How TikTok is transforming brands for a new generation
If you visited a mall during the 2000s, just hearing the name “Abercrombie & Fitch” should bring back a barrage of memories – the catalog of half-dressed models, the rock hard physiques and tanned skin plastering the walls, and the smell that permeated throughout the store as if they had it circulating through the vents (oh wait, they actually did).
I know you just shivered thinking about it.
And that’s just the half of it. Outside of the retailer’s distinctive in-store shopping experience, there were a number of lawsuits and controversies regarding discriminatory hiring practices and the offensive language used on their clothing that made national headlines. Even before this made the news, many high school students already knew that if you didn’t fit the specific image of Abercrombie & Fitch, it was hard to land a job in their stores.
Clearly, Abercrombie & Fitch has a complicated history that many of us still know them by – the heavy-on-the-nose, not-so-diverse, chiseled surfer bro/gal clothing brand. However, they’re making strides to transform their brand and their perception, and they’re doing it by utilizing one of the world’s most popular social media platforms – TikTok.
Other established brands, such as Old Navy and Target, are also now flocking to TikTok alongside Abercrombie & Fitch, trying to transform their tarnished image and redefine themselves to a newer generation of shoppers.
Let’s take a look at why these brands are using TikTok specifically, and how they’re using the platform to transform their brands.
The Power of TikTok as a Marketing Platform
The power of TikTok lies in its singular ability to form and reach communities in an authentic and organic way — due in large part to TikTok’s video-only platform and powerful algorithm that provides a seemingly endless “for you” page tailored… well, for you.
Because TikTok is an app centered around video, it’s able to feel more authentic to its Gen Z and Millennial users. Both communities, having grown up around technology, are hip to the tactics brands use to market their products. If something they see is clearly an ad, there’s no trust. But TikTok’s platform requires that each creator show personality and creativity in a way that feels more authentic than the staged, edited photos of say… Instagram.
This raw and limitless quality of TikTok gives the audience a sense of connection to the creator, and builds trust, so when they see their favorite TikToker bring home a clothing haul, they’re more likely to watch (and purchase) because of their preexisting relationship.
Another quality of TikTok’s platform that benefits brands is that there is no traditional homepage. On most social media platforms, users select which community to belong to in a conscious and purposeful way. However, with TikTok, from the first moment you open the app, you’re presented with endless video content. This means the reach of the content goes further than other platforms, where a user has to search for specific posts, or the “Discover” section is two taps away from the main page.
With its unique concept, TikTok presents the perfect opportunity for brands to reimagine and redefine themselves to the younger generation.
There’s nothing less cool than saying to consumers, “Hey, I’m cool again!” What you need is someone cool telling the masses that your brand is one to follow. It’s called street cred, and it matters more than ever.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Carey Collins Krug, the SVP and head of marketing for Abercrombie & Fitch, has latched onto this notion of building trust with the younger community in an authentic way. Because of the brand’s history, they knew they had to “prove themselves as trustworthy,” and shed their “exclusionary” identity.
They looked to TikTok (a platform they see as a “billion-person focus group”) as the answer — not only providing a way to see what young people are interested in, but to also show back to them strong storytelling about the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.
Taking advantage of TikTok, the days of suffocating perfumes and moose emblems are behind them, as Abercrombie & Fitch transforms into a more inclusive, chic, body-positive brand.
Old Navy is another brand that was in dire need of an update.
Unlike Abercrombie & Fitch, they were not struggling with controversy, but as a decades-old brand created in the early 90’s, the shopping experience was begging for a revamp.
With the use of TikTok, Old Navy is shedding their old skin and becoming new again, most recently with the release of “Written By The Internet” — an ad developed with the comments of a non-affiliated user’s TikTok post.
The beautiful thing about this interaction is that the original TikTok post was poking fun at the Silk Sonic’s music, a team up between pop-R&B stars Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, equating its campiness to an Old Navy commercial. Old Navy took the ball and ran with it, integrating actual comments from users (that were also satirical in nature).
It was a moment of self-awareness from the brand that worked, because it cleverly took the established feelings of a younger generation and turned it into something funny and cool, while also playing to TikTok’s identity and strength of creating organic encounters.
It was still campy, but the tinge of self-deprecating humor and interactivity with the community elevated it to a home run marketing campaign that hit the mark with a younger audience.
Another cool-with-the-kids brand that has used TikTok to their advantage, is Target.
Sometimes the best marketing is done for you by your consumers, which is exactly what happened with the “Target Challenge” that popped up on TikTok during COVID-19. Starting as a pandemic-safe, stay-at-home way to have date night, the “Target Challenge” is still a popular trend on TikTok where couples (or friends) go in-store to Target to choose and surprise their date with their favorite drink, snack, color, meal… the list goes on.
But the thing is, this wasn’t started by Target (or so they say…). It began organically with people trying to find things to do during a pandemic, and coming up with creative solutions. Because of this, Target quickly became a place where cute things happen — a one-stop shop where you can find things to make a date night fun.
And again, it’s not because of Target. It just happened… naturally, and Target reaps the benefits. That’s another wonderful thing about TikTok. Communities get involved, a trend happens, and the movement helps transform your brand even further.
The bottom line is, TikTok is a great way to reach new generations of shoppers in a way that resonates with them, which in 2022, is the price of entry for most consumers. Has your brand jumped on board the TikTok train? If not, now’s the time… by the end of 2021, TikTok overtook both Google and Facebook as the most popular websites globally. Let’s go! You never know when consumers will be off to the next new thing.