What Marketers Need to Know About TikTok

Key Takeaways

  • TikTok is a bite-sized social video platform that allows users to create, share, and edit videos with built-in tools that make it easy for anyone to add music or special effects
  • Almost half of the users on TikTok are between the ages of 16-24
  • Brands seeing success on the platform are authentic in the content they are creating
  • TikTok has 5 ad units which have large minimum spends; however, their self-serve platform is in Beta

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a bite-sized social video platform that allows users to create, share, and edit videos with built-in tools the make it easy for anyone to add music, implement special effects, and join in on the latest trends. Its origins here in the West can be traced back to 2014’s Musical.ly app, which was acquired by the Beijing-based media company, ByteDance, who had launched the original TikTok app in China in 2016.

Since its acquisition TikTok has
exploded in popularity, boasting over 1.5 billion app installations and over
500 million monthly users, placing it ahead of other social networks such as
Twitter, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

TikTok was the 7th most downloaded app of the 2010’s and climbed to the #2 spot a few weeks ago.

We recently hosted a webinar on TikTok. You can view the recording below:

Who is Using TikTok?

In short: teens. Nearly 50% of TikTok’s user base is between the ages of 16 and 24, so it’s definitely not your imagination if it all feels like a young kid’s game. However, as TikTok continues to surge in popularity a growing number of adults in the United States have begun adopting the platform.

TikTok User demographics

There are 60M US monthly active users on TikTok and therefore about 29M of those users are in the 16-24 age group. We did some research and found that there are approximately 38M 16-24-year-old’s in the US, which means 76% of all 16-24 year old’s in the US can be found on the platform. While we fully expect TikTok to remain a platform geared towards that younger audience, there’s an increasing opportunity to reach adults on the platform as well.

We also looked at time spent on TikTok. TikTok
users are opening the app 8x per day and spending about 52 minutes/day on TikTok.
This time spend is equivalent to the time spent on Facebook and Instagram and
higher than the time spent on Twitter and Snapchat.

Who is not currently on TikTok, however, are brands! As of May 2019, eMarketer found that only 4% of US social media marketers are currently involved with the platform. Part of this is due to the tricky nature of crafting content on a platform geared towards more personal and less produced content, but the company has introduced new tools to make it easier for brands to both connect with potential influencers and create challenges to get involved with fans. There’s a huge opportunity for brands to break through on the platform this year.

Brand Watch-Outs

Terms of Service

An important watch-out for brands comes from TikTok’s Terms of Service (you can dive into their Terms of Service here). One thing that has stood out to us is that TikTok has unlimited rights to re-use and repurpose your content (royalty-free, fully transferable, on any platform they want). The person or brand retains the copyright, but TikTok can repurpose the content in any way they want to.

TikTok Terms of Service
Source: https://www.tiktok.com/legal/terms-of-use

TikTok has also been in the news about potential cybersecurity threats, and because of this, TSA agents and people in the military are not allowed to use the platform.

What Type of Content Works & Doesn’t Work on TikTok?

What Works

Keep it casual–No matter the type of content you seek to create on TikTok you’ll want to avoid giving it too polished of a look. Keep the high-grade cameras in your bag and the effects as native to the app as possible.

Be real— It’s the antithesis of Instagram’s heavily curated, glossy versions of ourselves. Authenticity matters here, so let your hair down!

Stories over news–Users on TikTok are there to be entertained, not spoken or marketed to. Instead of focusing on product information and updates, think about how you can continue telling the story of your brand, the people who make it possible, and how your products play a key role in that lifestyle.

What Doesn’t Work

Traditional video content–If it was intended for TV, your YouTube or Facebook pages, it probably won’t work on TikTok.

Bandwagoning–You’ll want to be aware of which trends work well with your brand and which to avoid. Among TikTok’s teen audience, brands encroaching on the platform is already a hot button issue and jumping on unnecessary trends can be seen as a lame move.

Improperly formatted video— Be sure your content adheres to the 9:16 vertical format on TikTok! Whether you film your content in the app itself or produce it elsewhere, it absolutely must be in a vertical format, and under either the 15-second or 60-second limit.

Unique Features of TikTok

Sounds: The
primary feature of TikTok that
you need to know and understand are sounds and how to use them. Tapping the
sounds button will open a new window that allows you to browse from seemingly
infinite soundtracks for your videos from pop favorites, currently trending
clips, as well as your bookmarked sounds.

