TikTok’s ad load has increased, but the quality remains low


TikTok, the short-form video app, has been opening itself up to more advertising in the U.S.

Earlier this year, TikTok quietly introduced a formal ad unit with a video ad that appeared when users opened the app (Grubhub was one of the first advertisers). Four months later, the platform has filled the users’ feeds with a video ad about every four to five organic posts, according to five daily active users of the app.

Brands advertising on TikTok are, for the most part, companies with apps and are therefore encouraging app downloads. Advertisers include photo-editing apps Facetune, Enlight and Facetify, karaoke app The Voice, trivia app Joyride, money-saving app Digit and social commerce app Poshmark. Food-delivering app Grubhub also is still advertising on the platform.

The ads themselves are quite basic. Some, like one for GO Keyboard, are not even formatted to vertical video. Others, like one for Facetune, are simply a photo that lasts about 10 seconds. One ad for an app called the 30 Day Fitness Challenge shows a cartoon belly flattening. Both of those ads are rather cringe-inducing and arguably problematic for TikTok’s young audience (TikTok has 26.5 million monthly active users in the U.S., where 60 percent of them are 16 to 24 years old, according to a February pitch deck.)

Facetune ad on TikTok

TikTok has not publicly released a self-serve ad platform. But a biddable option for media buyers is in beta and will be more widely available this summer, according to two agency executives. For now, advertisers are working directly with TikTok on ad buys. TikTok has been courting ad agencies in the U.K. and the U.S. Meanwhile, marketers at Bayern Munich and Red Bull have been testing the app themselves with influencer campaigns and their own channels.

According to a February rate card viewed by Digiday, in-feed ads are sold at $10 cost-per-impression with $6,000 minimum campaign spend. Brand takeover ads cost $50,000 per day with a guaranteed 5 million impressions.

Grubhub ran a test campaign on the platform in January, a spokesperson told Digiday at the time. The delivery app has continued working with TikTok to drive app downloads through brand takeover ads, a spokesperson said. These appear when users first opened the app. Users can tap to skip.

“Performance [on TikTok] has continued to meet or exceed our expectations, and we’re working closely with their team to identify new creative ways to partner,” a spokesperson emailed.

Grubhub ad

Shopping marketplace Poshmark recently began buying in-feed ads on TikTok to promote its app. These 10- to 15-second video ads appear between organic posts. Users can swipe up to move to the next video or tap the ad to download the app. Users also have the ability to like, comment or share in-feed ads.

To Poshmark chief marketing officer Steven Tristan Young, TikTok and his company have similar missions.

“TikTok’s focus on empowering its users to showcase their talent closely aligns with Poshmark’s mission, so it was a platform we definitely wanted to explore,” he said.

But the majority of the in-feed ads are quite simple. Media buyers say that leaves opportunity for better creative when the biddable option is released more widely in the coming weeks.

“Good media buyers will look at TikTok and see opportunity since the current crop of advertisements leave much to be desired. A good media buyer is plotting their TikTok ad strategy to be the first to market better creative,” said an agency executive.


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