Gus Hicks
July 13, 2020

How to Assess the Viability of TikTok for your Brand

TikTok usage has skyrocketed worldwide. It currently has 800 million active users, making it the 9th largest social networking site, pacing well ahead of other established platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat (and it only made its debut in the Chinese market in 2016). The app boasts 1.4 million monthly active users across Australia and New Zealand, driving 1.6 billion video views every month. With such rapid growth and newly announced ad credits for small-to-medium sized businesses through their ‘Back to Business’ program, many brands are wondering if now is the time to jump on the TikTok train.  

But, the Chinese-owned app has been caught up in a media whirlwind this week, having just been banned in India due to data security and privacy concerns. Australia, the US, and the UK are also currently investigating if the app poses data and privacy threats to the public. 

Simultaneously, the ‘Stop Hate For Profit’ movement has been gaining traction, with advertisers such as Ford, Adidas, Honda, Verizon, and Unilever  announcing their intention to pull their spend until the social media platform takes more measures to fight hate speech. 

With many social movements and disruptions affecting the world, consumers are starting to expect more responsibility from brands, and the rapid digital shift is making brand safety a far more proactive pursuit

So, there really is a lot to mull over before you start teeing up brand takeovers with TikTok influencers and igniting hashtag challenges, or making moves on any new platform for that matter. In today’s social media world, the flavour of the week can fall under intense scrutiny the next – and given the building traction behind the Facebook ad boycotts, brands seem to be taking the view that advertising on a platform can represent at least tacit endorsement of that platform. 

Before dipping your brand’s toes into any new communications platform, you need to think carefully about audience and platform alignment, commercial viability, and creative production capability. 

Does the platform and its audience align with our brand?

One of TikTok’s biggest draw cards for marketers has been unprecedented access to the elusive and hard to reach ‘Gen-Z’ age group. 41% of TikTok users are aged between 16 – 24 years old (compared to Instagram’s 31.2%). The brand has condensed the appeal of slapstick, Funniest Home Videos, and YouTube down into 15 second, bite-sized chunks. The scroll is addictive, the content doesn’t have to be perfectly curated to resonate, and any one who is game enough to play could be shot to the top of the algorithm.

So if your brand genuinely appeals to this market and wants to show flair and personality to a younger audience, TikTok may be a viable option for your next campaign. However, your brand must be willing to be lighthearted and creative. When it comes to sponsored content, TikTok enthusiasts respond to relatable authentic content, and it doesn’t have to have high production value. You won’t see a great return unless your brand truly gets involved and going in with a stoic approach will feel like a stark interruption to the humour. Worthy of mention, is that access to the young audience does make TikTok business advertising unviable for gambling, alcohol, child-specific products, financial trading, and prescription drugs. 

What about the ethical and reputational ramifications for your brand given the latest controversy? TikTok has been the focus of several global data protection complaints and investigations, and according to Peter Micek, the general counsel of the global digital rights advocacy group, Access Now, similar concerns have been raised about many other apps. According to Micek, ‘Australia, like other democracies, must focus on ensuring strong privacy standards and data enforcement across all social media services,’ and any discussions around foreign interference, censorship, or misinformation shouldn’t be limited to TikTok. 

From our perspective, every individual brand needs to do a proper risk-reward evaluation before deciding to enter into any new communication channel and their decision framework needs to stem back to their positioning and values, as well as their audiences best interests. 

Does TikTok make commercial sense?

Up until this point, we have advised brands with an existing presence on TikTok to continue investing into the platform if their efforts are performing and hitting business objectives. Like all digital channels, brands should also measure their success through relevant and accurate metrics, while also seeking the benefits of reaching untapped audiences and diversifying their sources of traffic. Social distancing drove people to seek connection through new digital avenues, and the growth of the platform has been promising. 

Given that TikTok’s availability in the market has recently become unclear, for brands without a toe in the water yet, we recommend a thorough risk assessment of opportunities versus costs before making an investment in the platform. As brands also decide whether to jump ship or stay put on TikTok, marketers should also closely watch CPMs which could fluctuate. 

Are we capable of generating engaging TikTok creative?

TikTok advertisers don’t have to make an unruly investment into video production and editing. Both finely tuned, graphic masterpieces and simple iPhone videos have made waves on TikTok, and high production value doesn’t necessarily mean high engagement. 

This removes an entry barrier that small to medium sized advertisers normally encounter when trying to create visually immersive ads. 

If a ban were to occur, we also expect TikTok’s user base to shift towards other visually immersive and transient platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. Any investment into pre-existing TikTok content could also be introduced into other platforms, such as YouTube and Instagram which have been quick to roll out their own short-snippet video features.

As we mentioned, the must-have ingredient is creativity and spontaneity and you need to ensure your brand has enough flex or an authentic connection with a playful audience for your content to resonate. 

TikTok has surged in popularity since lockdown, as families and friends have craved connection. New social platforms also continue to gain popularity at expedited rates and their features are rapidly replaced or one-upped by competitors and new entrants. Before diving into any new channel, do take the time to evaluate the risk, reward, and relevance for your brand.

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