The Rise (and Range) of Advertisers on TikTok

Melissa Schlechtweg

This just in – TikTok is trending, and so is TikTok advertising. As the fastest-growing social media app of 2021, TikTok is so popular that your mom knows about it and your little cousin can probably school you in at least a half a dozen trending dances (don’t hate). Brands and companies all over the world are picking up what pop culture is laying down – TikTok is the place to be, for consumers and the brands trying to reach them. 

When TikTok launched in 2016, it was intended as a short-form video sharing platform. (Think lip-syncing and dance videos.) However, with the launch of an international version of the app in 2017, and the acquisition of Musical.ly in the same year, the platform’s success skyrocketed. Annual users grew from 65 million in 2017 to 700 million in 2020. For the non-math whizzes out there, that’s a 977% increase in three years.

There’s no question about TikTok’s user popularity. But how does it rate with advertisers?

TikTok’s success can be credited, in part, to its cutting-edge algorithm and data set, which allows users to easily curate content that matters to them. This is important for brands looking to boost their reach because it means TikTok’s algorithm is highly accurate at targeting the right audience for their message. Not only that, but (as we alluded to at the beginning of this post), TikTok’s target audience represents a broad age range (13 to 40), which provides diverse advertising opportunities for businesses.

A recent Applebee’s ad campaign was directly inspired by the viral, chart-topping song “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes, and the accompanying TikTok dance that boasts participants like basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal. The song’s catchy lyrics speak to the listeners’ appetites, citing Applebee’s fan-favorites such as Oreo milkshakes and Bourbon Street steaks – a definite boon for Applebee’s business.

According to AdAge, the release of the song contributed to a 102% increase in second-quarter same-restaurant sales, which is no small feat.

But it’s the magical TikTok combination of this catchy song and the fun, quirky choreography that has made this advertising gold. The 26 million+ views the video has reached on Hayes’ TikTok account are proof that this message already resonates with a wide audience, and the simple, relatable messaging sets the framework for their new advertising campaign: video ads featuring Applebee’s very own TikTok fans dancing and lip-syncing to the song, successfully delivering the message that a date night at Applebee’s is something everyone needs.

Despite TikTok’s lighthearted nature, brands like the New York Times are tapping the network to deliver ads that capitalize on TikTok’s hallmark of success – authenticity and human connection. As part of its “Truth Is” campaign with Droga5, the Times is launching a four-ad TikTok campaign that highlights the humans behind the bylines, with compelling voice-over and first-person videography of journalists behind-the-scenes. 

In an article by AdAge, New York Times senior vice president of marketing, Amy Weisenbach, said, “We’re betting that making a more emotional, one-to-one connection between our journalists and our readers will inspire more readers to support our journalism by subscribing. We wanted to highlight reporting that our audience could really immerse themselves in.”

As seen with Applebee’s viral campaign and the New York Times’ “Truth Is” campaign, effective digital marketing lies in a brand’s ability to transcend the screen with authenticity and emotional storytelling – the cornerstone of the TikTok model. With a 500% increase in advertisers running U.S. campaigns in 2020, TikTok is proving to be a marketing powerhouse with massive potential for ROI. Whether you’re advertising to 14 or 40 year olds, Applebee’s fans or New York Times truth-seekers, TikTok is the place to be.