Growth Marketing

TikTok Ads: The Complete Guide for Businesses and Brands with Examples

The power of TikTok cannot be underestimated. As the number one downloaded app in the world (a whopping 672 million times in 2022), it is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore. Since its 2016 launch, TikTok has penetrated over 20% of the 4.8 billion global Internet users and boasts over 3 million downloads. But aside from its staggering one billion monthly active users and exponential growth and conversion opportunities, many brands have been slow to tap into TikTok advertising as a legitimate paid media channel. From brand awareness to product conversions and retargeting, TikTok ads offer marketers full-funnel marketing opportunities with new campaign types and optimizations being consistently rolled out by the platform.

We all know the classic social ad tech stack. Depending on your audience and vertical, you may have some combination of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. But TikTok has earned its spot in any brand’s social stack – and we’re here to tell you why. 

TikTok isn’t just a social platform for Gen Z dancing and lip-syncs – it is a sound-on entertainment experience used for sharing, learning, and discovery. TikTok has had a profound impact on culture — competing with social competitors such as Meta, search competitors like Google, and streaming competitors including Netflix and HBO Max. With half the users over the age of 30, this negative connotation of TikTok as a “Gen Z platform” can quickly be shut down with its sheer impact on the way we consume content, connect with brands, and, let’s be honest, market. 

From Chipotle and The Empire State Building to the infamous Duolingo owl, companies of all industries and sizes are finding success through TikTok advertising by using their creativity and defining their unique brand voice to connect with their brand communities and future consumers.

Who should use TikTok Advertising?

Is TikTok a good match for my brand? Is my target audience using the platform? The answer may surprise you. 

Due to its exponential growth, TikTok has quickly become a rival of Snapchat, Meta, and Google as users gravitate towards its culture of authenticity and social validity. But we aren’t just talking about using TikTok organically. The potential reach of ads on TikTok is as many as 888.4 million reaching almost 18% of total internet users above 18 years of age.

But the app isn’t just for younger generations. Gen Z continues to be the largest active age group, but this does not discredit 46% (and growing) of TikTok users over the age of 34 truly making it an advertising platform that can reach all ages. 

Brands across all industries can find success marketing on TikTok. By using TikTok advertising, fast food companies like Dunkin’, Chipotle, and Wendy’s have found unique ways to connect with their communities through witty banter and turn up the cravings around unexpected menu items and collabs. Tech and SaaS companies have also found their way into TikTok as they are able to optimize for app downloads and have found success with how-to videos and demonstrations. There is even an opportunity to earn the first mover’s advantage for B2B brands, keeping in mind that there are human users with needs behind each lead they aim to win. But it’s DTC and consumer apps that account (for now) for the highest-viewed categories by TikTok users.

The international reach of TikTok also continues to expand as the app is currently available in 155 countries and operates in 75 different languages. This allows advertisers to target audiences based on location and language, while utilizing text overlays and auto-captioning to reach individuals outside of their own linguistic scope.

Finally, there is the consideration of gender. Globally, female users hold the majority at 55% of users, and in the United States account for 61% of the user base. Though marketers are able to target by age and gender on TikTok, it is important to understand exactly how your money will be spent. 

How to Think About TikTok as an Ad Channel

TikTok is emerging as a leading channel of choice for brands quickly — and the biggest and most interesting challenge is understanding where it fits in your marketing channel mix, what percentage of the budget it should take on as investment, and how it works with the rest of the channels that are here to stay.

The first and most important thing to understand about TikTok is that the buying intent here is relatively low — this is due to the fact that users turn to TikTok primarily for entertainment and education. In fact, the average time users spend on the app seeking a dopamine rush is 95 minutes a day.

With this in mind, for a lot of brands, TikTok will be a better fit as an experimental channel working in tandem with other channels as a top- and middle-of-funnel driver, focusing on building brand awareness and solidifying a brand’s top-of-mind position amongst their target personas. For example, you can 

a) stop the audience in their tracks with your ads,

b) drive them to your website,

c) retarget and convert them,

d) retain them.

