TikTok hires RPA and Initiative to ramp up U.S. marketing efforts
TikTok, the short-form video app popular among teens, confirmed that it has hired four agencies to handle its U.S. advertising efforts: RPA, IPG Mediabrands' Initiative, Montreal-based agency Sid Lee and Channel, a small creative and production shop based in San Francisco.
A TikTok spokeswoman declined to provide additional details, including whether or not the new partnerships are the results of a review.
Sid Lee confirmed to Ad Age that TikTok awarded it lead social responsibilities in March. The agency's U.S. division handles community-management services for the brand across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
According to people close to the business, creative duties in the U.S. will be split between Channel and independent Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA, which will also handle some strategic work. Initiative is responsible for media efforts.
Those people said that the appointments of RPA and Channel follow a RFP sent out in February for a creative agency of record. Droga5 was reportedly also invited into the pitch but the creative agency that was recently bought by Accenture Interactive declined to participate.
They added that TikTok had already been working with Channel before the review was launched. Channel and RPA were reportedly both given three projects initially.
RPA and Initiative both declined to comment, while Channel did not respond to requests for comment.
TikTok is reportedly seeking to build brand recognition in the U.S., according to the people, as well as differentiate itself from social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Instead, they said, TikTok aims to position itself as an entertainment and content platform like YouTube.
R3 co-Founder and Principal Greg Paull estimated TikTok's annual global measured media spend to be currently around $50 million.
Paull, who praised TikTok as the "No. 1 app" in the world right now, said it may be difficult for the rising platform, recognized as one of Ad Age's Hottest Brands of 2019, to compete with YouTube over social media players.
"TikTok still has a long way to go to match YouTube’s content platform, so it needs to be connected first to more creators," Paull said. "It has much stronger chops in the social sphere, where it continues to drive heavy usage outside the U.S."
Still, TikTok could stand to gain, and avoid further headaches, by distancing itself from the social functions of its app, such as direct messaging between users.
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has come under fire in the U.S. and now in the U.K. for the way it not only stores and manages the personal data of underage users—but allows adult users to interact with them.
In February, TikTok was ordered to pay $5.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that Musical.ly (which merged and was folded into TikTok last year) illegally stored data from underage users and refused parents' requests to delete it. The FTC also raised concerns on how adults can contact children through the app's open-messaging system.
TikTok said in February that the data collection in question was no longer standard practice and had taken place before Musical.ly and TikTok merged. TikTok then launched a series of safety videos and began filtering younger users into an app experience with stricter protections.
Still, U.K. regulators confirmed on Tuesday that they have opened an investigation into TikTok over the same concerns the FTC raised in February, including the collection of young users' data and how the app protects children from adult users.