What a potential TikTok ban could mean to pharma advertisers


What a potential TikTok ban could mean to pharma advertisers


The most popular social media platform at the moment is TikTok, but as the current administration cracks down on monopolies, anticompetitive practices, as well as media companies under foreign ownership, the future of TikTok hangs in the balance.

In the latest news surrounding the ban on TikTok, ByteDance, the platform’s Chinese parent company, has sued the U.S. government arguing that the new law violates the First Amendment, and that divestiture is not possible. ​

The lawsuit follows closely on the heels of President Biden signing the National Security Act into law on April 24, 2024, forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a national ban. Under the terms of the law, ByteDance has nine months to sell, with a possible 90-day extension if a sale is in progress. If it chooses not to divest, it faces a national ban. ​

The TikTok bill, which was originally introduced back in March as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, was developed to ensure that sensitive user data generated by U.S. citizens is not seized and exploited by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Lawmakers believe a worst-case scenario involves the CCP leveraging this data to serve ads that advance the ideals or agendas of China, to unsuspecting U.S., TikTok users. After a lack of movement on the standalone bill, a measure was added to the $95 billion foreign aid package, receiving bipartisan support and passing in both the Senate and the House. 

TikTok’s response

ByteDance claims the law violates the First Amendment rights of the 170 million American TikTok users – indicating its unconstitutional infringement on free speech and expression. The brand argues that the platform has become a vital space for Americans to communicate, share content, and engage with other users and that a ban would deprive users of their ability to exercise their free speech rights, via the social media platform.

The platform also argues that divestiture is neither commercially, nor technologically viable. It has stated that rearchitecting the source code is not feasible within the 270-day timeframe, and that TikTok without the algorithm, effectively neuters the most powerful content recommendation engine in existence right now.

​The lawsuit also draws attention to what it describes as a lack of material evidence that the app poses a national security threat, such that a ban would be warranted.

The case will likely result in a prolonged legal battle and some legal experts predict it will make its way to the Supreme Court. At this point, TikTok’s fate rests in the hands of the courts, although a change in administration also might mean that TikTok is off the hook. Republican leadership, namely former President Trump, has indicated that he believes TikTok is no longer a threat, and for this reason, he would not pursue a ban if he was reelected.

What should brands do right now to prepare?

​While TikTok’s fate remains uncertain, the timing presents an important reminder for brands on social media channels to diversify their content and channel mix. In preparation for a potential ban, brands with an existing presence on TikTok should take a page from creator’s playbooks, deploying assets to other popular vertical video platforms, like Meta Reels, or YouTube Shorts.

Not only does Meta Reels offer a seamless vertical video integration for brands who already have a presence on Facebook or Instagram, it also makes MLR (Medical, Legal, and Regulatory) submissions exponentially more efficient, as well as planning and buying.

More than 140 billion Reels play across Facebook and Instagram every day. With Threads advertising on the horizon, Meta’s offerings are becoming even more attractive, providing brands an opportunity for a one-stop-shop between vertical video products and traditional in-feed placements.  ​

What to consider for the future?

Brands who are currently active on TikTok should remain active, while also proactively hedging to other vertical video platforms, as mentioned above. This is especially true in health and life sciences as TikTok is somewhat surreptitiously taking the place of Dr. Google, with 1 in 5 patients consulting the platform before seeing their physician.

Conversely, for clients who have not yet invested in TikTok, or are just now considering it, our advice is to instead invest in Reels, YouTube Shorts, or other vertical video platforms. Many creators are migrating to these platforms anyway so regardless of whether TikTok is banned, these other platforms are still benefitting from a traffic bump.

Ashley Haden, EVERSANA INTOUCH Ashley Haden is the media director of paid social with EVERSANA INTOUCH . She can be reached at [email protected].