The what, why, and how of TikTok's advertising gold rush - ClickZ

30-second summary:

  • TikTok is emerging as the next social media powerhouse—so the platform represents an incredible opportunity for marketers.
  • It’s a particularly powerful method for engaging with younger audiences (such as Gen Z).
  • Brands need to take advantage of both organic content creation and paid advertising.
  • Get started as soon as possible to avoid missing out on the gold rush. 

For years, Facebook and Instagram ran the social media show. Twitter certainly has its niche, but when it comes to user-generated content—the supposed ‘Holy Grail’ of marketing—Facebook and Instagram ruled the roost. However, there’s a new hotshot in town: TikTok.

The video-sharing social media platform has certainly been gaining plenty of traction in recent months. This, combined with Instagram’s steadily declining reach and the fact that fewer teenagers are using Facebook than ever before, make TikTok an attractive prospect for global marketers.

But what exactly is TikTok? How does the platform differ from other alternatives and what unique opportunities does it present? How can your company set up an all-encompassing TikTok strategy to take full advantage of this emergent social media powerhouse?

In this article, we’re going to take a deep-dive into the what, why, and how of TikTok’s upcoming advertising gold rush. 

What is TikTok?

On the face of it, TikTok is hardly revolutionary. 

The platform essentially allows users to share short videos (under a minute long) which (Read more...) then augmented with the help of music samples, filters, stickers, quick cuts, and more.

It launched way back in 2014 under the name, though it only began to experience meteoric growth after ByteDance, a Chinese media and tech company, bought it for a hefty $1 billion back in 2017. 

Since then, the app’s growth has skyrocketed.

TikTok downloads

TikTok passed 2 billion downloads back in April 2020. To put that into perspective, an estimated 4.78 billion people worldwide own a phone.

What’s more, the platform has around 800 million monthly active users according to a leaked internal marketing document obtained by AdAge back in late 2019. The average user opens the app 8 times a day, spending a total daily average of 52 minutes on the platform.


The message is clear: TikTok is big business, and it’s only likely to get bigger. 

Why is it beneficial to marketers?

Marketers are quickly flocking to TikTok—and rightly so. The app is an attractive marketing tool due to three main reasons.

  1. The size of its audience
  2. The primary demographic
  3. Its (supposed) authenticity

Let’s explore each of these aspects in a little more detail.

The size of its audience

TikTok is an attention goldmine due to its heady concoction of hyper-personalised algorithms, our inclination to keep on scrolling for dopamine-inducing content (something known as the ‘Zombie Scrolling Syndrome’), and catchy songs that get stuck in your head for days to come. 

This is a powerful enough combination as is. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic—when people suddenly had more time on their hands (due to furloughs and layoffs) and were seeking forms of escapism—TikTik exploded. 

The app added 52.2 million users worldwide in March 2020 alone. Not only that, but the time spent on it also increased. In the US, for example, the average user spent 8 hours on TikTik throughout March—a 10.8% increase from January.

Needless to say, this is great news for marketers. Marketing has always required one fundamental thing: attention. As with real estate, marketing is all about location, location, location.

You can have the best copy in the world and a jaw-dropping design, but if your advert is on the underside of a bus rather than on the side, it counts for nothing. 

The sheer size of TikTok’s audience (and the attention they pay the platform) is a mouthwatering prospect for marketers the world over. It has opened up a brand new platform to explore, far away from the increasingly mistrusted world of Facebook and the oversaturation of influencers on Instagram.

The primary demographic

Not only does TikTok have a burgeoning audience, but it also attracts some of society’s younger generations. For example, it’s estimated that Gen Z accounts for 60% of all TikTok users. 

Why is this? Well, there might be the common phenomenon where young people move away from social media platforms once older generations begin to come on board—this was certainly the case when it came to Facebook.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, TikTok was built with young people in mind. The videos are short and snappy. If they don’t capture a user’s attention immediately, they’ll simply scroll onto the next one. 

Young people are happy to give their attention away to platforms—however, they expect a quick return on their investment. They won’t wait around for things to get interesting; they’ll make a snap judgement in a few seconds.

Interestingly, this isn’t necessarily exclusive to young people. Research has shown that we generally form snap judgements about people in around 7 seconds, and this phenomenon even extends to businesses. 

Gen Z certainly aren’t necessarily unique in their reliance on snap judgements. When this applies to content consumption, however, they’re arguably more cut-throat than older generations.

Moreover, research suggests that the ‘Uses and Gratifications’ theory plays a key role in explaining Gen Z’s motivations to participate in TikTok’s #Challenges.

This theory posits that users themselves play an active (not a passive role) in seeking out and using media. When it comes to TikTok, this sense of ownership is baked into every aspect of the platform. 

Okay, so it’s clear that the platform has a wide-ranging appeal to the youngest generations. But why should brands care? Well, Gen Z is now the world’s largest demographic, comprising 32.5% of the global population. Therefore, it’s little surprise that marketers are keen to target them. 

Sure, they won’t all have that much purchasing power right now—but it’s important for brands to get in early and make a name for themselves. If they do, it’ll make marketing to this generation far easier in the years to come. 

Its (supposed) authenticity

According to market research company Attest, “The team behind TikTok say that the authenticity of the social media platform is what sets it apart, and they hold it as one of their core values.”

While this statement might be slightly dubious, the platform has certainly distinguished itself from its large-scale competitors due to its supposed authenticity.

Every second or third Instagram post these days is filled with some endorsement or other. Even if it comes from people whose opinion we fundamentally respect, it’s still exhausting to feel like we’re constantly being sold to.

What’s more, the lavish influencer-style lifestyles—staying in 5* hotels, constantly having perfect hair, a polished outfit, and expensive-looking tastes—just isn’t going to appeal post-pandemic. 