One of the most important habits to learn
while adapting to TikTok is
bookmarking sounds along with following individual creators. If you notice a
trending sound that you like, bookmark it and then you can scroll through all
the videos using that sound later.

Effects: If
you’ve seen a crazy special effect in a TikTok video, this is where you’ll find them!
Not only can you save the ones you love to your favorites, but you can also do
it straight from any TikTok
video that uses a built-in effect.

Duets: TikTok allows creators to not only “Like” and comment on each other’s videos but respond directly to them in their own feed with a TikTok of their own! For this functionality to work, you must enable Duets during the final step of the publishing phase via the “Allow Duet and React” button.

Example Best-in-Class Brands on the Platform

Chipotle (tiktok.com/@chipotle): Chipotle is a fantastic example of a brand embracing the unique qualities of the TikTok platform. Their videos speak to the relatable aspects of the Chipotle customer experience with content that doesn’t look out of place or beyond that of your average person’s feed. Their straight-forward approach to the platform also allows them to seamlessly integrate influencers into their content stream. They have also launched several Challenges on the platform, such as the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge and #GuacDance around National Avocado Day.

Washington Post (tiktok.com/@washingtonpost): A newspaper dating back to 1877 isn’t a brand you’d expect to find on TikTok, but they’ve made it work by being authentic and on top of trends. A mixture of behind-the-scenes moments and odd memes have made them the “boomer darlings” of the youth-focused app. They do a great job executing skits, stunts and workplace humor to bring in a younger audience.

Fenty Beauty (tiktok.com/@fentybeauty): The two keys to Fenty’s success on TikTok are authenticity and inclusivity. The cosmetic brand’s approach to TikTok features plenty of behind-the-scene videos showcasing real people utilizing their products without overly producing or touching up the videos, all while featuring a diverse cast, including men who are fans of their beauty products.

In March, Rihanna opened a Fenty Beauty House in LA to bring together TikTok content creators and beauty bloggers in one place to access
products and have the tools to create content. That effort has since been
paused with COVID-19, but it is a really cool activation of a brand bringing
creators together to make content for the platform.

Paid Media Opportunities

Ad Units

TikTok currently offers five ad units in the U.S. including In-Feed Native Video, Branded Takeovers, TopView, Branded Hashtag Challenges, and Branded Effects.

TikTok Ad Units

In-Feed Native Video:
Full-screen video that appears in-feed, alongside user videos. The ad unit can
drive users to an external or internal landing page or app.

Branded Takeover: Full-screen takeovers that appear when a user opens the app. The 3-second-long still image or 3- to 5-second video takeover can drive users to an external or internal landing page.

the Branded Takeover concept with a first-in-feed position. After the first 3
seconds, the video turns into the in-feed post.

Branded Hashtag Challenge: Encourages
users to create and share content on TikTok using a branded hashtag.

Branded Effect: Animated lenses triggered by facial and hand movements, along the lines of Snapchat lenses.


As with any platform new to the ad space, advertising on TikTok is limited to brands with larger marketing budgets. Ads are bought through a managed service, so brands must meet minimum spends and work with a TikTok representative to place ads. TikTok is also testing a self-serve platform with a select group of advertisers. As the platform rolls out in the U.S. market, we expect to see an increase in brand advertising in the space and a decrease in costs.

Targeting Capabilities

TikTok Targeting Capabilities

TikTok’s targeting capabilities are currently limited to demographic (age, gender, geography, language), interest category, custom and lookalike audiences, and device. This may be one reason why, in a March 2019 survey by Digiday, U.S. media executives rated TikTok as having the lowest targeting capabilities when compared to select digital platforms including Google search, Facebook, and Instagram.

TikTok is a young platform for a young audience. As the app gains momentum in the U.S. market and acquires more capital to ramp up their offerings, we expect to see growth in their targeting capabilities.

Activating Influencers on TikTok

Because TikTok is designed for rapid video consumption, it’s an excellent channel for brands and influencers to partner together. That said, TikTok isn’t like Facebook and Instagram, and the way in which you can partner with influencers varies. From identifying partners to FTC disclosures to measuring analytics, it can get a little messy. Check out this post that dives into everything you should know about partnering with TikTok creators to fully understand what these partnerships could look like.

Interested in learning more? Fill out the form below to get in touch with our team and see what TikTok opportunities are right for your brand:

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