring more clarity to the programmatic world with the creation of benchmarking reports to help its members track media spending.
  • Marty Swant did a deep dive into what Section 230 is, since we keep hearing about the rule, created in the 1990s, to regulate speech on the internet.
  • Michael Bürgi covered the news that National CineMedia plans to introduce guaranteed business outcomes and roll out access to its inventory by programmatic means in this year’s upfront.
  • And I wrote about how Publicis’ Razorfish is the first holding company agency to put together its own crew of creators to via its Creator Colab.
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