The power of TikTok cannot be underestimated. Aside from being the platform of choice for Gen Z, the app has had a profound impact on culture in the modern world — competing with the likes of Google and Meta. Companies and brands around the world are scrambling to get in on the action (and profits) through TikTok Advertising. But “going viral” isn’t as simple as it may seem.
From Chipotle and The Empire State Building to the infamous Duolingo owl, companies of all industries are finding success through creativity and by defining their unique brand voice and personality on the short-form video platform.
Since its 2016 launch, TikTok has penetrated over 20% of the 4.8 billion global Internet users with a staggering 1 billion monthly active users. While many brands were deeply affected by the pandemic, TikTok not only survived but thrived— being named Ad Age’s No.1 Marketer of the Year and seeing an increase of 1157% in global users from 2018 to 2020.
Not only are individuals using the platform for entertainment, but it has sparked a new era of influencers (or the preferred term “content creators”), shopping, and education. TikTok’s increased growth has made it a rival of Snapchat, Meta, and Google as younger users gravitate towards its culture of authenticity and social validity. Of its 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, 47.4% of users are between the ages of 10-29, which includes the likes of Gen Z and younger Millennials. TikTok’s adult user base of ages 40+ stands at 31.3% having grown 5.5 times in the last 18 months! This proves that the TikTok user base is aging up, and brands targeting Gen Z aren’t the only ones that should use TikTok. By diversifying your social channels, TikTok is an extremely viable option to reach audiences of all ages.
Although influencers like Charli D’Amelio and Khaby Lame have taken the TikTok world by storm, companies from all industries have found ways of promoting their brands on the platform. From the newest collections at Paris fashion week to your local pop-up shops, TikTok advertising allows companies of every type and size the opportunity to show their products on a global stage.
Similar to other social media platforms, brands, businesses, and individuals have the opportunity to use TikTok as a means of advertising their businesses. Companies across the globe have already begun to take these strides finding unique ways to show their creativity, market and sell products, and even provide additional transparency into their organizations. Though many brands remain hesitant about advertising on the platform, we’re here encourage you to start using the platform not only organically but as a paid marketing channel.
Who Should Use TikTok Advertising?
Users today have the option to be categorized as a personal, creator, or business account. Operating as a business TikTok account, brands can unlock the ability to run paid ads, partner with creators, run real-time performance tracking, access in-depth analytics, and have the ability to drive traffic to external landing pages.
Brands across all industries can find success marketing on TikTok. By using TikTok advertising, fast food companies like Dunkin’, Chipotle, and Wendy’s have found unique ways to connect with customers and turn up the cravings around menu items and collabs. Tech and SaaS companies have also found their way into TikTok advertisements as they are able to optimize for app downloads. But it’s beauty, fashion, and food that take the cake (no pun intended) for the highest viewed categories.
The international reach of TikTok also continues to expand as the app is currently available in 154 countries and can operate in 75 different languages. This allows advertisers to target audiences based on location and language, while utilizing text overlays and auto-captioning to reach individuals outside of their own linguistic scope.
Finally, there is the consideration of gender. Globally, female users hold the majority at 60% of users, and in the United States, outweigh their male counterparts by 2:1. Because of this, brands specifically targeting women are more likely to find success advertising on TikTok.
The TikTok Business Center
TikTok launched its Business Center in 2020 and continues to roll out additional optimizations and campaign types for businesses of all sizes and budgets.
It is comprised of four main areas:
- The Business Center – This is where various levels of users are added and assigned. Members include your team members that are operating the day-to-day management of the business account whereas Partners is the space where you can connect your client or brand’s business ID in order to connect to their specific Ads account.
- Ads Manager – Ads Manager houses campaigns, audiences, creatives, product catalogs, and reporting. This is where the magic happens.
- Store Manager – Once you connect your CRM platform, products can be uploaded and managed here to be displayed on your profile storefront with the ability to be tagged and featured in your organic and paid videos.
- Creator Center – Discover trends, view top-performing ads, explore the TikTok audio library, and use the creative center video templates to turn still photos into beautifully branded videos.
With so many resources and promotion capabilities, why wouldn’t you give TikTok Advertising a shot? Here’s how to get started on TikTok Business Center:
- Create your TikTok business account by going to TikTok For Business. Click “Start Now” to sign-up for TikTok Business Center. Users can currently create up to three business accounts.
- Add additional users and members through email or send them a link by clicking “Add Members.” Users can have two access points: Admin or Standard account access. Within these two layers come additional restrictions that can be customized to your team’s needs.
