What is TikTok? Who uses the platform, how does it work, and how can you buy advertising on it? We’ll explore advertising opportunities in detail, including how to optimize your TikTok marketing strategy, a review of TikTok’s audience targeting capabilities, and available creative units and plans for expansion. If you’re considering leveraging TikTok for marketing purposes but you aren’t sure how to get started, then this article is the perfect place to begin.
Background and Overview
TikTok is an app and social network focusing on video sharing that originally launched in China. The app launched internationally in September 2017 and currently has around 110 million monthly users in the United States alone.
Tik Tok was born from another app, Musical.ly, which launched in China in 2014. Musical.ly was acquired by another Chinese media and technology company, ByteDance, which owned the similar app known at that time as TikTok. ByteDance realized that TikTok would better reflect the content created on their platform. The app extended beyond music to include comedy, performance art, and more and the company decided to merge the two apps for greater efficiency.
TikTok allows users to create and upload video content which other users can find, comment on and react to. It allows users to quickly and easily add music, filters and play around with other creative tools to make videos more impactful. Videos can run up to 3 minutes in length, though most have historically been around 15 seconds long, as per the original limit when first launched.
The audience on the platform has been evolving over the years. Most recent statistics indicate that 70% of the audience is 18+ with a 62/38 female-male ratio split. Common perception of the app has been that the audience heavily skews to teenagers. While it is true that 28% of the overall audience is age 13-17, there has been consistent growth over the past year with 25% of users being 18-24, 14% 25-34, 28% 35-44 and 4% 45-54.
An interesting finding about TikTok’s audience is that they are often not found on other popular social platforms. The app currently boasts a 40% unduplicated audience with Facebook, 48% unduplicated with Instagram and an 89% unduplicated audience with Twitch. These unduplicated numbers provide many advertisers with an added incentive to explore unique opportunities on the platform.
When a user first logs on to TikTok, they are greeted with an auto-play video right away on their home page labeled “For You”. The app chooses videos to highlight and the selection strategy is optimized based on the types of content the user engages with. Users can view content from their followers by selecting “following” at the top. The second tab, “Discover”, allows users to search for accounts or videos based on interests. Trending video topics are also displayed in the search bar.
In addition to the search portion of the “Discover” bar, the app uses this space to feature trending hashtags. These hashtags operate similarly to the hashtag functionalities on Instagram and Twitter. This allows users to curate videos tagged with a specific hashtag to align their content representing a certain theme, challenge, brand, etc.
How To Buy TikTok
TikTok’s self-service advertising platform, called “TikTok for Business”, allows for advertisers to purchase ads on a self-service model. The self-service platform gives advertisers complete control over cost, flighting, pacing, creative updates and more.
There is a $20/day minimum spend to launch a campaign on “TikTok for Business”. The self-service platform is specifically used for in-feed ads, which are biddable, and can be bought on a CPC, CPV or CPM pricing model.
Activations beyond standard in-feed video ads, such as brand takeovers, hashtag challenges and top view, typically come at a higher budget and needs to be done via a managed service and TikTok account manager. Pricing for these additional services varies based on flighting and targeting, and these typically vary in costs from $550,000 to $825,000.
Targeting capabilities on TikTok are similar to other social platforms. TikTok’s audience is able to target age, gender, location, interests and more.
Interest-based targeting is typically based on video content and engagement. It can also utilize 3rd party data to refine audience targets and may take advantage of data from other platforms like Singular, Kovacha, Adbrix, Branch, etc.
As the platform continues to evolve, it is expected that new audience attributes will be added to the potential optimization opportunities.
Advertisers have multiple options when it comes to TikTok ad formats. Below are the most common types of ads used on the platform:
- In-Feed Video Unit – Allows embedded video that auto-plays within a user’s “For You” feed. Ads can run up to 3 minutes but optimal time is usually about 15 seconds. These videos play with sound on, and can be used strategically to mirror native content on the platform.
- TopView – Ads appear at the top of the “For You” feed when first opening TikTok. Videos can be up to 60 seconds long, and they offer an immersive viewing experience that’s perfect for brand awareness objectives
- Brand Takeover – Full-screen high impact ads that will be the first thing a user sees when they open the app. They’re usually short, clocking in around 3-5 seconds, and these videos can direct traffic internally or to an external landing page.
- Branded Hashtag Challenge – Leveraging TikTok’s Hash Tag challenge, brands can encourage co-creation of content related to a certain theme or idea. A standard video will appear in-app encouraging users to take part in the challenge. Messaging will also be featured on the discover page which then drives users to the Hashtag challenge page.
- Branded Lenses – Similar to Snapchat filters, the branded effects allow advertisers to showcase their more playful side, letting users incorporate branded stickers, filters and other effects to enhance user videos.