When so many people have had to suffer so much, the last thing they want to see are endless images of people who are better off. While TikTok still has obvious applicability for influencers and the like, the fundamental goal of TikTok videos is still entertainment.

Instagram images focus on impressing and wowing users—TikTok videos set out to entertain. 

This, combined with its so far unblemished reputation (courtesy of being the newest social media giant to gain popularity), has helped it establish an air of authenticity. 

Top tips to developing your brand’s TikTok strategy

We’ve explored what TikTok is, why it’s so popular, and what makes it an attractive proposition for marketers.

Now, let’s dive into how you can develop a successful TikTok strategy. This will obviously need updating on an ongoing basis to match the platform’s evolution. That said, here are a few top tips to help get you started.

Understand your target audience

Like every other successful social media platform, TikTok leverages the power of community to bring people together.

Every community will have their own likes, dislikes, ways of communicating, sense of humor, and more. As such, the first step for any discerning TikTok marketer is to get to know your community.

So how can you do this? For starters, understand what brings your target audience/community together. Is it a love of vintage clothes? A passion for extreme sports? Or how about a deep desire to see the world’s most beautiful places? 

This shouldn’t be hard for you to identify. It’s not like your target audience will have drastically different characteristics when they use TikTok as opposed to other platforms. However, this research may well demonstrate if your brand needs to adopt a slightly different angle than before.

Take the above example of people who love beautiful scenery/places. Pre-COVID, you might think of littering your TikTok feed with some of the world’s most exotic destinations—this is a very Instagram-type strategy.

Nowadays, however, that won’t hit the mark. If people are unable to fly all over the world then consider creating TikToks for each of your target locations. For example, you might try to entertain UK users with a video showing some lesser-known (but still stunning) spots around the country.  

By researching your target community, you can gain critical insights into the way they communicate, the hashtags they use, the content they respond well to, and more.

This should be the catalyst of all your TikTok marketing efforts—if you lack the appropriate research to guide your content, you’ll more than likely miss the mark. 

Create your own organic content

Armed with your target audience’s preferences, you can now begin to create content tailored to that specific community. This will then have a snowball effect.

The more content you produce, the better a grasp you’ll gain on your community’s preferences. The more you understand what your target audience is looking for, the better content you’ll produce—and the more engagement you’ll receive.

If you do this then you’ll grow your following in no time at all.

Remember: keep your videos entertaining. Grab the users’ attention as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean that they all need to be funny.

‘Entertaining’ is a fairly wide-reaching and subjective adjective—for those interested in beauty, an informative skincare video might be classed as entertaining. For those interested in baseball, however, a video explaining the subtleties of how to pitch a knuckleball will likely be very popular. 

Over time, you might achieve Business Privilege status (like Apple), which will allow you to develop relationships with popular TikTok creators.

In order to get there, however, you should first build up your own organic content so that you build your following and gain a firm grasp over what works and what doesn’t.

Potential strategies:

  • Branded Effect: With branded effects, brands can create their very own effects (like filters or augmented reality objects) that users can then add to their own videos.
  • Hashtag Challenge: If you want to quickly leverage the power of community, come up with a hashtag challenge. Create your very own video with an accompanying hashtag and encourage users to do the same thing. Retailer GUESS launched their own #InMyDenim campaign where they encouraged users to flaunt their GUESS denim outfits as creatively as possible. They ran the campaign for 6 days, achieving a staggering 37.4 million views in that time.
  • Hashtag Challenge Plus: This is essentially a combination of the two previous strategies, integrating branded effects with Hashtag Challenges to form powerful brand-specific movements. According to Econsultancy, this can “generate more brand-related conversations, drive engagement and empower user intent”.

Set up your TikTok ads

TikTok offers far more than just organic content. Despite its reputation as being less ad-filled than other social media platforms, the TikTok Ads Platform offers a great opportunity for marketers to get their brand out there.

Setting up TikTok ads is a pretty intuitive process:

  1. Create a TikTok Ads Account
  2. Create a campaign
  3. Define the placements and targeting
  4. Control the details (such as ad spend, duration, and goals)
  5. Make your Ad using their video creation kit
  6. Publish it to the masses

But that’s not all. You can also get in touch directly with your regional TikTok office to discuss how to take advantage of their full range of advertising products. For example, you can arrange commercial partnerships with popular TikTok creators—though this will obviously come at a price.

We all know just how powerful influencer marketing can be, and TikTok is no different. MAC Cosmetics partnered up with three well-known TikTok influencers back in September 2019 to create their own Hashtag Challenge ad campaign called #YouOwnIt.

The campaign, which lasted a mere six days, ended up creating 635,000 videos which received a combined total of approximately 1.6 billion views.

Potential strategies:

  • TopView: When a user opens the apps, this large canvas (which occupies the entire screen) will be the first thing they see. It can last up to a minute—giving you an unbridled opportunity to express your brand’s creativity. 
  • In-Feed Video: On top of organic content, brands can also pay for the privilege of having their video pop up within a user’s personalised ‘For You’ feed. These are usually accompanied by the brand’s name and a short CTA.

Want to learn more about how to leverage TikTok?

Join us for our upcoming Peer Network briefing on the 28th August, Engagement for the Next Era: How Brands Are Creating Communities and Cultural Moments on TikTok, where we’ll hear from Sam Christie, West Coast Lead – Global Business Solutions at TikTok US. 

Sam will dive into how brands are using creative storytelling and community building to better connect with their target audiences.

He’ll share key insights from some of the platform’s top-performing campaigns to date, helping you devise and execute your brand’s own TikTok marketing strategy for maximum impact. 

Don’t miss out on the TikTok gold rush. Sign up now and take the first step to achieving your brand’s TikTok marketing potential.

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