- Manage your assets and TikTok formats under Assets > Advertiser accounts. Here you can set up a new Ad account and add your business account information. As a user, you may have to inform your account administrator and have them approve your request.
- Create your ads and start engaging your audiences! Once you’re all set, make sure to explore TikTok’s creator resources and see how you can leverage various formats to support your growth.
What are the TikTok Advertising formats?
Like many other paid social platforms, TikTok’s ad platform is not one size fits all. We believe in having an experimentation mindset to discover the best campaign types, assets, and budgets for every account we manage. There is no copy and pasting when it comes to strategy, but once we find a method that yields results, we double down on optimizations while working with partners at TikTok to beta test new ad formats.
But how exactly do you start advertising on TikTok and which is the best way to do so? TikTok currently offers five ad formats that can serve your brand at every stage of the marketing funnel. Within these ad types, there are additional customizations and targeting to reach your optimal audience.
This ad format is available to all Ads Accounts no matter their size or budget and is set up similarly to Facebook or Instagram. These ads appear on your “For You Page” feed. This ad format can run up to 60 seconds of video but an engaging hook will be the most important to get users to stop the scroll.
In-Feed Ads appear natively amongst their organic counterparts blending seamlessly into your scrolling and exploring. The biggest benefit of In-Feed Ads is the multiple opportunities to call to action, leading users to an Instant Landing page, website, storefront, or app download.
Within days of launching In-Feed Ads, Morning Brew received over 70,000 new subscribers to their newsletter, achieved an engagement rate of 24%, and accumulated 23 million impressions. You may have seen similar lead generation campaigns from other marketing newsletters including DTC (that’s their name).
Managed Brands Ad Formats
Not all accounts have the same ad formats available to them. Managed Brands are accounts that work directly with a representative at TikTok and reach a minimum ad spend threshold. These reps can provide early access to new product roll-outs, make ad optimization suggestions, assist in troubleshooting, and provide access to additional formats. The following ad types are exclusively available to managed brands:
Have you ever opened your TikTok app and were immediately faced with an ad from an account you don’t follow? This is a Brand Takeover Ad. These ads can also appear on your “For You Page” as a still photo, gif, or video with a clickable link leading to a landing page or branded hashtag challenge. Given the format, these ads are best suited for awareness campaigns, but advertisers should expect to pay premium prices for this spot especially since TikTok will only show one Brand Takeover Ad to a user each day.
See how Guess Jeans utilized a Brand Takeover Ad leading to their #InMyDenim Branded Hashtag Challenge landing page.
This ad type is similar to a Brand Takeover Ad, but instead of appearing when the app is launched, these 5-60 second video ads appear in-feed after the first 3 seconds of a user’s scroll. Designed to target your audience in the most effective way possible, these placements include audio and custom links.
Branded Hashtag Challenge
Unlike your typical hashtag, Branded Hashtags are exclusive to the TikTok Advertising platform. When a user clicks on a sponsored hashtag they are taken to a TikTok landing page with brand info, a website link, a description of the challenge, and popular videos using the hashtag. Users actively participate in creating themed content that incorporates the branded hashtag which gets compiled on the challenge landing page. This format encourages user-generated content and only runs for three to six days.
This feedback loop is a great way to create community and build an engaged audience.
Goldfish created a duet challenge with basketball star Boban Marjanovic for their #GoForTheHandful branded hashtag campaign. They partnered with additional influencers to get the challenge going and ran in-feed ads simultaneously to make the biggest impact.
Similar to Instagram filters and Snapchat lenses, TikTok offers branded filters, stickers, and AR lenses for users to engage with and use on their own videos. Branded Effect Ads can be run for up to 10 days and are available to search after that time frame.
Mucinex used a combination of a Branded Hashtag Challenge paired with a Branded Effect to raise awareness among Gen Z TikTok users and create a viral dance trend in the process.
Not every campaign type is suitable for every brand account and TikTok allows for creative flexibility with its many branded ad types. Experiment between ad formats, creative assets, audiences, and budgets to tailor your strategy to your campaign needs.
TikTok Advertising Optimizations
As you explore the Ads Manager platform, you’ll see it operates similarly to other ad platforms. While bid strategies and audience targeting are fairly straightforward, we’ll take you through some TikTok specific optimizations you can implement to refine your advertising content in order to see strong outcomes.
1. Niche up, not down
We all know understanding your niche and your target customers are important when considering marketing campaigns. But when it comes to the content of the ads you will deliver on TikTok, you should start by niching up instead of down.
