First published in Business World here
William Gaines, the publisher of Mad magazine reportedly kept a voodoo doll in his office into which he would stick pins labeled for each imitation of his magazine. Most of these imitators copied Mad right down to its format and choosing a synonym for the word “Mad” for title. Gaines would remove the pin only when the copycat ceased publishing. Most imitators were short-lived and by the time of Gaines death in 1992, the only pin remaining was for Cracked.
Like Gaines, if ByteDance’s CEO, Kevin Mayer, were to keep a voodoo doll and stick pins for TikTok’s copycats, he would need many pins – from MX Takatak, Zee5 HiPi, Bolo Indya, Roposo, Chingari, Mitron, Sharechat to Reels, there are many wanting to fill the space vacated by TikTok.
Post the ban, TikTok creators and users are in a limbo. For most creators, this means starting from scratch, but to do so, they need to pick the right alternative. The platform they choose will determine the fortunes of the new TikTok wannabes. Hence, it’s worth thinking about what made TikTok tick?
Timing is everything. While TikTok offered unique features to shoot, edit and share content, behind its success was the intersection of availability of affordable smart phones, cheap data plans and tapping into the zeitgeist of middle-India.
After Cricket, TikTok. In cricket the status or class of the cheering fan doesn’t really matter, just like on TikTok, where only the content mattered – how entertaining or educational it was. TikTok probably created a truly classless platform for Indians and its lack of pretentiousness attracted middle-India in droves.
We Are Like This Only. the true spirit of Channel V’s We Are Like This Only resonates with today’s India. We are extremely comfortable with our Indianness and our distinct regional and local identities. And amongst the half-a-billion plus Indians online, we managed to find many of our own on TikTok.
India followed Bharat. The millions who speak their regional languages and lived beyond our urban centers caught on to TikTok first, while the urban, English speaking India followed later. TikTok is an unlikely example of India following Bharat. And Bharat’s latent pride may have been another reason for TikTok’s success. Once more and more people started using TikTok, network effect kicked in to make it even more valuable.
But today, all the aspiring “TikToks” will need to contend with a new variable in the Indian consumer tech landscape – Reliance Jio.
The Gift Horse. TikTok ban may just be the gift horse Jio was looking for. Post fund-raising, they will have a rapacious appetite for acquisitions. Any Indian app, showing reasonable success as TikTok’s successor may be grabbed by Jio and get catapulted into a new orbit.
However, all factors behind TikTok’s massive success cannot be fully determined to replicate another success. There may be some undetermined chemistry between users and creators beneath the algorithms at play. But each of the new apps will create its own unique trajectory and meet their fate at the hands of the consumer clutching his smart phone. However, like Mad magazine’s competitors, it’s unlikely that many of these apps will survive the current wave. In the end, Mayer, may have just have a one or two pins left out on his voodoo doll.