December 16, 2019

I’m having dinner at a homely chicken rice restaurant when I realise I’m in someone else’s TikTok video. I attempt to move out of the frame as two preteen girls dance their hearts out in front of a smartphone camera to Soulja Boy’s Crank That, oblivious to the fact that I’m seated right behind them. A Chinese-owned video-sharing app that’s most popular among adolescents and teenagers, TikTok is used predominantly to create humorous, lip-sync clips, many of which are based on themed challenges and trends. With the proliferation of such asinine, meme-worthy content, you wouldn’t think the platform could be leveraged as a marketing tool for businesses, but a growing number of firms have found a way nonetheless.

The last thing you want is to come across as a try-hard, so before you dive in and incorporate it into your next marketing campaign, figure out if the social networking app is a good fit for your company. First, you’ll have access to 500 million active users worldwide, most of whom comprise the next generation of consumers. TikTok’s main demographic hovers around the age range of 16 to 24, as illustrated by a survey published on GlobalWebIndex. If you’re looking to reach out to an older target audience, traditional mediums might be a better bet.

Next, consider your brand identity and whether it matches the playful nature of the platform. Don’t forget your tone of voice—is it tongue-in-cheek, creative, fun and a little farcical? You don’t have to splurge thousands of dollars to create content for TikTok either. Instagram may call for professionally shot and edited images, and Twitter may require the talents of an expert copywriter to convey sharp yet pithy content. On TikTok, however, all you need is a smartphone and a short video idea. One of Lush’s most well-performing clips is only six seconds long, and features three employees dancing to music with face masks on. The trick is to not overthink it. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and always prioritise having a personal touch. TikTok users don’t want to see another commercial. They want casual, shareable, vlogger-style clips.

Use this as a way to present your products in a non-intrusive, light-hearted manner—a soft sell approach that isn’t blatantly trying to convince users to buy them. The goal is more to make viewers laugh. Here’s a case in point: Chipotle uploaded a video set to a song by Adele, in which the audience sings the second half of the lyrics. The video itself is of a tortilla chip standing in a cup of guacamole (representing Adele), which pans to a table filled with individual chips that mimic the audience. It’s technically a pointless video, but also an entertaining one that will engage and increase brand loyalty among existing and future consumers. The less effort you put in to go viral, the more the fans will appreciate your content and warm up to your brand. For this to work, simplicity is superior.

Most of the content created by TikTok users are in response to hashtag challenges—#ReactToThis, #PretendInstrument, #OddlySatisfying, #Area51. The platform started off by launching its own arbitrary challenges, but brands have since hopped onboard with contests and campaigns. To celebrate National Avocado Day, Chipotle released its #GuacDance challenge, where users are encouraged to make up a dance inspired by avocados. It garnered about 250,000 online submissions, turning a quarter of a million users into brief brand ambassadors and content creators. Offline, it translated into the franchise’s biggest guacamole day yet, seeing a 68% increase in avocado usage to 18,500 cases in stores.

The campaign was also given a boost by YouTube personalities, Brent Rivera and Loren Gray, which brings us to the next tip: partner with social media influencers. Influencer marketing works well on TikTok, perhaps surpassing the effectiveness of Instagram partnerships, because the content created tends to be a lot more genuine and engaging. Imagine a celebrity telling you about their favourite beauty product—their 50th new “favourite” item in a month—on Instagram. You’d be hard-pressed to care about this sponsored post. Now imagine them attempting a wacky, branded challenge on TikTok. It’s labelled an #ad, but doesn’t feel like one. Watching such videos can become addictive and inspire you to participate in the challenge as well.

These days, traditional advertisements aren’t as effective as they used to be. Anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism millennials and members of Generation Z see through the agenda of typical commercials and are more likely to ignore those messages. With TikTok, the brand is able to become “of the people” through approachable content, with the ability to connect with the masses effortlessly. Ultimately, if you’re thinking of downloading the app, remember, just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you.