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29 Jan

Beauty Brands Eye TikTok Bans but Gen Z Reacts

Beauty Brands Eye TikTok Bans

Slug: News Feed

When the 117th Congress last December passed a huge, $1.7 trillion spending bill that included banning TikTok from all government devices, the favored video-sharing app’s core Gen Z users shrugged. A month later, as a growing list of universities, under pressure from state lawmakers, have also banned the app, they’re beginning to notice.

And so are the sweetness brands which have increasingly relied on TikTok — which has sparked countless beauty trends and viral products (Clinique’s Black Honey, Dior’s Rosy Glow Blush, to call just two) — as a critical marketing tool.

“Our core principle is reach people where they’re,” says Evan Horowitz, CEO and cofounder of creative agency Movers+Shakers, which works closely with brands like E.l.f.. “And without delay, they’re on TikTok.”

Indeed, TikTok is utilized by 67 percent of American teens, based on the Pew Research Center, second only to YouTube (95 percent). And a majority of users are on the app every single day, for greater than an hour every day, while 60 percent are female. With 30 percent of Gen Z using the app for product research, based on Statista, TikTok is increasingly supplanting Google because the go-to search destination for young people, who look to content creator clips to find trending products. Actually, 46 of the 100 most viral products on TikTok last 12 months were beauty products, based on marketing agency Ubiquitous.

The recent bans haven’t exactly disrupted access to the app for a generation that has made TikTok the fastest growing social platform ever, with greater than 100 million lively users since its entrée into the U.S. market. If anything, the universities and universities which have used TikTok to advertise sports teams and other points of campus life have been more affected by the bans than their users, who can easily access the app on their phone data plans.

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Because it became probably the most downloaded app within the U.S. in 2018, it has been a goal of lawmakers who’ve asserted, often with thin evidence, that it has been co-opted by China’s authoritarian government to spy on U.S. users and disseminate propaganda. Donald Trump railed against the app when he was in office, threatening a complete U.S. ban. And India, an emerging economic rival to China, did ban TikTok outright in 2020.

More recently, within the U.S., greater than two dozen states, including Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Recent Jersey, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Idaho, Texas, Maryland, South Dakota and North Carolina, have banned the app on state-owned devices and networks. On Tuesday, Maine became the 28th state to make the app verboten. In fact, few of those affected by the state and (impending) federal ban use the app.

Not so for college kids at the schools which have now pulled the app from their networks including Auburn University, University of Oklahoma, Boise State, University of Texas-Austin and Texas A&M. Officials in Florida recently urged all colleges and universities within the state to ban the app. In response, the University of Florida, the state’s largest university system, released a press release saying there’s a “strong possibility” that it would ban TikTok from its computer networks.

A lot of the states which have banned the app, but not all, are led by Republican governors who’ve declared themselves “China hawks” and who’re likely unfamiliar with the app. They usually definitely aren’t available in the market for a $600 Dyson Airwrap or $14 E.l.f Halo Glow Liquid Filter. (“I’m no TikTok user,” admitted Kay Ivey, Alabama’s 78-year-old governor, last December while announcing her state’s ban.)

And to this point the campus bans have amounted to little but an annoyance. Still, if beauty brands, and their customers, should not panicking, some are proceeding with caution. That’s since the bans have swept through red states within the South, which can also be the epicenter of a crucial beauty constituency: sororities. RushTok and BamaRush (“Bama” being University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa) exploded on the platform in 2021 — with users documenting the late summer ritual of sorority rush, and the hunt to nab an invitation to affix the (mostly white) sororities which might be clustered in Southern universities. The makeup industry has leaned into the frenzy season, says Alanna Marder, senior director of integrated marketing and communications at ColourPop.

“This makes that a extremely questionable activity going forward. If most of that Greek life is within the South and lots of those campuses have TikTok banned, is that the appropriate thing to spend our money on?” she said.

That doesn’t mean the budget-conscious makeup brand is “de-prioritizing TikTok,” continued Marder, who said, “We’re being more calculated about where we invest our energy and funds in TikTok-related initiatives to be sure that these bans aren’t causing a problem with the content or those that we’re attempting to get talking.”

Meanwhile, negotiations between ByteDance and the Biden administration proceed. After several TikTok employees (within the U.S. and China) were fired for errantly obtaining the info of users including journalists, ByteDance moved U.S. users’ TikTok data to a cloud storage system managed by Oracle, the Silicon Valley software company founded by Larry Ellison.

“It’s a really effective way for a small group of politicians to make headlines,” said Horowitz, whose agency produced probably the most viral campaign in TikTok history in 2019 with its #EyesLipsFace original song and video for E.l.f. Cosmetics. It attracted greater than 5 million user-generated videos (including unsolicited content from a bevy of celebrities equivalent to Lizzo, Reese Witherspoon and Ellen DeGeneres) and seven billion views.

However the bans have likely had unintended consequences for the saber-rattling politicians who’ve put them in place.

“It appears to be all talk without delay,” continued Horowitz. “When Trump [was talking about banning TikTok] 4 years ago, it actually drove more attention to TikTok and more fandom across the platform. If there’s one thing that Gen Z loves, it’s to get up for what they imagine in. And without delay the overwhelming majority of Gen Z is pleased to rally around TikTok.”

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