What The F*ck Is TikTok? An Advertiser’s Guide To The Skyrocketing Social Media Sensation

Tyumen, Russia - April 30,2019: TikTok and YouTube apps on screen iphone xr, close up

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Ever uttered the words, “What the f*ck is TikTok?” You’re not alone. Popular among the youth of today (think: Gen Z and younger), it’s hot property for advertisers and brands looking for younger eyeballs.

And while in November last year TikTok hit 1.5 billion downloads – outperforming both Facebook and Instagram in terms of early growth – it remains a relatively untapped market in terms of advertising. In this article, Ally Burnie dives headfirst into the world of TikTok to give advertisers and brands a quick guide on how to capitalise on this skyrocketing social media sensation.

I first downloaded TikTok as a joke – one I terribly regret. I wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about. What started as a “haha, what is all the fuss about a silly app” has now turned into a full-blown TikTok obsession. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent (read: wasted) hours scrolling through the For You Page (the main page of the app where you find new content).

And yet, my story isn’t uncommon. I’ve spoken to countless friends who’ve experienced the exact same downfall. TikTok is an addiction my generation and younger just can’t seem to shake, and, it appears 1.5 billion people across 155 countries agree with me.

Fast Facts

TikTok was originally Musical.ly, but got renamed when it was bought by Beijing company ByteDance. In China it’s still called Douyin.

Perhaps what’s most fascinating about TikTok is its growth rate. While it took Facebook and Instagram six years to reach half a million monthly active users, it took TikTok a third of that time to reach the same status.

Think the wave’s yet to hit Australia and New Zealand shores? Think again. TikTok boasts 1.4 million monthly active users in the region, driving 1.6 billion video views every month. Although relatively small compared to Facebook’s 16 million users, Instagram’s 9.7 million, Snapchat’s 6.4 million and Twitter’s 2.6 million monthly active users, the pervasiveness off TikTok is nothing short of extraordinary. Data from TikTok shows that each of the 1.4 million monthly users accumulates 1,300 video views and an average watch time of
46+ minutes.

The Aerie Effect

You’re probably wondering what the ‘Aerie effect is’. Here’s a quick rundown. In a video on Scott Galloway’s Section4 Youtube channel, Galloway claimed Instagram is the Victoria’s Secret of social media land.

Essentially, he says Instagram – like Victoria’s Secret is “culturally out of touch and propagating an unattainable lifestyle through imagery that does nothing but make people feel shitty about themselves.”

Aerie, on the other hand, is a US-based lingerie and underwear company that according to Galloway, “capitalises on Victoria’s Secret’s weakness”, that is, create untouched social media campaigns that have positive messaging. So, is TikTok the answer to Instagram’s penchant for authenticity and living life through a Valencia filter?

Says Galloway, “Unlike instagram, which encourages largely passive scrolling through images and videos, TikTok’s bread and butter is participation.

“In a man bites dog scenario, TikTok has figured out how to draft off of Facebook’s more than 2 billion users versus Facebook ripping off every other media company’s innovations.

“Can Facebook figure out a way to replicate TikTok’s magic sauce, they way they stole stories from Snapchat?” he asks. “Or will any imitation lack authenticity and feel like a watered down version of TikTok? Is TikTok about to Facebook Instagram?”

All signs point to the fact it just might hold the power to do it.

Advertisers Take Note

There’s no denying TikTok is big news. It’s also quickly becoming a growing threat to Facebook and Instagram, especially given its status amongst the younger audiences. And, according to GroupM chief digital strategy officer Venessa Hunt, it’s a growing platform that advertisers and brands are starting to take note of too.

While Hunt says there are still a lot of “unanswered questions” about the platform, she says it’s certainly caught the attention of GroupM’s clients.

Hunt says: “Any company with the year-over-year growth as rapid as TikTok piques the curiosity and interest of our clients. It is undeniable that the consumer usage growth in TikTok within Australia and its sequential gain consistently quarter on quarter can’t be ignored.

“It’s important for clients to be where their audience is, however, there are still many unanswered questions which, as an industry, we will need to address as
the TikTok’s new ad products mature within Australia.”

When asked how advertisers can most effectively use TikTok to their advantage, Hunt says the ad opportunities are similar to what’s on offer on other platforms. She says where TikTok differs is the ‘hashtag challenge’, which brands can sponsor.

“Partnering with creators is an easy way to scale in this environment. Marketers can have their own accounts, but the app’s unique tone and short length videos that incorporate music, filters, quick cuts, stickers and other platform bespoke creative add-ons, mean at this stage it’s less about developing content at scale and more about harnessing the power of fan-created content –  which has many risks, but when done right incredible reward.”

Hunt adds, however, that user-generated content carries inherent risks (such as it might not align with the brand’s positioning), so when discussing with clients the option of putting media spend in TikTok, it “comes down to the client’s individual appetite for risk.”

Will TikTok Overtake Traditional Media?

Can and will TikTok and social media in general surpass traditional media advertising? Hunt concedes traditional media advertising is being disrupted by digitisation, but adds it is not a
new phenomenon.

She says: “In most developed countries time spend on mobile has already superseded that of linear television. In the Australian market, we have a very healthy video ecosystem across social platforms, digital publishers and television broadcasters all contributing to the mobile video revolution and innovating to deliver a premium environment for advertisers.”

Hunt says what’s important to note is that video consumption on a mobile device is far greater than video watched on social platforms alone.

