Why Amex is investing in TikTok ahead of Small Business Saturday

American Express joins the wave of brands flocking to TikTok to reach its Gen Z user base and niche community.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the financial brand launched its official brand account and partnered with TikTok on an accelerator program to further drive people to make small purchases.

With TikTok becoming an increasingly important marketing channel for small business owners, it makes sense for American Express to partner with the platform and “really help small business owners reach a new generation of customers,” said Marianne Rausch, vice president of Small Business Saturday and Shop Small and U.S. American Express’s global advertising and brand management.

On TikTok, #ShopSmall has nearly 5 billion views. Amex is also rolling out a partnership with TikTok and paid and organic strategies as small businesses invest in the platform. The move is meant to boost AmEx’s #ShopSmall campaign targeting Gen Z TikTok users and connect them with small businesses. (Details of AmEx’s TikTok spending were unclear because the company did not respond in time for a request for publication.)

The effort is designed to encourage people to shop smaller and stimulate Saturday sales at small businesses. Businesses that sign up for the partnership gain access to resources like best practices, insights from prominent TikTok creators, and are eligible to receive a $100 TikTok ad credit after spending $50 in credit.

“We’re seeing more and more businesses really rely on TikTok because they find it a fun and easy experience,” said Sofia Hernandez, TikTok’s head of global business marketing. “All they really need is a phone and an idea.”

Amex has spent more than $142 million on digital ads so far this year, down from $222 million the year before, according to Pathmatics. Between January and June, Kantar reported that Amex spent $135 million on advertising, down from $248 million in 2021. (Kantar’s data doesn’t include social spending like Pathmatics’ does. Pathmatics doesn’t track linear TV spending.)

It’s the latest move by Amex to push people to shop smaller, with a history dating back to the 2008 financial crisis and the recent post-pandemic recovery. Earlier this year, the company used QR codes and billboards to promote small businesses.

American Express is the latest in a long line of brands looking to capitalize on TikTok’s rapidly growing community. Earlier this year, Penguin Random House struck a deal with the platform to allow users to use #BookTok to link to books in videos. Meanwhile, online literature platform Wattpad is using hashtags to grow organically. (For more on how small businesses are using TikTok, click here.)

Mack McKelvey, founder and CEO of marketing agency Salient MG, expects the trend to continue, especially as TikTok works to increase its ad supply.

“If you see something like that becoming more integrated in TikTok’s offering, you’re seeing an explosion of DTC and consumer-facing commerce brands really starting to shine on TikTok,” she said.

McKelvey added that by leveraging both paid and organic presence on the platform, as well as its community-building accelerator program, Amex is on the right track and creating a presence that is organic to the very nature of TikTok.

“They’ve really taken a three-pronged approach and to me that’s definitely the right way to test it because they’re going to get a lot of lessons from all three that will help with their final strategy,” she says.

It’s too early to tell how Amex’s efforts on TikTok will bear fruit. But the financial brand said its activity around Small Business Saturday was “very intentional.”

“We really try to listen very consciously to our small business owners and build a plan around what we hear from them that they think they need or are interested in,” Rausch said.

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