Labour goes viral as it pulls ahead of Tories on TikTok

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Labour goes viral as it pulls ahead of Tories on TikTok

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Labour is beating the Conservatives on the social media battleground of TikTok, achieving more than twice as many plays of its videos since both parties launched official accounts on the platform less than a fortnight ago.

More reels posted by Sir Keir Starmer’s party have also gone viral, with nine of its videos obtaining more than 1mn views so far. Posts mocking Rishi Sunak’s pledge to introduce mandatory national service have been the most popular of its 68 videos uploaded before Tuesday afternoon.

The Tories have meanwhile seen five of their 18 videos gain more than 1mn views. Sunak’s party has tended to stick with more traditional formats such as the prime minister speaking straight to the camera about his policies, while Labour has played heavily on memes and produced some edgier, more irreverent content.

“Culture is upstream of politics, so it’s important that we produce content that the audience wants to consume,” a Labour official said.

However, in at least two cases Labour’s meme-centric strategy has landed it in hot water: the account deleted two videos that used copyrighted clips from Harry Potter and Shrek films.

Before this week, Reform UK had the largest presence on TikTok of any British party, with more than 100,000 followers and millions of views.

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While Boris Johnson launched an official 10 Downing Street TikTok account two years ago, Sunak has not made use of it since taking office, nor has he launched a personal account on the app.

This puts him in contrast to other European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, who has 4.4mn followers and livestreams his speeches, as well as the prime ministers of Italy, Poland, Greece and Hungary.

However, Britain has been vocal about security concerns regarding the app and in March 2023 banned UK government officials from using it on their devices, making it awkward for ministers to use it in an official capacity.

At present Labour leads in the polls with all age groups except the over-65s, who are still more likely to vote Conservative.

While the common perception is that TikTok’s biggest audience is Generation Z, there are hints that its user base skews older. The company has not publicly discussed the demographics of UK users, but its chief executive said in January that the average US user was over 30.

Traditional advertising is still playing a role, however. The Conservatives launched their first traditional poster of the election campaign last week, a picture of a red piggy bank with the caption: “If you think Labour will win, start saving . . . ”

The first poster from the Tory campaign reading ‘If you think Labour will win, start saving . . .’
The first poster from the Tory election campaign

Tory officials say the party teamed up some time ago with Founders Makers, previously known as the Clerkenwell Brothers, which designed the “Ready for Rishi” campaign in the Tory leadership election in summer 2022.

The firm, which has produced adverts for L’Oréal Group and Little Moons ice cream, was co-founded by Cass Horowitz, Sunak’s head of digital in Downing Street.

Labour has meanwhile relied on Lucky Generals, an agency that has created adverts for Heineken, Yorkshire Tea and Virgin Atlantic, according to several party officials.

Neither firm replied to a request for comment from the Financial Times.

Advertising executives said that both Labour and the Conservative parties were focusing their spending on digital campaigns, which give them the ability to adapt advertising and target specific audiences with messages.

While TikTok formally prohibits political advertising, an FT analysis found a small handful of paid ads from candidates and local parties had initially evaded the app’s filters, gaining up to several thousand plays before being removed. Without paid advertising, campaigns rely on TikTok’s powerful “For You” algorithm to amplify posts to an audience far beyond their core followers.

“The party that wins social media, wins the election, especially TikTok,” said David Jones, chief executive of BrandTech and a former political party advertising adviser who led David Cameron’s 2010 election campaign.

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