TikTok Is Skeptical of Marketers, but These 10 Brands Have Earned Gen Z’s Approval
To make it on the platform, advertisers must embrace a culture of informality
At its core, TikTok is not the ideal platform for advertising. It’s a place where average people are invited to bask in short-lived internet fame by planting relationship advice, makeup tutorials and self-deprecating humor onto the For You pages of oddly specific audiences.
But like most social media apps, it has also become a hub for buying and selling stuff. This week, TikTok announced a partnership with Publicis Groupe, which will help brands capitalize on viral commerce trends. While the platform is quickly expanding its menu for marketers, there will always be some brands that create the right messaging on TikTok and others that will fall flat.
A recent TikTok study suggests that users want brands to introduce both popular and original content: 67% prefer that brands feature viral sounds, while 65% prefer that they introduce new audio. Ultimately, when it comes to good branding on TikTok, you know it when you see it.
Adweek asked marketers and social media analysts to highlight brands that actually understand how to take advantage of the platform, which is defined by users who are especially sensitive to pushy marketing tactics and demand content with value.
“If there is one brand that really understands TikTok down to a science, it’s Chipotle,” said Ismael El-Qudsi, co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency SocialPubli.
Before TikTok, there was Vine, where young kids like Roy Murray went viral for their iconic deliveries of lines like, “Oh my god I love Chipotle, Chipotle is my life!” The Mexican-inspired fast food giant may not have taken full advantage of this free marketing when that video went viral in 2014, but it is making up for lost time by introducing successful campaign challenges, bolstering user-generated content—like one creator’s reenactment of how a classic “gym bro” might order his bowl—and creating original videos that are focused on building community.
Thomas Brazier, creative director at agency Carson+Doyle, praised Chipotle for its satirical ’90s-style promotion for National Avocado Day. He identified it as another example of the brand’s account existing to “entertain, rather than sell.”
“Chipotle does a great job at deeply understanding its consumers’ relationship with their product, burritos, and uses the TikTok platform to tell and share these stories,” he said.
With 13.3 million followers, the NBA is one of the most popular brand accounts on TikTok. The league’s strategy: constantly posting. Its stream of exclusive, behind-the-scenes and live content has been central to fan engagement. One example is a close-up clip of Cade Cunningham as he embraces his young daughter and mother after becoming the Detroit Pistons’ No. 1 draft pick.
“Because it is a short-form content network, they use elements like humor and music to hook people in while also leveraging challenges like #AllStarTalent to engage and rally TikTok users to create their own content,” El-Qudsi said.
The beverage company has earned the TikTok community’s approval by picking up on viral moments and trends. The key is making the brand’s content comparable to that of any average user. Interaction is another essential element the brand has employed to good effect. AriZona has answered questions from the comment section, honored Gen Z’s obsession with astrology by assigning a drink to each zodiac sign, and joined in on the platform’s obsession with Fast & Furious’s Dom Toretto’s identity as a “family man.”
“Brands have to forget for a minute all the corporate rules and frameworks they’ve learned in the past, and understand that TikTok is a different place where people want to see authentic, funny, entertaining and informative content in a relatable way,” said Alessandro Bogliari, co-founder at CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory.
When e.l.f released an original song and hashtag challenge on TikTok in 2019, it was one of the first brands to successfully take advantage of the platform. The cosmetics company partnered with Grammy-winning producer iLL Wayno and artist Holla FyeSixWun to introduce “Eyes.Lips.Face,” a song that made it to the top of Spotify charts and became synonymous with TikTok culture. According to Ty Kelly, business development director at Carson+Doyle, the campaign demonstrates the importance of taking risks on the platform.
“It’s one thing to stay on trend so your content stays relevant with the TikTok community’s ever-changing preferences,” he said. “It’s another thing to make your own content or try to start a trend.”
Since debuting “Eyes.Lips.Face,” e.l.f has continued to create original sounds while also giving popular TikTok trends a branded twist. This week, the brand personified its beauty products to participate in a popular challenge among friend groups that consists of each member guessing who will be the first to get lost at the club.
If there is one brand on TikTok that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself—as well as customers and followers—it’s Ryanair. A consistent theme on its page is users’ failure to understand that the airline only handles European flights. Those posts elicit a burst of nervous laughter from the Ryanair airplane face, a central character in much of the brand’s content. The page is notorious for poking fun at airport culture while also playfully reminding viewers of its self-proclaimed status as the top airline in Europe.
In a separate video, Ryanair gave a special shoutout to all the “USA simps” who are asking the brand to start including America in its flights.
“Read the TikTok comments,” Bogliari said. “They are basically research analysis on needs and feedback directly from customers, which helps brands understand what type of content they should create.”
Last summer, the cosmetics brand introduced its #MaybeItsMaybelline campaign, which encouraged users to create their own version of the iconic jingle for a chance to win $500 worth of makeup. Maybelline went viral again in December when a brand partner shared the lengthening effects of its Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara. The hashtag #SkyHighMascara, which is populated by users who are stunned after trying the product for the first time, now has more than 315 million views.
Brit McCorquodale, executive vice president at influencer marketing platform Tribe Dynamics, attributed Maybelline’s TikTok success to the brand’s willingness to embrace user creativity on the platform.
“TikTok rewards creative self-expression, so brands should structure initiatives such that participants can take artistic liberty with their content,” she said.
After TikTok user Hannah Schlenker posted an unsponsored dance video wearing Aerie leggings in November 2020, consumer interest in the product skyrocketed. Aerie then tapped Schlenker as an official brand ambassador, and the hashtag #CrossoverLeggings now has more than 10 million views on TikTok.
According to McCorquodale, brands should embrace lighthearted moments on the platform while also focusing on the tangible benefits of their products.
“TikTok’s short-form video format allows creators to quickly demonstrate products’ efficacy in real time,” she said. “For this reason, products with visible results—such as Maybelline’s Sky High Mascara’s lengthening properties, or Aerie Crossover Leggings’ curve-enhancing design—are the most likely to go viral.”
The content on Walmart’s TikTok is about as diverse as the retail giant’s collection of products. By touting the convenience of its delivery services, offering up lifestyle hacks and introducing unconventional recipes, the brand is hard at work capturing Gen Z’s attention. Margo Kahnrose, chief marketing officer at consumer intelligence platform Skai, praised Walmart for the success of its 2019 #DealDropDance contest, which spurred excitement for the giant’s Black Friday sales and racked up 4.1 billion views.
“They cast a very wide net by not getting product-specific, yet showing off the in-store experience, using dance, music and incentives to garner billions of views,” she said.
When the dessert shop started making TikToks in late 2019, it was more concerned with having fun and injecting personality into videos than creating a polished final product. Crumbl Cookies has transitioned from employee dance videos in its early days to dropping new dessert content every week for an audience of almost 2 million followers on the platform. Kayla Savage, creative strategist and account manager at Carson+Doyle, is impressed with the brand’s development on the app, as it went from picking up on TikTok trends to driving user excitement through originality and consistency.
“Visually, they have gone from TikTok dances to taking shots of their products that are comparable to iPhone commercials,” she said.
Pattern Brands sells home improvement products, but it is not just on TikTok to drive bedside table and kitchen appliance sales. The company uses the platform to connect with consumers by accompanying life hacks and design inspiration with relaxing aesthetics and a conversational tone.
Charlie Naus, co-founder and managing director at Carson+Doyle, admires Pattern for leaning into its purpose of improving daily home life on TikTok without just promoting sales.
“A good starting point would be for brands to think about how they can express what makes them unique from a personalityperspective, leaving product secondary,” he said.
This article first appeared in www.adweek.com
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