TikTok Ads: Everything You Need to Know About Marketing on TikTok

TikTok ads showing on smartphone

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the buzz about social media app TikTok. And with its easy-to-consume content being watched by millions of people every day, it’s simple to understand why there’s a growing buzz about TikTok ads.

With the app attracting 500 million active users worldwide, TikTok is a marketer’s dream, but how exactly do TikTok ads work? And is it even possible to advertise on it as a small business?

If you’re curious about marketing on TikTok but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered. We’ve done the research, scrolled the videos, and put together this helpful guide that will give you the tools you need to understand TikTok ads, its user base, and its various features and quirks.

Read on to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of TikTok and how your business can become a part of it.

TikTok Ads: What is the TikTok App?

a bunch of teenagers sit on a street all looking at their phones

TikTok is a social media app that enables users to create and view short videos set to music or custom-made soundtracks.

Perfect for widespread use, while users can simply passively browse TikTok – scrolling and watching other users’ content without contributing – the app has also made it incredibly easy for users to create videos.

But before we jump into the app’s features, you might be wondering where TikTok even came from – and with good reason, its journey to worldwide popularity is an interesting one.

The app is owned by ByteMedia, who first launched a Chinese version of the app called Douyin in September 2016. TikTok – which uses the same software as Douyin – was released as Douyin’s international counterpart a year later. Not long after this, ByteMedia acquired lip-syncing app Muscial.ly and, after combining the two apps in August 2018, it quickly gained popularity.

With such rapid growth, some TikTok creators have become wildly popular and have attracted outside attention. One user was even signed with a talent agency off the back of a viral post.

Other big businesses have been clambering for a piece of the action as well.

In September 2019, the NFL signed a multi-year partnership to share game highlights and behind-the-scenes material with TikTok users. Meanwhile, a mixture of high-profile people, groups, and outlets have also emerged as popular TikTok profiles including Will Smith, Gary Vaynerchuk, The Washington Post, and Korean boy band, BTS.

Who Uses TikTok?

So, who’s watching all of these random content creators? Well, it’s mostly those under 30, particularly those belonging to Gen Z – a massive 41 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. And with this age range having increasing purchasing power, it makes understanding TikTok ads and advertising all the more important.

four teenage girls walk towards the camera smiling

With all of this in mind, how can businesses harness the power of TikTok?

How to Use TikTok for Marketing

Having only been around in its current form since late 2018, it’s very much early days in the TikTok advertising world. While there might be big changes to come in the future, here are the current ways a brand can use the app for marketing:

1. Creating a Profile

Probably the cheapest way to get involved in TikTok marketing is by creating a profile, producing content, and building an audience. However, there’s a fine art to making videos that not only promote your brand but also attract viewers. Users don’t use the app to watch TikTok commercials, so any brand looking to get involved should have a good grasp on the type of content that’s popular before starting an account (don’t worry, we’ll give you a cheat sheet below).

2. Paying for Official TikTok Ads

Screenshots of a TikTok ad campaign from Guess

This seems like the obvious answer when talking about TikTok ads, but at the moment this option is only available in certain countries and has a restrictive price tag. Paid TikTik ads can come in several forms, including:

  • Pre-roll ads: Videos that starts as soon as users open the app
  • In-feed ads: Videos that appear as users scroll
  • Promoted hashtag challenges: Videos encouraging user submissions using a custom hashtag
  • Branded effects: A custom effect filter for creators to use in videos – similar to those on Snapchat and Instagram but featuring brand-specific information

As mentioned, TikTok ads are expensive – if you’ve got $50k to $100k to spend on ads or $150k for a promoted hashtag challenge then this is a good option, but currently, TikTok app ads seem the domain of brands like Universal Pictures, McDonald’s, and Guess.

3. Working with Influencers

Working with a proven, relevant TikTok influencer to promote your product is a happy middle ground between spending thousands on TikTok commercials and trying to produce your own content. This is something that all sorts of companies have started doing, from established brands like Elf Cosmetics and Petco to smaller entrepreneurs wanting to promote a single product.

However, because you can’t include clickable URLs in TikTok video captions, it’s not always easy to direct traffic to websites from these videos. You can try to work around this by having influencers link to your store in their bio or the video comment section, but as you can imagine, adding this extra step reduces follow through.

4. Shoppable Videos on TikTok

You might have heard whispers of shoppable videos being available on TikTok. This is a brand new option that is currently being tested by a few TikTok influencers but has been available on TikTok’s sister app, Douyin, for some time. Akin to the “swipe up” feature and shoppable posts on Instagram, shoppable videos would allow users to attach a URL to their TikTok advertising videos so that users could be taken to their store with a single tap.