“Traditional businesses that have embraced that digital change faster have had far more success in commercially benefiting from the growth in new media opportunities.

“What I do think, is that we will see is content owners (in every meaning of the word) beginning to take back control of where their content is distributed and who collects the money from the ad dollars that are spent to be around or within that content,” she says.

CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory Alessandro Bogliari has the opposite opinion to Hunt. He says it’s only a matter of time before mobile and video
overtakes TV.

He says, “Traditional TV is not on-demand and doesn’t understand the trends of younger people. With your phone, you choose what you watch and where you watch and at what time. Also, you can now get millions of viewers without a budget, while TV requires a lot of people, time and investment.

Bogliari also says “Instagram is dying”, and now is the time for brands to jump ship to TikTok.

“Instagram’s organic reach is at its lowest record ever. You have to pay for ads in order to get in front of enough people. In addition, Instagram nowadays is offering the same type of content: perfect photos/videos of an unrealistic life. Gen Z wants authenticity and prefers to post raw videos that can really talk to other peers showing the real daily life, which they get
on TikTok.”

A TikTok spokesperson airs Bogliari’s sentiment, calling TikTok the “go-to platform for the smart-phone era and the gateway to a mobile-first audience”

The spokesperson says, “People are spending more time watching videos on their smartphones, resulting in a shift of consumer time spent towards short-form videos. TikTok has become the preferred platform for creative expression, given its lowered boundaries for sharing, creating, discovering, which is all made easy
on mobile.”

On how advertisers and brands can break into the TikTok market, the spokesperson says, “We encourage brands and agencies to spend time using TikTok, understanding the platform and short-video formats, looking at different trends and content, and getting a sense of how users engage with other creators and brands.  The TikTok community values authentic and creative expression.”

So, are brands in Australia jumping on the TikTok train yet? There are certainly a few. Bumble, Sweat and BeatsbyDre are just a few who are advertising on
the platform.

An Australian brand that’s looking at trying its hand in TikTok advertising this year is Keep It Cleaner (KIC), a fitness, nutrition and mindfulness program and app created by two Australian entrepreneurs.

And, when asked if KIC would consider TikTok in its 2020 advertising budget, KIC CMO Michelle Battersby says it’s one of the first things she told KIC founders it needed when she joined
the business.

She says, “One of the first things I said to Laura and Steph (KIC founders) when I joined was that they had to get a TikTok page because it’s really relevant to our audience. Steph and Laura have a joint account, which they started a month ago.

They have about 14,000 followers, but [paid advertising] is 100 per cent on cards for us. I’ve already been chatting to people at TikTok, looking at how we can work together and work on TikTok campaigns.”

The Transparency Trap

One potential issue with TikTok advertising, however, is the issue of transparency and brand safety. According to Hunt, TikTok’s popularity and media investment hype has put the app under the public spotlight and in the press around both user and brand safety.

Hunt says TikTok has made good progress by adopting different measures such machine-screening 100 per cent of uploaded content and comments and for any inappropriate elements they refer reported videos for human review.

When a video goes viral, it is human reviewed again, and once again as the video’s
viral grows.

She says, however, there are more developments that still need to take place. “There are many improvements still to come such as implementing legal protections, adopting brand safety controls such as exclusion or inclusion list and allowing full integration with 3rd party verification companies.

“There is a noticeable want from TikTok to adapt and create a safe place for users and advertisers.”

The issue of transparency in advertising and marketing on social media platforms isn’t new, especially when it comes to influencer advertising. According to Ad Standards Australia, influencer advertising falls under the AANA’s code of ethics which states advertising must be clearly labelled. Implemented in March 2017, the rules say while there are no requirements advertising or marketing communication must have a label, it does have to be clear to the relevant audience that the content is commercial in nature. However, failure to comply with these rules in Australia often does not result in any actual consequences. While Facebook and Instagram have updated their user policies, meaning people who are paid to display content must clearly state that through a paid-for-partnership tool or by using a hashtag like #ad, #advertisement or #sponsored, there is no real penalty for users who fail to do so.

On TikTok, influencers and marketers who promote products through video endorsements are also supposed to include a similar hashtag, yet again, there is no real consequence for those who don’t comply with the rules. Not to mention there have been concerns around censorship of content, with questions also being raised about how TikTok stores personal data. A recent report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) labelled TikTok “heavy-handed” in its content censorship and suggested it is using its global scale to advance Beijing’s political agenda.

Despite the strong accusations from ASPI and the negative media stories, TikTok maintains it has no strong ties to the Chinese government.

“The work of preserving TikTok as a safe, positive, and welcoming environment for our users, while also protecting our users’ freedom of creative expression to post content that may be serious or uncomfortable, is complex and challenging,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

“TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked.”

Snapshot: Different Advertising Opportunities

TikTok has been experimenting with advertising over the last year, and the advertising capabilities differ per region. Here’s a quick snapshot of the different ad opportunities.

Common advertising types, which are available in Australia, include: pre-roll ads (videos that appear as soon as users open the app), brand takeover, in-feed ads (videos that appear as users scroll), hashtag challenge and snapchat-style 2D lens filters for photos. If you’re a brand, you can also create your own account and upload relevant videos through that channel, or work with influencers to spread content to a wider audience.

When all is said and done, however, there’s no denying TikTok is taking off. And, if you’re an advertiser or brand with a younger-skewed demographic, it might just be your ticket to getting in front of the right eyeballs in mass-quantities.




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