Marketing to Gen Z on TikTok - Chief Media

Marketing to Gen Z on TikTok

woman standing in front of phone

Singing! Dancing! Music! Marketing? If you missed the memo, TikTok (formerly is the app to watch for marketers hoping to keep pace with the global Gen Z crowd. On the face of it, TikTok is a short form video content creation and sharing app with a user-base made up of teens that have a deep need to lip-synch. The beating heart of TikTok is the creation and co-creation of original video content that doesn’t simply invite engagement; it requires participation. Marketers wishing to tune into this growing online community will have to understand the magic of this platform and how content is shared. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, TikTok is not as much about connections, as it is about creativity. It’s not about precision targeting and messaging, but about discovery and user collaboration.  

What’s All The Hype About?

With vertical looping videos between :15 and :60, each TikTok video is potentially the progenitor of an unlimited number of collaborations and reactions that can be riffed on, shared, and remade by exponential numbers of user/creators online. There have been over 1 billion installs of the app, and 500 million users globally engage each month. While music/sound-oriented content and comedy sketches are the most popular videos shared, it’s really a world-wide talent show that seems to promote inclusiveness and unfettered Gen Z wackiness. Spin-offs and reactions come directly from mobile, so it’s a fluid process of creation and not made for spectators.

There is a seeming randomness that belies the deeper implications of this hugely lucrative enterprise. TikTok was the third most downloaded app in the US in Q1, behind Facebook Messenger and Color Bump 3D. Until recently, it was ad-free. This may explain why the world’s most valuable startup has yet to turn a profit. Still, plans to monetize through advertising are naturally underway considering the explosive download statistics. Even in the US, where TikTok has been slower to catch on, there have been about 80 million downloads of the app with no signs of slowing. Like everywhere else in the world, the audience in the US is young; approximately 13-24 years old. Marketers need to understand that engagement on TikTok is largely predicated on meeting this demographic on their turf. Gen Z’s notoriously hate advertising. TikTok has been observed to be a backlash against the artificial, filtered Instagram ecosphere, favoring instead postings that are more authentic and unrehearsed.     

How TikTok Influence Works

An obsessive follower count is not the gold standard of acceptance on TikTok, although “hearts” (likes) definitely matter. Collaboration and challenges are what makes a creator rise through the ranks of influence. Video views are seen only by the poster, avoiding the shame of unimpressive follower stats. However, there are opportunities for social advancement through originality as the best videos are promoted to other creators as “For You” suggestions. This essentially marks the time when a TikTok video and its view count becomes public. From there, influence can spread in very unexpected ways. Very popular videos can create new trends that other creators can further expand on. It’s the seemingly endless thread of creative cross-collaboration that makes TikTok a natural way to reach the elusive Gen Zs. TechCrunch calls TikTok “The Instagram for the mobile video age.”

#Hashtag Challenge

Creating a hashtag challenge is a popular way to engage audiences on TikTok. These campaigns ask users/collaborators to make their own video iterations on a single predetermined theme and share with other users. Chipotle Mexican Grill, America’s popular fast casual restaurant brand issued their second TikTok challenge late this summer. The promotion topped TikTok’s branded challenge charts with the highest performance results of all time from a U.S. advertiser. Chipotle’s #GuacDance uses a very simple song created by a children’s musician as the inspiration. The brand also enlisted YouTuber/partners Brent Rivera and Loren Gray to help kick off the campaign, which was put together in honor of National Guacamole Day. Using in-app tools, a quarter of a million TikTok users submitted videos which lead to 430 million video starts over a 6-day run. It’s a viral marketing grand slam that lead to over 800,000 guacamole sides served. This taste of success will not only leave Chipotle wanting more TikTok time, but is also creating the rationale for other brands to get in on TikTok. 

Engage in Natural Trends

Duets and reaction videos are also big on TikTok. The reaction video was pioneered back in 1981, but popularized on YouTube more recently. TikTok has perfected the practice with users using this medium for ways to create “comebacks” as well as genuine attempts at musical duets. The vertical video format lends itself a kind of diptych style presentation that allows the videos to sit directly side-by-side.

Influencers, as in all social media, also play an important role in TikTok marketing. For brands with a younger target demographic, partnering with influencers shares similar benefits with influencer campaigns on any social media platform. One difference seems to be that because TikTok is essentially still in its infancy, negotiating with these influencers can be more direct. Once an influencer is engaged to help get a campaign off the ground, the goal is all about videos. Influencers and their followers need to share videos of themselves using/wearing/interacting with the sponsoring brand’s product. Product placement is nothing new to the movie business, but on TikTok brands need to be more naturally integrated into the content. Engagement analysis is based on hearts (likes), comments, shares, video starts and hashtag usage (in views). 

The UN, San Diego Zoo and the NBA are all content creators on TikTok. Brands like Nike, Fenty Beauty, Apple Music, GrubHub, Guess, Sony Pictures, and Uniqlo are also working to find out what makes their customers tick on this mobile video social media sensation.

For the uninitiated, there are a few ways to start engaging on TikTok that will feel similar to other platforms. First, brands can certainly become users by creating their own channels and uploading videos. Developing challenges that leverage the power of expression in music and video will take imagination and experimentation. Keeping a close eye on Gen Z trends is also important as many videos are made in response to other social media posts. Influencer marketing is reasonably well-established on TikTok, and for the time being, marketers are reportedly spending less here than on influencer deals through other channels. Paid advertising opportunities have not yet been formalized on TikTok, but experiments are underway to see how this would work. It’s only a matter of time before TikTok advertising takes off.

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