President Trump’s new limits on TikTok are again pressing marketers to prepare for the day they could lose access to the fast-growing social-media app, a conduit to the young audiences they covet.
Advertisers are not rushing to cancel their ad spend on TikTok just yet. Its meteoric rise among younger social media users makes it a compelling bet.
But for most brands that advertise on TikTok, the app remains an experimental outlet, ad buyers said. Fewer than 10% of clients at one top ad-agency holding company are spending on TikTok, according to one executive at the company.
“There is not much to cancel if the bell hasn’t been rung in the first place,” he said.
TikTok said its advertisers are standing by it. “We are receiving strong support from clients and agencies alike as we navigate these unprecedented times,” Blake Chandlee, vice president of global business solutions for TikTok, said in a statement.
On Thursday, President Trump signed an executive order barring U.S. companies or people from doing business with TikTok parent ByteDance Ltd. after 45 days. The order followed months of escalating pressure on TikTok, which was among the Chinese apps banned by India in June following a border clash between the two countries.
The White House has pushed for the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to a U.S. buyer, with Microsoft Corp. emerging as a suitor and seeking to complete a deal by a Sept. 15 deadline.
In a blog post responding to the executive order, TikTok said the Trump administration had acted without due process and unfairly maligned the company’s data practices, which it called standard for mobile apps.
“We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly—if not by the Administration, then by U.S. courts,” it wrote.
But the rising heat on TikTok had its advertisers wondering about alternatives before the executive order came this week, advertisers and ad agencies said. While a ban would cost marketers a prime channel to users in their teens and 20s, brands do have other options.
Ad-buying giant GroupM, for instance, was already advising its client teams to ready contingency plans, said Kieley Taylor, global vice president of social of the company, part of WPP PLC.
“One of those contingencies is to look at creators who are prominent on TikTok, but also might cross-post on other platforms,” she said.
In the event of a ban, this strategy would help brands reach the audiences of those TikTok personalities via other social media, Ms. Taylor said.
And there is no dearth of other platforms. TikTok has an ever-growing pool of rivals, among them Triller Inc., Interspace Technologies Inc., which does business as Byte, and Reels, a format introduced Wednesday by Instagram that uses looping videos á la TikTok. In addition, Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram, has been offering TikTok stars money to post their videos on Reels instead.
But these services are newer and smaller than TikTok, which says it has more than 100 million monthly users in the U.S. and hundreds of millions more around the world. Instagram has over 1 billion.
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., an early brand to TikTok, has not reduced its advertising there.
“We are monitoring the conversation taking place surrounding the future of TikTok,” said Tressie Lieberman, vice president of digital and off-premise for Chipotle. TikTok remains a valuable platform to interact with consumers, she said.
At the same time, however, Chipotle drafted the influencer Dillon Francis to promote its new account on Triller and drive enrollment in the company’s loyalty club, Ms. Lieberman said. Experimenting with new platforms is part of Chipotle’s digital strategy, she said.
“We’ll test, learn and listen to see if Triller is a strong place for positive engagement,” she said.
The possibility of a TikTok ban in the U.S. has created an opening for those competitors, said Barry Lowenthal, chief executive at The Media Kitchen, an agency owned by MDC Partners Inc. “TikTok has a lot going against it right now,” he commented.
TikTok has looked to shield its advertisers if its U.S. service were ultimately banned. In an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, TikTok tried to reassure its advertisers, promising credits or refunds in the event a ban prevented an ad campaign from running or being completed. TikTok even said it would work with brands and creators to move content to another platform, if necessary.
“If there are additional fees, we will work jointly with the brand to come to a mutually beneficial solution,” TikTok said in the email.
The surge in TikTok’s popularity this year helped Movers+Shakers LLC, an agency that specializes in TikTok ads, run 10 times more campaigns for clients since the beginning of the year, said Evan Horowitz, its chief executive.
They, like others, have had to figure out what they would do if a ban were imposed. But the reasons people go to TikTok—viral challenges, dances and comedy videos—aren’t going away, Mr. Horowitz said.
“Those consumer preferences can’t be banned,” he added. “If the app is banned, how do consumers satisfy those desires on other platforms? That’s what we’ve started to think about more seriously.”
Write to Sahil Patel at [email protected]
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