Venkata Susmita Biswas
TikTok is the latest social platform to have come under fire for hosting inappropriate content. The short-video mobile app faced a week-long ban on new downloads just as brands were warming up to the idea of getting on board. In the past, YouTube had faced a similar backlash for allowing racist and violent content to be posted on the platform. Consequently, Unilever and Procter & Gamble pulled out their advertising monies from the video streaming site.
Sites and apps that allow users to share original content run the risk of becoming conduits for bad content, which could affect brands unfavourably. Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD, Isobar South Asia, says brand safety outweighs the concern of ad fraud.
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The soaring popularity of TikTok inspired marketers to regard it as a potent advertising platform, but the recent controversy has them holding on to their purses. “We were considering options to redeploy budgets for TikTok. But by then, the controversy hit and we had to put things on hold,” says Sowmya Iyer, founder & CEO, DViO Digital.
Advertiser interest in TikTok was primarily directed at targetting youth in the 13-25 demographic, who “migrated away from Facebook and Instagram in search of a place that parents were not using,” says Shradha Agarwal, COO, Grapes Digital. The platform also saw high adoption in the non-metro regions. The most popular brand engagement model on TikTok has been the ‘Hashtag Challenge’. Brands simply roped in a few influencers to perform a certain act and then challenge their followers to do the same. Among brands that have used TikTok for marketing campaigns are Vivo, Clean & Clear, Myntra, SBI and HDFC. Bollywood movies, too — Gully Boy and Kalank for example — had taken to the app to drive conversations.
The big draw is that “on TikTok, users don’t have to be original, unlike on Instagram. All one needs to do is replicate something that already exists,” says Ashutosh Harbola, CEO, Buzzoka.
Call for regulation
Experts are now calling for stringent self-regulation on TikTok. Although it’s back on the app stores, putting brand safety norms in place will be crucial for TikTok to get advertisers on board . “For such platforms, it is a matter of hygiene to have algorithms and tools in place to identify and weed out bad content,” says Jasani.
Following multiple instances of ads appearing next to improper content online, both YouTube and Facebook have put in place processes to check the quality of content that is posted, and given advertisers control over where their ads appear.
YouTube has brand safety targetting to ensure advertisers only purchase inventory that meets or exceeds their brand safety requirements. It also lets advertisers block inventory based on the subject matter of the surrounding content. Similarly, Facebook lets advertisers decide which publishers they would like to block, and choose the categories of content that suit the brand. “TikTok needs to have strong AI-led and manual screening processes to reassure advertisers,” Iyer shares.
But can such platforms really run a tight ship? At the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers conference held in March, Nishma Robb, Google’s UK marketing director, admitted that the company might never be able to guarantee “100% safety” for brands on YouTube. “These platforms are built to give users the power to share what they create; the risk of dark and inappropriate content will remain,” adds Jasani.