It’s been one year since the Chinese-owned TikTok video app launched in the US, and the app has exploded into a cultural force.
Much of the app’s popularity in the beginning could be attributed to its hashtag challenges, in which users film themselves lip-syncing or dancing to short audio clips about trending hashtags. The short clips can originate from anywhere: it might be a snippet from a song (which can go on to live in a Spotify playlist of popular TikTok songs), the audio from a Vine (RIP), or a clip from a viral YouTube video. The best challenges might get edited into TikTok compilations on YouTube. It’s all part of a beautiful content circle of life.
Technically, TikTok has been around for longer than a year, just in different forms. Its creator, Chinese startup ByteDance, has been operating the short-form video app Douyin since 2016. There was also Musical.ly, an app with the same creative, silly energy that ByteDance purchased in 2017. But it wasn’t until last August that Musical.ly was relaunched as TikTok for the rest of the world. TikTok promoted the #posechallenge to get people started, writing, “OK, you got 15 seconds and 6 poses to make an impression,” and teens dove right in.
TikTok has capitalized on the viral nature of its platform by partnering with a number of brands and slowly unveiling several advertising capabilities.
To reach a a younger audience, TikTok announced a multiyear partnership in early September with the National Football League (NFL). Tom Brady, the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the New England Patriots, posted for the first time on his TikTok account, sharing highlights from his first week of the season.
Brady and the NFL join other US brands that are hoping to reach younger consumers through TikTok. Below is an overview of TikTok’s current ad offerings and some of its biggest brand partnerships to date.
Though the video app has yet to roll out all its ad capabilities—such as augmented reality lenses and full-screen video ads, as listed on its website—some early adopters are testing select formats.
Brands like Guess and Chipotle Mexican Grill have partnered with TikTok on sponsored “Hashtag Challenges,” which placed branded hashtags on the app’s Discover page. Food delivery app Grubhub was testing video ads on TikTok as early as January 2019, and fashion retailer Hollister Co. ran a series of in-feed video ads last spring. TikTok has also become a popular platform for influencer marketing, especially for brands looking to work with the platform’s up-and-coming video creators.
TikTok confirmed that its hashtag unit was still the only ad product officially available in the US, but it is conducting early experiments with other models. Last month, sponsored hashtags were expanded under the name Hashtag Challenge Plus and now include a shoppable component within the app.
TikTok announced a multiyear partnership with the NFL that will allow third-party brands to sponsor content on the NFL’s TikTok account. When the announcement was made prior to the 2019 season, the NFL began posting using the hashtag #WeReady. Although the NFL told AdAge that it did not pay to promote the hashtag, the organization plans to use the Hashtag Challenge feature in the future. The NFL also hopes to generate user engagement by inviting fans to create TikTok-centric content to support their favorite teams and players.
As the official outfitter of the US Open Tennis Championships, Ralph Lauren was one of the first brands to use TikTok’s shoppable Hashtag Challenge Plus feature to show off its collection for the 2019 tournament. The challenge asked TikTok users to post a video wearing Ralph Lauren products using the hashtag #WinningRL. At the end of the contest, creators of the top three videos with the highest engagement were awarded free US Open gear.
The department store kicked off the back-to-school shopping season by bringing its omnichannel “All Brand New” campaign to TikTok using the platform’s Hashtag Challenge. The challenge encouraged students to post videos wearing back-to-school outfits, and if users tapped on the hashtag, a “Shop Now” prompt appeared above Macy’s official videos linking to its website.
For its own back-to-school campaign, Kroger became the one of the first brands to use TikTok’s shoppable Hashtag Challenge Plus feature. The grocery chain promoted its #TransformUrDorm campaign, which encouraged college students to show off their decorated dorm rooms. Similar to Macy’s, the campaign allowed users to tap on the sponsored hashtag, which led to a separate Explore tab showcasing Kroger products and direct links to its ecommerce channel.
One of TikTok’s most notable US partnerships was with Chipotle, which worked with the video platform twice on hashtag challenges. For Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant chain asked fans to post their best “lid flip”—where users flipped an aluminum dish lid onto a Chipotle plate and then used the hashtag #ChipotleLidFlip—to promote its free delivery offer. The brand went viral on TikTok in August when it announced a new challenge, #GuacDance, which became TikTok’s highest-performing branded challenge in the US.
Ready to test TikTok? For help with all your social media marketing, schedule a free consultation or email Lori Berson at lberson@BersonDeanStevens.com.
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