Our current trade secret for TikTok Advertising is targeting a broad audience versus an overly granular, specific audience segment. TikTok Advertising works best for top-of-funnel and awareness campaigns as even any organic user has the ability to go viral. As the algorithm learns who your video is best suited for, serving it to a broad audience will set your ad up for more success at the awareness stage.
In the early experimentation stage, your content will be a bit broader than the content you create for your ideal customer who is ready to convert. Target and position your content towards an even broader audience — your top audience. This could be content from a related field or it could be personality-based content that appeals to users who do not want to convert right away. The idea is to connect with people in your broader audience and engage them with high quality content until they are ready to learn more and become viable leads.
For example, if your target audience is a marketing coach or a course creator, your middle audience might be a content creator in general, and your top audience might be someone looking for a way to turn their passion into a career.
These creative people who are looking for their passion may never become social media marketers, so they may never convert and buy your services. But by creating content they can relate to, you increase your chances of finding more of your ideal customers and leveraging TikTok’s extreme growth potential.
Once you have defined your target audiences and niche, it’s time to experiment with your actual content strategy.
2. Do your competitor research and follow relevant TikTok accounts for inspiration
TikTok is all about trends. What are other people doing in space, which sounds are trending, what hooks are landing? Make a list of TikTok creators and brands you can use for market research and stay inspired by. If you are wondering how to find TikTok creators to follow, use the Discover feed and search for names, keywords, or hashtags to find related accounts and videos.
Begin by finding creators within your niche or industry – essentially accounts that are creating the same topical content that you would create. Next, research creators from related or even broader niches. For example, if you are in the fitness space, you might find a fitness coach, a nutritionist, and a motivational writer.
3. Choose your campaign objective
TikTok Advertising currently has seven ad campaign objectives broken into three categories:
• Reach– Show your ad to the maximum number of people
• Traffic– Send users to a specific landing page URL
• App Installs– Drive users to download your app
• Video Views– Optimize for the maximum video views
• Lead Generation– Collect leads through TikTok’s Instant Landing Page forms
• Community Interaction– Best for driving engagement by encouraging account follows and profile visits
Conversions– Designed to drive valuable actions to your website or app. This requires installing your TikTok pixel to track events.
4. Spark Ads vs. Dark Ads
When deciding on ad content, accounts have the option to “Spark” an asset that is running organically or post it as a dark ad.
An organic asset can be added to an ad campaign through an authorized access code from the app or if you are the account owner, you can link it directly from the Ads Manager platform. Marketers are unable to change the creative asset or caption copy but can add an additional CTA or Instant Landing Page. The content will continue to run organically and live on your profile feed, but it is being pushed out to your ad group audience simultaneously.
Dark ads are exactly as the name implies. These ads are uploaded directly to Ads Manager and are not connected to your organic account. This allows brands that do not have an organic TikTok account to run ads, or brands that want to make specific copy or creative adjustments to assets that will better serve the conversion goals. These ads do not get pushed out to your followers unless they are in your target audience and do not live on your organic account page.
TikTok Advertising Brand Examples
2021 was a big year for TikTok and we have already seen app updates and feature roll-outs in 2022. The average user opens the app 8 times a day and spends 52 minutes per day scrolling. With these staggering stats, why wouldn’t you want to diversify your marketing stack? The platform prides itself on its motto “Don’t make ads, make TikToks,” and it’s clearly paying off as the platform is one of the best at native ad integration.
Now that you know how TikTok Advertising works, it’s time to take a look at some of the best-in-class brand examples that have provided an increase in brand visibility, traffic, and conversions.
~ Bryan Thoensen, Head of Content Partnerships at TikTok
The TikTok community continues to define the intersection of culture and commerce. In fact, our recent study found that 56% of users and 67% of creators feel closer to brands they see on TikTok – particularly when they publish human, unpolished content.
Duolingo – Setting the standard in #mascottok
Observing Duolingo’s rise to TikTok stardom has been somewhat of a masterclass in developing a brand persona on the platform. Duolingo’s TikTok account currently sits at 3.8 million TikTok followers and has amassed over 73.1 million video likes! But the Duolingo account was not an overnight success story. As they started with how-to videos and reactions to trends, the brand realized their videos that featured Duo, the company mascot, out-performed any other type of content. Duo became a personality of its own with its snarky/menacing behavior, obsession with Dua Lipa, and ability to quickly hop on trends.
It wasn’t until Duolingo’s 39th post that they realized what they had on their hands – an entertaining and loveable mascot that brought a big personality to the language learning app.
