TikTok, the short-form video app that combined with Musical.ly in August, has yet to launch ad units for brands or formal monetization products for creators. But over the last month, agencies have been paying closer attention to the app.
With headlines from CNN and the Washington Post touting TikTok videos as viral sensations, marketers see another shiny object with potential for solid engagement. And it isn’t linked to Facebook, Google or Amazon — which is frustrating for ad tracking and, simultaneously, intriguing for diversifying budgets.
“TikTok is becoming more and more interesting. I am starting to see more Vine-style type content. I think TikTok is great in terms of promoting record labels, artists, their albums as well as creating brand-awareness campaigns. TikTok has a ways to go, but I do think they are headed in the right direction,” said Chris Strong, account director at influencer marketing agency Viral Nation.
Indeed, some brands have experimented with running influencer campaigns on TikTok. Universal Pictures, for example, had influencers on TikTok promote “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” working with popular users like Gabby Murray, Rebecca Zamolo and Chris Kerr and Sharla May of “Our Fire” ahead of the film’s launch in September.
For the most part, these partnerships are orchestrated by brands and the influencers themselves rather than TikTok being involved and taking a share of the revenue. One creative agency told Digiday they’re currently working with a client on a TikTok campaign to launch in the coming weeks. But TikTok has been prepping to work more with media companies and agencies in the coming months. In 2017, Musical.ly inked content partnerships with NBCUniversal, Viacom and Hearst. A spokesperson for NBCUniversal told Digiday that its deal is no longer active.
“We’re focused on consumer experience first, but we do have plans for that,” said TikTok’s head of global marketing, Stefan Heinrich.
One ad format is a play on #HashtagChallenge, where brands challenge TikTok users to create videos inspired by the brand’s initial video. Musical.ly was pitching that offering to agencies earlier this year ahead of the app’s merger with TikTok. Jimmy Fallon is currently incorporating these challenges into “The Tonight Show.” Though no money is changing hands, and the show’s director of digital told Variety it was Fallon’s idea after he enjoyed playing around with the app himself.
Shiny objects in the form of consumer apps have been quite infrequent compared to 10 years ago. Snapchat, launched in 2011, is struggling to maintain relevance to big brands and agencies amid the rise of Instagram. Trivia app HQ had a fast rise in 2017 but is getting less daily usage unless they offer big cash prizes to players (though it’s also experimenting with new games). Meanwhile, TikTok is providing a creative outlet that has people laughing and some reminiscing about Vine.
But like what happened with Vine, good internet things can come to an end if they don’t find a way to make money. The challenge format Fallon has integrated into his show is one potential for monetization.
“For me, as a marketer, I feel like TikTok is a new level of engagement. If I go as a marketer to another platform I get likes, shares or comment. If I get a video on TikTok, I get 20 to 30 minutes of a person’s time to create and share. I’m turning someone into a brand ambassador to start of a conversation,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich worked in product marketing at YouTube Red from 2014 to 2017 before to joining Musical.ly. For now, his job has been focused on creating and executing campaigns about TikTok to drive more user acquisition. The most recent campaign titled #ImaDoMe includes a 30-second ad that’s played in cinemas nationwide and on YouTube. TikTok also has been running ads on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
“With #ImaDoMe, we thought it was overdue to celebrate the underdogs of the app that make it so delightful, not just do the same thing everyone does but really show the other side. I see people working at Walmart in the middle of the country, nurses showing off their favorite moves during shifts,” Heinrich said.
Yet, the abundance of TikTok ads has been annoying some people.
TikTok ads are like cockroaches…
— shelby peloquin (@shelbjp10) November 27, 2018
tiktok ads should be banned from Snapchat
— marinara sauce (@marinathequeena) November 24, 2018
Heinrich declined to comment on the company’s media budget but said people can expect two more campaigns before the year’s end.
“I focus campaigns on short-term rather than blowing them up too much. It’s sparking conversations but not letting them drag on,” he said.
With campaigns like #ImaDoMe, TikTok is embracing its existing community. That’s a stark contrast to Vine, where the leadership notoriously neglected creators despite thriving stars like a group of black comedians. Still, TikTok is fighting for user attention with Facebook’s copycat product Lasso, which even recruited some of TikTok’s top creators as beta partners. Facebook, however, is not paying those creators and has yet to introduce formal money-making opportunities as well.
Strong, of Viral Nation, said he’s still hopeful for TikTok in 2019.
“TikTok doesn’t have trackable links still, so it’s still hard to track KPI for our clients. That being said, I am starting to see a new crop of influencers that are highly engaged on other platforms that started on TikTok. It’s a similar effect to what we saw with Musical.ly,” Strong said.