How Brands are Using TikTok
Compared to other social platforms, TikTok still feels relatively new. The platform only began testing ads in early 2019 and hadn’t launched its ad platform until June of 2020.
While a variety of advertisers have begun experimenting with the platform, certain verticals and brands have been able to stand out due to well-timed execution and impactful creative units. Brands that have the most success create and provide opportunities for users to engage with their content on TikTok mirroring the way that users engage with other creators.
One of the first success stories was cosmetics company Elf, who debuted its own dance challenge and branded song in late 2019. Working closely with the creative agency, Movers + Shakers, the brand was able to compose an original song to go alongside its hashtag challenge. Together, both companies were able to craft a compelling 15-second ad unit that allowed users to make their own dance videos. In addition to the song creation and challenge, the brand also tapped a handful of existing TikTok influencers to promote the effort by showcasing high-quality versions of their own routines.
Retailers in other verticals have also found success using the app. Chipotle recently updated their TikTok bio to read “less talk, more guac” while launching videos showcasing relevant music that also incorporated food from their menu in creative ways. Additionally, the company found success with a contest where users could win a cash prize while also having their order featured on the app. Fitness brand, Gymshark, managed to gain an additional 2.4 million followers by creating playful videos encapsulating the various attitudes of gym users.
CPG brand, Manscaped, used TikTok to promote awareness of their new products, Lawnmower 2.0 and 3.0. To do this, they created fun, practical and educational videos on male grooming, which they then promoted through their target audiences In-Feed. Due to the unique and engaging videos, they were able to buy on an efficient CPM, and managed to drive over 151 million views.
LG was able to leverage the music feature on TikTok via an original composition from artist, H.E.R. LG ran a competition that allowed 3 winners to collaborate with the artist and LG, using TikTok to drive submissions. The brand worked with 5 TikTok music creators using TikTok’s “Duets” feature, which allows users to create content with other users. LG then used TikTok’s Boosted TikTok ads to promote organic videos in-feed and managed to drive a great deal of reach and engagement, including over 54 million video views.
One of USIM’s clients, Opry, is leveraging TikTok to foster the future of country music by identifying and investing in the next generation of country music artists. Via TikTok, the brand is leveraging videos to spotlight these up-and-coming artists, providing full-interactive in-feed units in order to drive user engagement, awareness and ultimately ticket purchases. Each video features a different artist containing a mix of live music clips and short interview content driving users to view more at the brand’s website. The campaign drove a CTR well above TikTok’s benchmarks for the vertical.
How TikTok is Planning to Evolve
TikTok is in the process of evolving its in-stream shopping tools to provide a more efficient e-commerce advertising experience. Since 2019, the app has been testing basic e-commerce links, showcasing them within clips to drive users off-app for purchases. The app is also developing live-stream shopping events integrating Shopify. This will allow merchants to run promotions on TikTok created directly from their Shopify dashboard.
Additional reports have outlined new e-commerce focused ad offerings designed to maximize revenue potential. Some examples include:
- Collection Ads – Enable brands to combine their product catalog listings and branded videos
- Dynamic Product Ads – Automatically retarget users with relevant products according to their activities in advertiser’s apps and websites
- Promo Tiles – Allow advertisers to add fully customizable sales and promo messaging to their in-feed ads
- Showcase Tiles – Give TikTok creators the ability to promote products in their videos, and allow advertisers to include a link to product thumbnails below the video
While there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for TikTok marketing, it is important to understand that the best use of the platform is to create fun and playful content which encourages engagement and sharing.
Due to the app’s initial focus on music and dance, videos that can incorporate one or both tend to see the best rates of success. With that in mind, current TikTok marketing best practices include:
- Using sounds on, captions, fast-paced editing, transitions and the recommended length of 10-15 seconds.
- Ensuring there is a clear CTA in each piece of content that you produce and broadcast through TikTok.
- Relying on your own video assets where possible to ensure a DIY look. TikTok tends to reward slightly lower production values that demonstrate greater authenticity.
- Adding motion to any photo assets to make sure that your creative does NOT look like slides or static images.
- Taking advantage of TikTok’s royalty-free music library wherever possible.
The most successful ads on TikTok are those that look, sound, and feel like organically produced videos. TikTok recommends that all brands unleash their top creative thinking, while also ensuring they keep up on the most recent viral trends to keep videos simple, positive and fun.
How Can USIM Power Your TikTok Campaigns?
USIM’s digital team has found success executing campaigns on TikTok for multiple brands. Our team takes into consideration all best practices while applying a nuanced approach for each advertiser based on their budget, flighting, objectives and assets.
When working with USIM to plan and activate, our team provides high-level direction on creative in addition to the recommended number of assets needed for each campaign.
In addition to asset direction, USIM will provide recommendations and best practices for exactly which type of TikTok ad units to activate. For more information on how we can help optimize your TikTok marketing strategy, connect with your individual planning team in order to discuss next steps.