Pepsi’s #ThatsWhatILike campaign ushered in a new decade by encouraging consumers to unapologetically do what they enjoy, even in the face of others’ judgment – whether it’s clapping at the end of a movie, wearing an over-the-top costume for the fun of it, or simply enjoying a Pepsi. The campaign resulted in over 13 billion views and expertly played into the TikTok ethos by encouraging a barrage of silly videos that usually included Pepsi in some way. At the core of any good hashtag challenge, is free advertising and Pepsi won big on this one.
E.L.F’s viral “Eyes. Lips. Face.” challenge
It’s no secret that Elf Cosmetics has been thriving on TikTok. Elf even made history in 2019 as the first brand to commission an original song specifically for a TikTok campaign. It successfully leveraged a hashtag challenge ad with #eyeslipsface and the brand generated more than a million videos — the most videos of any branded hashtag challenge in history, according to Elf’s agency, Movers + Shakers. This was the first hashtag challenge that really, truly took off. By taking a risk and administering the help of a few influencers to kick off the campaign, Elf’s TikTok marketing strategy paid off, with the #eyeslipsface videos reaching a total of 5.2 billion views.
L’Oreal’s #LetsFaceIt campaign aimed to de-stigmatize mask-wearing by reminding us that looking and feeling your most beautiful is never out of style, even while wearing a mask. The branded hashtag challenge has garnered 17.3 billion views with thousands of video participants.
Bagel Bites #BagelBopsContest offered up a chance to win $10,000 for people who made videos featuring an official audio clip the brand commissioned about pizza being the perfect food for any time of day. The contest encouraged users to “remix”- sing, lip-sync, or dance to the official audio and use the hashtag for a chance to win. The contest drew a total of 3.6 billion views over its 1 month run time.
Ryanair — Filters that take-off
Ryanair has made a name for themselves on TikTok with their fast reactions to viral sounds and Gen Z nature. Their #ryanair hashtag has even accumulated over 711.9 million views.
The lift is fairly low on content creation as they use simple filters, text overlays, and trending music and sounds to assist in their virality. The company is delighting (and outsmarting) its audience by associating its well-known brand with one of the most casual and well-known TikTok filters of putting a face over a still shot of their planes. It hardly takes itself seriously and conveys a sense of authenticity that earns it the respect of users who may not even realize it’s an ad.
With its direct posts, the company has amassed a following of 1.6 million and even sparked discussions and speculations about who is managing the account so skillfully on behalf of the company.
Maybelline – #Maybeli
Maybelline New York is a household name around the world when it comes to makeup. To promote the launch of its new product line in Vietnam, the company decided to launch a branded hashtag challenge using the hashtag #Maybeli and even shot a music video for the occasion, titled “May Be Li.” The creators created 75,000 videos and reached 19 million users from all over Vietnam. Their video was viewed more than 173 million times and brand preference increased by 141.26%. Most importantly, online sales increased by 32.4%.
In addition to having a great organic presence on the platform, Gushers TikTok ads are some of the best. They really take the mantra of “Don’t make ads, make TikToks” to heart. Their first ad featured a boy fishing with Gushers captioned “Worms catch fish… Gushers catch friends?!” made a big splash and blew up their comments section. Users were asking if the video was even an ad because it looked like a post that would be on the “For You” page organically.
Similar to the Pepsi campaign above, the Cheetos #DejaTuHuella campaign encouraged users to show the world “what they are fuego” at, whether it’s film, fashion, art, dance, or food.” The campaign surrounded Cheetos’ new product releases focused on their iconic, finger-staining, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The campaign hashtag translated literally into “leave your mark” or “leave your heat” and was accompanied by a Bad Bunny song right on the tailwinds of him being announced as the most listened to artist of 2020 according to Spotify’s year-end Wrapped streaming report. Earlier in the year Cheetos also ran the #CantTouchThisChallenge which gave users a creative outlet to showcase their best “Cheetle” covered fingers rendition to the TikTok community.
This is one of the best TikTok ad examples that involve a brand takeover. Their marketing team at Mercedes-Benz knew to get Gen Z’ers and Millenials engaged, they’d need to get them involved in a unique campaign. To promote their #MBStarChallenge Hashtag Challenge (that included its own branded effect), they released high-quality Brand Takeover ads, along with a mix of In-Feed ads that used user-generated content.
The campaign went viral, resulting in over 185,000 videos by 73,000 users and video views reaching 180 million! Their Brand Takeover CTR was 17.5%. A post-campaign study showed a 66.3% increase in ad recall, an 18.2% boost in brand favorability, and allowed them to gain 30,000 new followers. In both the UK and German campaigns, page views topped 1 million.