While TikTok has confirmed it is trialing the feature, it hasn’t confirmed when – or if – it will be rolled out to a wider audience, so at the moment shoppable videos can’t be considered a viable option. However, if this feature is released worldwide, it would open TikTok up to influencer marketing and make it easier to sell directly from your business’ profile.

No matter which of the options for advertising on TikTok appeals to you, you’ll still need a relevant and clever ad to make an impact. With the majority of TikTok users having grown up in the internet age, they’re savvy when it comes to advertising and don’t want to watch anything overt. But, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily opposed to advertising – it just needs to fit in.

So what’s the best way to advertise in TikTok for brands? Make use of the app’s unique features and user culture.

Advertising on TikTok: Using App Features

Unlike social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, TikTok users often base their content on trends and memes. It can change rapidly – what’s popular one week won’t necessarily be hot the next – and the key is jumping on the trends as soon as possible. While original content is appreciated, reactionary content is also highly rewarded. Here are a few of the different kinds of content you could consider for your TikTok marketing.

Hashtag Challenges

A hashtag challenge is when a specific task is set out by one user and other TikTok users are encouraged to try it and post the result using the associated hashtag. Any user can try and create a hashtag challenge, though whether or not others join in and it spreads is not guaranteed.

When brands pay for hashtag challenges, their hashtags are promoted for a few days and are usually accompanied by a microsite where users can purchase the brand’s products within TikTok. This is what grocery chain Kroger did when they ran the #TransformUrDorm hashtag challenge during the back to school shopping season.

Screenshots of Kroger's paid TikTok ad campaign

If there is a popular hashtag challenge that fits your brand or product, this could be a great opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and try and get some views. Be sure to browse other videos using the hashtag to get a feel for the different ways you can get involved.

Creating and Reusing Sounds

This might be a vestige of TikTok’s Musical.ly origins, but a big part of TikTok is the use of “sounds” to accompany videos. This could include snippets of songs, speeches, TV or movie dialogue, or random user commentary. The genius part is that once a sound is used in a video, it’s saved on TikTok and can then be reused by other creators.

Having a sound become popular on TikTok has catapulted some musicians into mega-stardom, including Lil Nax X, whose song “Old Town Road” was first a hit on TikTok before going mainstream, getting remixed, and charting at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 weeks – the longest in history.

Sounds are often used in conjunction with other TikTok features such as hashtag challenges, as seen in the #yeehawchallenge above, and dance challenges, as seen in the git up challenge below.

Dance Challenges

Considering the popularity of music on TikTok, dance challenges seem a no-brainer. These are spread when one creator dances to a specific song and others recreate it. The dance itself may be elaborate, or it might be recreated in an elaborate way -– or both.

Take, for instance, The Git Up challenge where people dance a specific routine to Blanco Brown’s song of the same name. Although the challenge wasn’t created by Brown or his team – that was the handiwork of TikTok user Harvey Bass – videos using the hashtag #thegitup received over 157 million views. And the flow-on effect was Brown’s song clocking up over 127 million streams on Spotify.

On the other side of things, you have the popularity of the dance performed to “Chinese New Year” by the band Sales. The dance itself is extremely uncomplicated, leaving users to show off their creativity in increasingly unbelievable ways. Much like Blanco’s song, “Chinese New Year” also had a huge boost in streams on Spotify.

Duets and Effects

TikTok has a wide range of filters and special effects that users can feature in their videos.

Duets are a popular style, allowing users to take one video and record a companion video to go with it.

Duets are often used when other users try to replicate something the original TikTok user has done, such as cooking or crafting. Or, it might act as a funny or creative counterpart to the original video.

TikTok frequently updates its filters and there are always new ones for users to figure out creative ways to use. The nine-camera split effect recently became popular after a creator used it in combination with the Chordettes song “Mr Sandman.” Others soon jumped on the format with the trend reaching its peak when a cat was featured, prompting a slew of literal copycat videos.

Whether you want to pay, do it yourself, or use influencers, all of these features have a ton of potential for brands to jump on board and start marketing on TikTok.

However, this list is by no means exhaustive and because it’s all so new, it’s important to remember, there’s no one way to create the best TikTok ads.

Finding Your Groove With TikTok Ads

If none of these features and formats suits your brand, you can always browse TikTok to see what else is popular and jump in once you see a format, sound, or hashtag that you like.

As TikTok is such a place of creativity, the sky’s the limit when it comes to TikTok marketing. And because the best way to create TikTok ads still isn’t totally clear – especially for brands with smaller marketing budgets – there’s no better time to start experimenting and testing anything that might work.

Above all else, TikTok users want clever and fun videos, so if you’re hitting those notes with the videos you’re creating it should only be a matter of time before you grow a following. Don’t expect it to be instant though, while some users can go viral from just one video, for most it takes multiple attempts before it all comes together.

Are you using TikTok to promote your store? Have you made a sale using TikTok? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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