Is TikTok worth the effort?

The popular Chinese app was created in 2016, growing in its hone market until splashing down in the mainstream just before COVID. The short form video platform is big, like 1bn active monthly users big. The majority are Gen Z or younger so brands love the platform.

Its biggest market today is still China (after it was banned in India), and the platform is skewed 60/40 towards women in the largest, under 30, demographic. Depressingly, this summer TikTok became the No.1 news site for young British teenagers (aged 12-15). Roll forward to the 2050s, and we may have an emerging generation of right-leaning leaders brought up on a diet of ultra-processed, China-hosted, misinformation. *sigh*

Longer term?

Tiktok is feeling the weight as it uncomfortably carries the “Chinese state control” tag. Awkwardly, this has seen it outright banned in India and some smaller countries and US states. More significantly, dozens of governments and NGO have restricted its use due to seemingly legitimate concerns around spying and a worsening geopolitical situation around China and its insular policies.

Regulation is only likely to increase over tine as Chinese political aggression is also expected to rise. And FAANGS are actively going after it from three sides; political lobbying, technical plagiarism & innovation, and walled garden management.

TikTok also seems to be the target of blame for sections of the older rightwing which (ignorantly as usual) is moving its way into the narrative of the right as a platform perceived to support (too open?) democracy and fuel terrorism. There is probably a xenophobic undertone to this, but if you recall, Trump created an executive order banning outright the platform in 2020 so maybe it should be expected as much of the liberal-democracy world doesn’t understand China.

Worse still, Gen Z and successive generations are not, as widely thought, liberal but increasingly right-wing and whilst they may not yet identify as right wing, or have the power and influence to push state politics in that direction. But they will, given time.

So, is it worth it?

Well, if your typical customer is under 30, more likely to be female, left of centre, and doesn’t work in government then there are sone tactical opportunities in the next year or three. But, would I build a long-term plan around TikTok? Absolutely not, it is not a sustainable source of business fuel, so … “ahm oot” to quote Duncan Bannatyne.

However .. and there is always a however, the marketing purist in me understands the relationship that older people have with youth.

Founded in the belief that most over 40s wish and often act as if they are a generation younger, pushing a “youth” adoption narrative can have the effect of nudging the older generations into adopting a younger trend. This has manifest itself in middle-aged men in skinny jeans and late-middle aged women wearing Lulu Lemon sports to go shopping.

This neo-classic aspirational approach has a place where the youth trend is new and amazing and the older generations can relate to: designer lagers, snowboarding, smartphones, fintech banking, Facebook, SnapChat, sneakers etc have all gone through this phase and are now the mainstays of middle-class-middle-aged living.

But, as a way to drive direct response-based marketing campaigns? Nope.