Five years ago, popular lip-syncing app Musical.ly was formed. About two years ago, Beijing-based ByteDance acquired Musical.ly and renamed it TikTok, thereafter launching in Europe. Since then, the short-form video platform beloved by Gen Z is quickly gaining traction for its user-friendly experience and the rise of the platform’s unfiltered influencer.
TikTok is now available in 75 different languages across 150 global markets. Since debuting, the app has been downloaded 950 million times. The app allows users to create videos that range from 15 seconds to one minute long with the option to add music as well as branded hashtag challenges. Sony Pictures, American Eagle Outfitters and Gymshark are among the first brands to dip their toes into the relatively uncluttered market—and for good reason, as Forrester predicts short video ad spending will reach $6.5 billion in 2020, up from $2.1 billion in 2018.
Short-form videos as an effective format to lower the barrier for creation are part of TikTok’s grand plan. Unlike YouTube, for which brands and influencers pour considerable thought into, TikTok features creators as their raw selves, in mostly unedited videos doing quirky things like lip-syncing and dancing like no one’s watching (think: watermelon dress challenges and animal emoji karaoke). Part of TikTok’s appeal is that the platform is planned around specific challenges that include hashtags and memes, then it presents content to users based on their watch habits.
In addition to branded hashtag challenges, TikTok’s features include branded augmented reality (AR) lens, limited-time brand takeover ads and more recently, it started testing in-feed video ads. The platform has become so popular that an unofficial “Best TikTok Compilations” YouTube channel has accumulated 1.4 million subscribers.
TikTok is where users go to engage rather to connect with friends and family, and because its ad platform is still being developed, influencers are the best place to play right now on TikTok. If influencers aren’t a big part of your TikTok strategy, it’s hard to rely on just their ad tools. If you have the right audience, however, it’s worth trying.
Despite TikTok’s nascence, some influencers on the platform are able to make a living via brand partnerships. Take popular TikToker Holly H, for example. The 22-year-old West Sussex native has 14.7 million fans on TikTok where, according to Vice, her posts have been liked over 285 million times. Holly admitted she doesn’t plan her videos, but rather, makes content that comes to mind. In one sponsored video, Holly is shown lip syncing a scene from Nickelodeon’s Victorious to Gen Z singer Billie Eilish’s song “Bad Guy.” Recently, Holly worked on an ad for the movie How to Train Your Dragon 3.
Then there’s Leanne Bailey, a baker who named her TikTok channel @thebaileybakery after her real-life Kentucky-based business. Since starting on TikTok, Bailey has amassed 4.4 million fans and posts a sponsored video once weekly. Music labels often pay Bailey to use a particular song, the influencer told BuzzFeed News.
At the start of 2019, UK-based online gym wear retailer, Gymshark, announced a “66 Days Change Your Life” personal goal challenge, calling on users to upload an initial photo on January 1 then uploading both the initial photo and an updated photo 66 days later, on March 8. In return, winners would receive a year’s supply of Gymshark goods. Gymshark not only helped users improve themselves, but the brand also naturally created a connection with fans. To raise awareness of the 66 days challenge, Gymshark tapped six influencers in categories across health, lifestyle, fitness and dance.
For its second 2019 TikTok challenge, Chipotle asked fans to come up with a dance with the hashtag #GuacDance. To raise awareness about the dance-off, the brand tapped Youtubers Loren Gray and Brent Rivera. The activation garnered 532,388,592 views and 24,714 posts that incorporated Dr. Jean’s “The Guacamole Song.” In addition to engaging TikTok’s Gen Z users, Chipotle was able to promote orders online and on its mobile app given that entry required ordering from either.
Sony Pictures has also experienced success with TikTok. In its effort to promote a song from the US band, AJR Brothers, the company tapped TikTok influencer duo Max and Harvey. The duo created a challenge using AJR Brothers’ “100 Bad Days” and a hashtag to accompany it for a chance to meet them and the AJR Brothers at their London concert. The lighthearted video received 230,000 views and 40,000 likes.
Guess encouraged TikTok users to create and share videos using the #InMyDenim and Bebe Rexha song “I’m A Mess.” The six-day campaign was part of the apparel company’s strategy to promote its autumn season denim collection. Over 5,000 entries were submitted and Guess’s newly created account got 12,000 followers and 10.5 million views on its videos.
This month, American Eagle Outfitters used TikTok’s latest ad unit, the in-feed video, for a back-to-school campaign that includes a fall collection made in collaboration with rapper Lil Wayne. The challenge called for users to post videos of themselves in pieces from the collection with the rapper’s “Uproar” song.
The content the resonates well on TikTok is younger by nature. If you’re on there as a brand and your typical demographic is older, the content and audience aren’t going to feel right since those go hand in hand. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have a natural Gen Z audience.
It’s also worth noting that while Gen Z dominates TikTok’s current demographic, a study from GlobalWebIndex found that the global user base might be expanding from just teens. Data shows that the number of TikTok users from age 26-34 is higher compared to the number of 16-to-24-year-olds in countries such as Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.