Editorial | Mar 18,2023
For most of human history, fame was a rare phenomenon reserved for royalty, war heroes, religious figures and a handful of others who had achieved something of incredible significance or could afford to have their names and stories printed.
The idea of fame began to change in Renaissance era Europe with the birth of the concept of the artist, who could gain fame through talent regardless of social standing or wealth. This new version of celebrity spread with the rising presence of print, and later, radio and recorded music.
Then television appeared, and with it, Hollywood and the film industry. As television sets made their way into living rooms across the world in the latter half of the 20th century, fame took on yet another, more intimate form. Year after year, actors and musicians from one end of the world became household names in another corner of the globe regardless of language barriers and cultural differences.
With the advent of this new, globalised fame came a voracious appetite for celebrities among the public. People developed an unquenchable desire for news, soundbites, interviews, photos and videos about the celebrities they admired. It led to the creation of the paparazzi industry and had an indelible effect on the way businesses market their products and services.
Nonetheless, the turn of the millennium had even more dramatic things in store for the concept of fame.
The internet took the world by storm, and behind it came social media. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram presented the opportunity for anyone, anywhere with an internet connection (and often a camera) to reach celebrity status quite literally overnight.
The platforms offered something else as well: people could gain fame with little to no discernible skills. All someone had to do was offer themselves up as a spectacle and, with a little luck and some good editing, they could end up on the screens of millions of people all around the world.
The past couple of years have seen the introduction of a new social media platform that has taken the scene by storm: TikTok.
The Chinese-made TikTok (known as Douyin in its home market) has exploded in popularity since it was launched in China in 2016 by parent company ByteDance. It made its way to the US market the following year.
The app's main attraction was its focus on a short-form video format, usually less than a minute, with simple editing tools that would allow users to make quick, eye-catching videos. Although the videos were largely lip-syncing and dancing bits at first, TikTok has since grown exponentially in scope, with content available for all kinds of viewers.
A sophisticated algorithm and a seemingly never-ending catalogue have made it a phenomenon that can keep users glued to their phones for hours at a time in a way that other social media platforms had not managed to do before. Behavioral choices, concepts, and ideas can go from fringe to trendy to mainstream at a rapid pace. What was unusual one minute could be ubiquitous the next.
TikTok has been downloaded over three billion times and registered 1.2 billion monthly users worldwide in 2021. Over a third of users are between the ages of 20 and 29. A little less than a fifth are over 40.
The platform generated 4.2 billion dollars in revenue that year.
TikTok's viral popularity also presents a lucrative business opportunity. Its huge user base makes it an almost unrivaled marketing medium and, like the social media platforms before it, has birthed a new lineup of influencers.
Brands are eager to strike deals with popular "TikTokers" with large followings. Content creators get paid, often handsomely, to incorporate products in their videos. Studies show that people are much more inclined to buy something that has been promoted by an influencer than not.
The concept is not all that new, as brands have been hiring movies stars and athletes to promote their products on television for decades. Even in Ancient Rome, gladiators would be paid to promote products to the large crowds that would gather to watch the violent form of entertainment.
However, what makes advertising on social media, particularly TikTok, different is that it allows the influencer enough space to present their products in their own unique way that feels more natural and personable.
TikTokers can earn up to 150,000 dollars for a successful brand partnership.
The TikTok phenomenon is no less huge in Ethiopia. Data on the app's user base in the country is hard to come by, but it has become common to see people scrolling through the short videos in coffee shops, public transportation, at home, or even at work. Not only that, TikTok has become a regular source of news for many as well as an entertainment platform.
The popularity has led to the rise of local influencers with considerably large numbers of followers and views.
The most popular among them is "Yuti_nass", a young woman with close to 820,000 followers and 5.6 million liked videos. She posted her first video in February 2020, in the weeks leading up to the pandemic that may have played a part in catalysing TikTok's popularity as people were forced to stay home.
The video was simple: she was applying chapstick and laughing. It garnered nearly 16,000 likes.
Yuti_nass' content has since grown more enthralling, comprising memes, dramatic reenactments, and challenge videos. Her large following has garnered the attention of businesses looking to promote their products.
She landed a brand partnership with Melkam Moringa, a bottler of soft drinks established by Zebym Trading Plc with a 200 million Br investment. The company faces challenges in navigating a market dominated by international brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Its executives likely saw a partnership with a popular TikToker as a potential for garnering better market share. Yuti_nass promoted the brand in a short drama video.
Yuti_nass has since promoted a long line of products and services, including new music, furniture, beauty products, and clothing lines on her channel. Other popular TikTokers are doing the same.
It is difficult to say that TikTok is bringing something completely new to the table, as its features have more or less been part of other social media platforms for a while now. However, there is no doubt that it has had and continues to have a huge impact on society.
With the scale of the impact comes a resurgence in questions about the negative side of social media and its effects on users, particularly the youth. Forty percent of the world population uses some form of social media, spending an average of two hours each day online. Studies have shown that social media use can disrupt sleep, exacerbate anxiety, and trigger frustration.
However, social media can also be a force for good as a tool to spread awareness on important topics and a source of income for those who might have otherwise struggled to earn a living.
It will be fascinating to see how TikTok develops and grows over time, and whether it can retain its users' attention.
The app's popularity in Ethiopia, and its potential to drive business, is no less fascinating.
PUBLISHED ON Sep 13,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1167]
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