With that being said, TikTok is a good choice for certain verticals — such as consumer apps or eCommerce, for example — that have a clear tangible product to drive bottom-of-funnel conversions alongside other channels such as Meta or Google.

To reiterate it again, TikTok is meant to complement your growth strategy and help diversify your channels and get a wider audience to move through your marketing funnel.

Let’s Talk TikTok Creative

If there is any platform out there that truly embodies the “Creative Is King” thinking, it’s Tiktok.

The best ad content on TikTok does not look like the traditional ad formats marketers have been trained on for years. In fact, the best performing ads on TikTok are the most unpolished, community-driven, and organic — which goes against the grain of the typical overproduced static and motion ads across the more typical ad channels dominating the space prior to TikTok’s advent.

There are some key advantages to the shift in successful ad formats towards authentic storytelling that brands can leverage.

  • TikTok is the ideal playground for creative testing and experimentation. With fast learnings, wide reach and broad targeting, TikTok by far can be the best channel yet to test product messaging on a macro scale and delivery on micro.
  • Raw, UGC-style videos are easier and faster to produce. This allows for a faster asset turnaround and the ability to conduct testing on a larger scale, at a quicker pace.
  • Assets that don’t feel overly promotional do a better job at winning consumer trust. With more and more consumers making purchasing decisions based on their affinity and shared trust with certain brands.
  • TikTok ads, once identified as winner assets, will drive results across other platforms. TikTok is an essential part of kicking off an asset-repurposing flywheel that can effectively ensure a consistent stream of high-performing content ready to repurposed across Reels, YouTube Shorts, Pinterest, etc.

But it’s also important to note what challenges brands face with the big change in thinking that TikTok brings about.

  • TikTok requires a large volume of creative production. Because it’s one of the best experimentation channels to test on, it’s important to invest the resources into appropriate creator relationships and video production to sustain the testing. Additionally, a lot of businesses have licensing limitations on the sounds and music used in videos, forcing them to get creative and resourceful to maintain the organic feel of the native TikTok videos.
  • Ad fatigue is high on TikTok. The amount of content consumption that happens on the platform means that brands need to keep up with fresh assets to update campaign creative every 1-2 weeks. The repetition of the same asset too frequently may lead to audience alienation and negative brand recall.

For a more detailed and step-by-step walkthrough on how to create successful TikTok content, refer to our guide here.

Getting Started with TikTok Ads

Before we dive in, it’s important to make the distinction between an organic account and a business account. TikTok accounts have the option to be categorized as personal, creator, or business accounts. 

Brands can run ads via TikTok without having an organic account or presence, but if you plan on Sparking your content (essentially boosting an organic post), then you must first have an organic account that connects to your business account. Our recommendation is to leverage a combination of Spark and Dark ads depending on the campaign — and users are more likely to trust your brand as an advertiser if there is a true organic account attached to your paid strategy. It gives the consumer the reassurance that you inherently “get” the culture of TikTok and humanizes you.

Operating as a business TikTok account, brands can unlock the ability to run paid ads, partner with creators, run real-time performance tracking, access in-depth analytics, and have the ability to drive traffic to external landing pages. If you are planning on running TikTok ads, which we assume is why you are here, then this is the option for you. 

Creating a business account is simple via TikTok Ads Manager. Once approved and authenticated it’ll be time to set up your pixel. The TikTok Pixel, similar to other pixels you may be familiar with, is a snippet of code that lives on your website which gathers information about site events. These events include user data such as location and device, and can also track user activity such as a product view or add to cart action. By tracking these events, TikTok will be better able to target your ads and get them in front of the right users.  

But before we get too nitty-gritty, let’s get a little more familiar with the TikTok Business Center.

The TikTok Business Center

TikTok launched its Business Center in 2020 as a one-stop shop for ad resources, inspiration, management, and creation.

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