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TikTok spends millions on ad campaigns as Congress considers banning the app| GuyWhoKnowsThings


In a television commercial, Sister Monica Clare, a nun from northern New Jersey, walks through a sun-drenched church and sits on a bench and crosses herself. Her message: TikTok is a force for good.

“Thanks to TikTok, I have created a community where people can feel safe asking questions about spirituality,” he says in the advertisement.

Sister Monica Clare is one of several TikTok fans, along with slurring ranchers, a Navy veteran known as Patriotic Kenny and businessmen, whom the company is highlighting in commercials as it faces intense scrutiny in Washington.

“TikTok definitely has a branding problem in the United States,” Sister Monica Clare, 58, said in an interview. “Most people you talk to, especially people over 60, will say that TikTok is just a bunch of superficial garbage. They don't use it. They don't understand what the content is.

“It's very smart of TikTok to say no, that's not who we are, we are much more than that,” he added.

That appears to be the idea driving TikTok's multimillion-dollar marketing campaign on television and rival social platforms across the country, tagged #KeepTikTok, as the Senate considers a bill that would force the company's Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app or face a national ban. Many lawmakers from both parties have said the app could endanger American users' private data or be used as a Chinese propaganda tool.

Since the House voted in favor of the bill three weeks ago, the company has spent at least $3.1 million in advertising time for commercials that are scheduled to run through April, according to data from AdImpact, a media tracking company. Some of the places it is heading most strongly are the states of Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio, battlegrounds for the presidential elections, according to the data. TikTok has also spent more than $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads recently, according to Meta's ad library.

TikTok said it was spending more than AdImpact data showed, but the company did not provide details. When asked about its advertising efforts, TikTok spokesperson Michael Hughes said: “We think the general public should know that the government is attempting to trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans and devastate seven million small businesses. companies throughout the country.

The ads are part of a broad lobbying campaign by TikTok to reshape perceptions of the company among lawmakers and the public. He has openly opposed the bill, which he has presented as an outright ban, saying he has not and will not share data with Beijing or allow any government to influence its algorithmic recommendations of videos for users to watch.

ByteDance spent $8.7 million on lobbying last year, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit research group, and its internal team and a variety of outside firms are trying to influence lawmakers. It has rallied its broad user base to contact its representatives, although some of those efforts may they have failed. And Shou Chew, CEO of TikTok, is co-chair of this spring's Met Gala, where TikTok will be the title sponsor.

TikTok began amplifying the stories of everyday Americans like Sister Monica Clare and Patriotic Kenny last year, through a campaign it calls TikTok Sparks Good. Much of that effort appeared to be aimed at conservative audiences. It spent about $19 million on television ads that appeared primarily on news programs, especially Fox News, according to data from iSpot.tv, a television measurement company. TikTok aired more than a dozen ads during the Republican presidential debates or debate-related programming last year, the firm said. It still runs ads promoting creators from last year's campaign.

“It's a classic tactic,” said Cait Lamberton, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “They're taking an idea, putting it in a human's mouth, and allowing you to make a connection with that human.”

He added: “TikTok presents itself as a brand that represents the freedom and democratization of communication and, frankly, a lot of values ​​that most people are quite comfortable with.”

One from TikTok newest tv ads was filmed last month when the company brought dozens of video creators to Washington to protest the House bill. The ad is narrated by the creators and shows some holding signs that say, “TikTok changed my life for the better” on the steps of the Capitol.

Trevor Boffone, a University of Houston professor with more than 300,000 followers on TikTok, also appears in the ad, describing how the app made him a better teacher and allowed him to connect with an audience far beyond his classroom.

He said he had been to events full of TikTok creators who liked to “have fun and dance,” but that the group in Washington was “a radically different group of people.”

TikTok brought together “everyday Americans with amazing stories about how the platform helped them with their mental health, their disabilities, and different crises in their communities, like wildfires and even open heart surgeries,” he said. “All of these really important ways that this platform has built community in ways that policymakers don't know about.”

Boffone, 38, said the group's links on TikTok had urged creators to talk to their senators about the bill. (Sister Monica Clare said she had written a letter opposing the bill to Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey. Mr. Boffone said he had not yet been able to contact her representative.)

Creators were concerned that even a ByteDance sale of TikTok could “change the culture of the app,” he said.

“We've seen what happened with Twitter and how Twitter is a shell of what it once was,” Boffone said. “Congress should examine comprehensive data security and legislation around social media and digital platforms that takes Meta and Google into account.”

Americans are likely to see other ads about TikTok as outside groups also take advantage of the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has seen the legislation as a threat to First Amendment rights, last month posted ads on Facebook and Instagram linking to an opposition letter for people to send to their senators. A spokeswoman for the organization said it had no formal partnership or fundraising relationship with TikTok or ByteDance.

Proponents of the bill are also running ads. Newly formed nonprofit groups led by conservatives, whose sponsors are unclear, have been airing television commercials and placing ads on social media.

One of those groups, the American Parents Coalition, is led by Alleigh Marré, founder of a public relations firm and spokesperson for the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services. She promised “a seven-figure awareness campaign” called “TikTok is poison” in a March 20 press release.

Another group, State Armor Action, is led by Michael Lucci, a former political adviser to a Republican governor in Illinois and a former Trump appointee to a Federal Labor Relations Authority panel. The group also announced a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign targeting TikTok on March 20.

Marré said his group's TikTok effort was his first campaign, but he declined to share information about his financial backers. Lucci also declined to identify his group's donors, but said he believed TikTok “should be transferred to American ownership.”

The intensity of the battle has taken its toll on Sister Monica Clare. She was delighted when her commercial began airing, she said, but she was soon shocked to receive hate mail and even some angry phone calls.

“It was a rush of 'Oh, how exciting,' and then 'Oh, what a bummer,'” he said. “It was actually from people who were invested in the idea that China is spying on us through TikTok, from people who probably never used social media in their lives.”

He said he was hopeful that TikTok's marketing efforts, including the ad, would help send a different message about the app. (The company made a $500 donation to his convent in Mendham, New Jersey, for its participation, he said.)

“There's a huge community of people doing well on TikTok,” he said.


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