Working closely with TikTok, Bumble created an entirely new, always-on acquisition channel with significant scale, using clever TikTok-style direct response ads. The brand also worked with notable creators, such as David Dobrik and Brittany Broski, to build native video content that seamlessly blended into “For You feeds”. By tapping notable creators with significant organic followings Bumble successfully leaned into the “Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks” and served relevant, relatable content to an engaged audience. The campaign is listed as a case study on the TikTok site along with the results of the campaign — a 5X increase in App Install Volume along with a 64% decrease in cost-per-registration.
NYX Gloss partnered with TikTok to develop the #ButterGlossPop Branded Hashtag Challenge. This premium branded campaign was specifically designed to have a viral impact and inspire content across the platform. The #ButterGlossPop challenge prompted the TikTok community to apply Butter Gloss with their own personal flair to be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win $1200 in NYX Makeup. The campaign was a knockout success because of an original, high-energy catchy song and clear instructions made it easy for creators to release their creative potential. The campaign resulted in 2M+ user-generated videos and over 11B+ video views along with a 42% lift in brand awareness.
In addition, the campaign included an integrated shopping experience that positioned the easily accessible product line directly in front of an engaged and interested audience, inspiring lower funnel action.
Couture fashion brand Balmain usually showcases its latest high-end designs on the runway, but when the local shows were temporarily canceled, the company had to get creative. They decided to showcase Balmain’s latest designs via a TikTok live fashion show. In-feed ads were placed before and during the live stream to promote the show, and they also appeared during the broadcast. It was a unique tactic that definitely paid off.
The sponsored in-feed ads garnered more than 22 million views, as well as tens of thousands of new followers who signed up to be notified when the show began. In the end, 240,000 viewers watched Balmain’s unique TikTok fashion show, which would not have been as successful without an effective in-feed advertising campaign.
ASOS leveraged a Branded Hashtag Challenge Plus for the brilliant #AySauceChallenge. It invited the community to “channel their ASOS vibe” and show off their three best outfits with a series of outfit changes over three weeks in the U.K. and U.S., set to bespoke music and an interactive augmented reality Branded Effect.
The Branded Hashtag Challenge Plus also included a spot on TikTok’s trending hashtags list and a bundle of additional ads—TopView, One Day Max and Brand Premium In-Feed Ads — all of which turbocharged exposure for the campaign and pushed users to the central challenge page, where all UGC entries were housed. ASOS also worked with 28 popular U.K. and U.S. Creators to kick off the challenge and provide inspiration for users to follow while also building the credibility of ASOS’ brand presence on the platform. Using Creators allowed ASOS to tap into an enormous combined following, paving the way for almost 500k videos created and 1.2B+ video views in just 6 days.
Simmons Mattresses, working collaboratively with agency partners and TikTok, launched the #Snoozzzapalooza Branded Hashtag Challenge, one of TikTok’s premium Branded Solutions that is specifically designed for virality. This Hashtag Challenge encouraged the quarantined community to literally stage dive into a bed over the summer festival season without any live music due to Covid-19.
Simmons partnered with comedians, dancers, athletes, and celebs to cast a huge net and inspire as much of the community as possible to participate. Each of the creators uniquely imagined the challenge, transforming their rooms and creatively using the platform to showcase their vision of the ideal at-home music festival. To drive maximum participation and awareness, Simmons equipped the #Snoozzzapalooza Hashtag Challenge with a fun, upbeat original track that got the community moving.
The campaign resulted in 2M+ videos, amassing six billion total views, and an engagement rate of 20%. The six-day campaign boosted brand engagement through creative participation, raised brand awareness among Gen Z on the platform, and spurred a +107% increase in traffic to Simmons.com week over week.
The Path to Virality
If you’re looking for a way to reach new audiences, connect with Gen Z, and diversify your paid social channels, then TikTok is the platform for you. The most successful ad campaigns are generally:
- Original and native to the organic production quality
- Authentic and in line with the brand personality
- Conversational in tone
- Highly engaging to users
- High-energy and entertaining
- Relevant to current trends and sounds
When choosing creators to partner with, it’s also important to work with more established TikTok influencers to ensure ads are seen by an established audience. Let your creator run wild, as they know best what works for their audience.
When each of these components is packaged together into a video with a single objective, TikTok can drive massive amounts of engagement, reach a larger audience base, and turn views into conversions.
Through TikTok’s creator tools and Ads platform, brands and companies all over the globe have been able to leverage and target their audiences by creating engaging communities through entertaining content and advertising their companies in new and exciting ways.