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Labour goes viral, overtaking the Tories on TikTok

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Labour is beating the Conservatives on the social media battleground TikTok, more than doubling the views of its videos since both parties opened official accounts on the platform less than two weeks ago.

Other videos from Sir Keir Starmer's party have also gone viral, with nine of their videos having been viewed more than a million times so far. Of the 68 videos uploaded before Tuesday afternoon, posts mocking Rishi Sunak's promise to introduce conscription were the most popular.

The Tories have now seen five of their 18 videos get over a million views. Sunak's party sticks to more traditional formats, such as the prime minister speaking directly to the camera about his policies, while Labour relies heavily on memes and produces some bolder, more irreverent content.

“Culture is above politics, so it’s important we produce content that audiences want to consume,” said a Labour representative.

However, in at least two cases, the Labour Party’s meme-centric strategy has caused trouble: The account deleted two videos that contained copyrighted clips of Harry Potter And Shrek Movies.

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

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Although Boris Johnson opened an official TikTok account for 10 Downing Street two years ago, Sunak has not used it since taking office, nor has he opened a personal account on the app.

This puts him in contrast to other European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who has 4.4 million supporters and broadcasts his speeches live, and the prime ministers of Italy, Poland, Greece and Hungary.

However, the UK has voiced strong security concerns about the app and in March 2023 banned UK government officials from using the app on their devices, making it difficult for ministers to use the app in an official capacity.

Labour is currently leading in the polls across all age groups, except those over 65, who still tend to vote Conservative.

While TikTok's largest audience is widely believed to be Gen Z, there is evidence that its user base skews older. The company has not publicly discussed the demographics of its UK users, but its chief executive said in January that the average US user is over 30 years old.

Traditional advertising still plays a role, however. The Conservatives last week released their first traditional campaign poster, an image of a red piggy bank with the caption: “If you think Labour will win, start saving…”

The first poster of the Tory campaign read: “If you think Labour will win, start saving…”
The first poster from the Tory election campaign

Tory officials say the party recently teamed up with Founders Makers, formerly known as Clerkenwell Brothers, which designed the Ready for Rishi campaign for the Tory leadership election in summer 2022.

The company, which has produced ads for the L'Oréal Group and Little Moons ice cream, was co-founded by Cass Horowitz, Sunak's digital chief in Downing Street.

Labour now relies on the agency Lucky Generals, which, according to several party officials, has already created advertisements for Heineken, Yorkshire Tea and Virgin Atlantic.

Neither company responded to a request for comment from the Financial Times.

Advertising executives said both Labour and the Conservative parties would focus their spending on digital campaigns, giving them the ability to tailor advertising and target messages to specific audiences.

While TikTok formally bans political advertising, an FT analysis found that a handful of paid ads from candidates and local parties had initially bypassed the app's filters and were viewed several thousand times before being removed. Without paid advertising, campaigns rely on TikTok's powerful “For You” algorithm to distribute posts to audiences 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 consultant who ran David Cameron’s 2010 election campaign.