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TikTok Comes of Age

It is no secret that TikTok has made huge strides over the past year, passing over 1bn MAUs, however through Q4 last year it arguably remained a very nascent advertising platform. For many brands questions remained around the quality of content and the brand safety of the platform. This was borne out by the quality of the advertisers which often seemed to be simple apps and very limited major brands. However through Q1, and especially since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown the platform has really taken off and we are now talking to a lot of our clients about the opportunities available. Below we look at how it has changed:

Improved Content Producers

The biggest fear for many brands, is appearing next to content that would deem poor quality. Facebook and Snap have gone to great efforts to have quality content on their platforms through Watch and Snap Originals as well as the content created by established media owners. Despite this work the majority of time spent (and therefore inventory) is against influencer accounts. The challenge for TikTok is that influencers who advertisers felt they can trust still reside on Snap and Instagram, whilst there are often (well founded) fears about some of the new TikTik famous content producers.

I believe that 2020 was always going to be a year of maturation for the platform, however the lockdown that we are experiencing has dramatically accelerated this change. In the last month we have seen celebrities with huge followings on other platforms start to generate a high volume of content that is getting huge engagement. The band Little Mix first posted in 2017 posting only 12 videos in the next two years. In the last 3 weeks following the release of their latest music, they have posted 7 videos generating over 4.5m views.

Elsewhere the contestants from Love Island have traditionally focussed on Instagram stories but are now putting more and more content on TikTok. Amber Gill who was the winner in summer 2019, joined January 1st 2020 and has already built just shy of a million followers, whilst Chris Taylor, another popular contestant notably did a lot of work for the series promoting the shows’ channel on TikTok.

Finally content producers that are famous only on the platform continue to grow their numbers and mature in terms of their output. Examples include Charli D'Amelio, Addison Rae, Avani, Lexi Rivera, Zoey Aune, Taylor Nunez and Tre Clements, some of whom have 50m followers. There is a phenomenon, particularly in the US of influencers living together in collectives, which was recently looked at in the New York Times where they focussed on Hypehouse. Meanwhile in the UK, the first collective has launched during the lockdown under the name ‘Bytesquad’ Potentially, as many of them are relatively young, their content is very brand safe. Anyone who has spent any time on the platform will see that many of the videos follow themes such as doing specific dances or lip-syncing songs or completing sporting challenges. Not everything would pass certain advertisers brand requirements but the vast majority will.


Obviously the aim of any advertising campaign is to influence people and change their behaviour. The platform has many case studies that demonstrate its influence, however we can see the impact that TikTok is having on other platforms and pop culture. The American singer and rapper Doja Cat included the track ‘Say So’ as part of her album ‘Hot Pink’ in November 2019. Following the sharp increase in popularity of the song due to its inclusion in several viral dance challenges, it was released as a separate single. It subsequently charted at number 6 on the Billboard 100, whilst entering the Top 10 in numerous countries from the UK, Belgium, Netherlands and Australia. So far this year it is the most streamed song by a female artist in the US. There are numerous other artists who have seen huge numbers off the back of TikTok success including Ke$ha and Dua Lipa. In the age of streaming, artists can see music from deep in their back catalogue rise to prominence, Ke$ha’s 2010 track Cannibal reflecting this.


Earlier, we briefly looked at some of the content seen on the platform. Similarly to the now departed Vine where users only had 6 seconds, on TikTok the magic number is 15 seconds. This lends itself to very focussed videos that immediately grab your attention. Common themes include:

  • Lip-sync to songs
  • Dance routines
  • Comedy sketches
  • Challenges, often sporting themed

Clearly brands have to be comfortable that they will appear next to UGC, however despite a few scare stories in the traditional press, compared to the wild west that was Tumblr, TikTok is a relatively safe platform.

The other opportunity for the platform, especially at the moment, is that the feel remains home produced. Whilst many influencers have good cameras and lighting, videos are generally shot in their houses, meaning that in the lockdown not having multi-million pound ads is not a requirement.

The other area of opportunity is in the TikTok unique feature of original sounds. The audio used for each video can either be original to the creator, or taken from another user’s upload. Users are able to click on the sound information and access a catalogue of all videos using that sound. It’s particularly key for musicians who, as mentioned previously, can see songs suddenly spike in popularity sometimes years after release. A sound that goes viral can see millions of individual users linking to one original sound.

Ad Products

The final element has long been available, however it is worth highlighting that TikTok had learnt from the success of other platforms from Facebook to Snapchat, by setting up strong ad experiences and good targeting options meaning the platform was ready to use by both small and large advertisers. As you would expect from a video first platform, the main paid for advertising opportunities are in-feed videos, and like Snapchat there is an opportunity to buy the first video that plays when the app launches, which is a great branding opportunity given the high DAUs. The platform is also aware that it can be hard to find the influencers you want so also offer hashtag challenges wherein they will go to top content producers to get them to create content for you.

2020 and Covid-19 look to be the making of TikTok, if you need help working with TikTok please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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