A few years ago, TikTok exploded with a flood of user-generated content—from trending dances to product “haul” videos to viral pranks. TikTok hosts short-form video content that can last anywhere from mere seconds to several minutes.
While younger crowds were initially the app’s primary users, TikTok’s uniquely targeted algorithm soon emerged as a distinct way to reach an array of audiences. According to Hootsuite, TikTok is the sixth most-used social media platform in the world. In the U.S., its audience is made up of 60% female users. Most users are Gen Z, with 60% of total users between ages 16 and 24.
TikTok’s immense popularity and ability to reach niche and qualified audiences make it an appealing opportunity for social media ad campaigns. Here’s how to use TikTok to expand brand awareness, engage your audience, and get the most bang for your advertising buck.
Choosing the right TikTok ad for your brand is key to reaching your audience and increasing engagement. Consider your goals and research companies on TikTok with similar goals to help you decide the best type of campaign for you.
The In-Feed TikTok ad is the standard for advertising on the platform. These ads appear in between the videos that pop up on a user’s personalized For You Page (FYP). They integrate seamlessly into the user experience, making it difficult to distinguish In-Feed ads from other user-generated content. In-Feed ads create an organic experience that just happens to sell a product to the viewer. Designer Marc Jacobs’ fashion advertisements provide a good example of the In-Feed function.
Pros: These ads naturally appear next to videos that the user has already shown interest in via previous likes, comments, and shares. In-Feed ads allow users to like, share, and engage with content through the ad’s call to action landing page.
Cons: It’s very easy to skip right by In-Feed ads, so your brand has only seconds to hook viewers in.
The newest advertising option available on TikTok, Spark ads let you boost your account’s own posted content and utilize other people’s videos. Like In-Feed ads, Spark ads bring an organic user experience to TikTok’s interface. They also play in between user-generated videos on the FYP.
The primary difference is that Spark ads allow you to use existing content from your own page and from other users, instead of creating an entirely new advertisement. To collaborate with other creators, simply search for content about your brand and reach out to the user about partnering on a Spark ad. While In-Feed ads tie back to a landing page, Spark ads bring users to your account page.
For example, when self-tanning company Isle of Paradise wanted to promote its self-tan Glow Drops, it used Spark ads to boost content from users who had already posted organic testimonials about the product.
Pros: Spark ads are particularly helpful for companies hoping to increase brand awareness rather than simply make sales.
Cons: Like In-Feed ads, Spark ads can easily get lost in the FYP shuffle.
TopView ads appear full-screen as soon as a user opens the app. Because of their size and personalization options, TopView ads are considered premium—with a price tag to match. While In-Feed ads create an organic experience, TopView ads are more aligned with traditional advertising: loud and in your face. For example, fashion company Balenciaga uses TopView ads to promote its eye-catching, celebrity-endorsed products.
Pros: Users cannot scroll past TopView ads, which means more eyes on your product.
Cons: You’re leaning into the traditional advertising model, which could either entice viewers or deter those who don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to. TopView ads are also a higher price point than Spark ads and In-Feed ads.
Brand Takeover ads appear as soon as users open TikTok. These ads are full-screen, targeted, unskippable, and capable of securing high levels of audience engagement.
Companies often use Brand Takeover ads to promote events or product rollouts. When makeup company Too Faced released a new cruelty-free lip plumping product, it used visually striking Brand Takeover ads to draw attention to the release.
Pros: TikTok users only see one of these individualized ads per day, so it will likely leave a big impact. The full-screen format further encourages user attention.
Cons: Brand Takeover ads are less budget-friendly than other TikTok ad options. They can also feel outdated depending on your target demographic’s preferences.
Branded Hashtag Challenge:
Like many other social media sites, TikTok incorporates hashtags. The Discover page reveals daily trending hashtags. You can reference already popular hashtags in your TikTok ad campaign or you can create a new hashtag challenge that entices all TikTok users to participate.
For example, mattress company Simmons used the #Snoozzzapalooza hashtag to challenge TikTokers to stage dive into their beds. More than 1 million users posted a video response to the challenge.
Pros: These challenges are usually fun, creative, and open to interpretation. They provide a chance to collaborate with TikTok creators, and they also give insights into what inspires organic responses from your audience. You can let your branded hashtag take off organically at no cost or pay to promote it using another ad type.
Cons: Building buzz around a hashtag can be more challenging than paying for an In-Feed ad. If your hashtag fails to take off, it can actually bring negative attention to your brand.
Branded Effects include brand-specific filters, lenses, or stickers that can be used and shared by TikTok creators.
An example of this is Colgate’s #ColgateKiss TikTok ad campaign, which used hearts and lips marked with Colgate’s branding to explode across a user’s screen. This campaign went viral in Thailand, with content creators using the Branded Effect to make more than 63,000 “kissy face” videos. It generated 23 million views for the toothpaste brand.
Pros: Like the Branded Hashtag Challenge, a Branded Effect ad encourages creative user-generated content and increases audience engagement in the form of likes and shares.
Cons: There’s no guarantee that a Branded Effect ad will go viral. While most other ad campaigns promise a certain amount of views, Branded Effect ads are dependent on the engagement of your user base.
To decide which TikTok ad is right for your campaign, consider:
- Your budget: Branded Hashtag Challenges and Branded Effects are low cost; Spark ads and In-Feed ads are in the middle; and Brand Takeovers and TopView ads are priciest.
- What product or service do you offer: Can it go viral if marketed correctly?
- Your objectives for the campaign: Do you want to see an increase in awareness, click-throughs, increased revenue, or any other objective?
- What kinds of ads similar brands run: You may want to run similar ads if they’re highly successful, or set yourself apart by using a different ad type if you want to highlight your brand’s innovation.
- The type of content you want in your ad: If it’s a flashy, short segment, a Brand Takeover is best; but if you want something contagiously funny, a Branded Hashtag Challenge may be a better fit.
Of course, you can always try out different types of ads to see if one gets you closer to reaching your objectives.
Know your audience: As one of the most downloaded apps available, TikTok possesses a truly international footprint. With more than 1 billion diverse monthly users across the globe, advertisers must be prepared to cross generational lines. According to Statusphere, humorous content is one of the best ways to cut through the noise and catch a viewer’s eye. TikTok’s business analysis shows how inspirational content can also increase audience engagement.
When deciding which ad style and campaign to use, consider: Do you want to entice TikTok users to buy your product? Or, are you just seeking increased brand awareness? No matter your desired outcome, your primary focus should be creating an ad that will catch your intended audience’s interest.
Pay attention to aesthetics: Due to the perpetual stream of TikTok video content, your ad needs to hook in users quickly. Your ads must stand out. While it may be bite-sized, TikTok is a visual filmmaking app. This means that your aesthetics matter when making TikTok advertisements.
According to Hootsuite, 73% of subscribers say they would stop to watch a video with audio. Ads with text (particularly captions), uptempo music, full-screen images, bright colors, and action scenes also encourage audience engagement.
Pay attention to trends: Take a look at what other brands in your space are doing on TikTok. See which of their videos have the most engagement and evaluate any elements you might be able to incorporate to resonate with your audience.
Be authentic: Many marketing experts express the importance of brand authenticity for TikTok ad campaigns. Creativity and honesty are compelling. Audiences are more likely to engage with companies that reflect these values in their advertisements.
Online marketplace eBay created the #LaceEmUp hashtag challenge to target a new generation of sneaker collectors by encouraging users to lace up and show off their favorite sneakers. The brand commissioned an original song, partnered with eight popular influencers, and responded to user comments on hashtagged videos during the campaign’s run. According to TikTok, the challenge inspired 773,000 video creations, garnered 1 billion views, and achieved an engagement rate that was 5.2% higher than the benchmark.
Use influencers: Many companies hire TikTok influencers to spread brand awareness through authentic-feeling promotions. According to AdEspresso, the elements that companies should look for when planning to partner with an influencer include follower count, location, and audience alignment.
As Influencer Marketing Hub says, “Relevance is more important than reach.” If you’re a vegan clothing company, hiring a micro-influencer who aligns with your views on animal products is better than working with an influencer with a huge following who wears leather. Make sure that you and your influencers hold similar ideological beliefs.
Even large brands participate in influencer marketing. For its first hashtag challenge in 2019, Kool-Aid partnered with rapper Lil Jon to post videos using the hashtag #ohYEAHChristmas. This marketing strategy resulted in more than 10,000 videos initially uploaded under the hashtag; the hashtag now has 2 billion views.
But partnerships aren’t restricted to just the big brands. A keyword search on the TikTok Discover page will show you a world of potentially relevant TikTok influencers. Take a look at their content and their followers to see if they are an organic fit. TikTok also offers the Creator Marketplace to help connect creators and influencers.
Ask for engagement: Include a call to action in your TikTok ad campaign to encourage viewer engagement. Ask your viewers to like and share your ad, upload their own videos using your hashtag, and respond to one another in comments. Ongoing engagement turns passive viewers into active, supportive communities.
Over the last number of years, TikTok has emerged as a large-scale, cross-generational social media hub capable of reaching an international audience. By knowing what kind of ad is best for you and your brand, and by actively seeking to increase audience engagement, you can create a wildly successful TikTok ad campaign.