If you’ve heard that catchy “Baby Shark” tune, then you’ve got TikTok to thank (or blame?) for it. Though the tune has been around a while — popular at Girl Scout camps and other youth events for the last few decades — the TikTok app, formerly known as Musical.ly, is what brought it to the silly, toddler-friendly song to the forefront of pop culture in recent years.

That’s not TikTok’s only claim to fame, though. The app is also one of the fastest-growing and most popular digital platforms out there, claiming 30 million active users every single month (in the U.S.) and more than 150 million users worldwide.

It was the second-most downloaded app in both Google Play and the Apple Store in November, and its downloads have jumped 25% in the U.S alone — no easy feat considering the millions of apps today’s smartphone users have access to.

In fact, as of January 7, TikTok is even out-besting Instagram, Snapchat and Messenger, in terms of downloads.

But what exactly is this rapidly growing app? And is it something you should consider adding to your repertoire of social media accounts? Let’s dive right in.

The 2020 TikTok Advertising Guide

Jump to the section below:

  • What is TikTok?
  • How does TikTok work?
  • What is TikTok’s audience and reach?
  • What are TikTok Ad types?
  • How to Advertise on TikTok


    What is TikTok?

    TikTok is sort of a social media meets video meets music platform.

    Users can choose from thousands of audio clips, and record videos of themselves lipsyncing, dancing, parkouring or even acting along to the sound bytes.

    Videos can also be edited, sped up, or slowed down, and users can add stickers, activate a special effect or use filters to change up the video’s look.

    All in all, videos can only be 15 seconds long, though users can create longer “stories” by stringing up to four 15-second segments together.

    On the social side, users can “react” to videos, filming their reaction when watching something, or “duet,” instead filming a side-by-side video along with the existing content. Duet videos are often used in challenges or competitions (the #WrapBattle challenge is a great example!) Users can also interact with content, “heart” videos, leave comments and send messages to others within the app.

    How does TikTok work?

    At its most basic, TikTok is for promoting short-form video content, so when you log in, a recommended video will start playing right away.

    You can also follow other users to stay up to date on their content, or use the search function to look up specific challenges, keywords, hashtags and more. There’s also a trending area to find up and coming videos.



    The TikTok app isn’t just for individual users though. Some media companies use the app to create shorter “shows” (similar to the news stories shown on Snapchat), mostly aimed at teens and younger users. Seventeen’s “Seventeen in the City” show is just one of these offerings (and part of why the brand has more than 2 million followers on the app).

    What is TikTok’s audience and reach?

    TikTok, in some version or another, is currently available in 150 markets across the world and in 75 unique languages.

    Its most popular posters have millions of followers and billions of views per month.

    Currently, the top-ranked channels are Lisa and Lena, with over 32 million followers, and Loren Gray, with 29 million. Both have launched successful YouTube channels as a result of their TikTok fame.


    BERLIN, GERMANY – MAY 14: Lena Mantler and Lisa Mantler during the premiere of the film ‘Hanni & Nanni – Mehr als beste Freunde’ at Kino in der Kulturbrauerei on May 14, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images)

    There are likely many factors at work here. First, there’s the already existing popularity and knowledge of similar platforms like Dubsmash (lipsyncing with video) to consider, and there’s also a whole load of publicity.

    In fact, Jimmy Fallon has often challenged his viewers to create TikTok videos for a chance to be featured on his late-night show. (See this tumbleweed challenge as an example — and for a good laugh).

    TikTok / Musically, however you want to slice it, is also popular with all age groups. Though teens were the original cohort to catch on, according to the Washington Post, TikTok app videos are now taking off with medical professionals, police officers and even members of the military.


    A GIF showing a clip from one of Michael Eckert’s TikToks. Credit: Washington Post

    The platform offers these high-pressure individuals a nice mental break, a good laugh and, thanks to its interactive features, a little camaraderie with like-minded souls.

    TikTok’s user base is not nearly as large as that of Instagram, but it’s growing fast. It achieved over 14.3 million unique US visitors as of March 2019–almost double the growth from just six months before (7.5 million).

    Over 25% of TikTok users are 18-24 year olds, which translates to 3.7 million people. Another quarter of the user base (24.5%) fall into the 25-34 year old age bracket. Women on the platform outnumber men by at least 2 million users (8.2 million to 6.1 million), and the 18-24 year old bracket is skewed towards females.

    The app’s demographics are heavily skewed towards Gen Z, which makes it an ideal channel for brands targeting those markets. The user base is specific, but it’s firmly defined and highly engaged. This makes it easier for brands to stand out and even convert if they release the right kind of content.

    “TikTok is a powerful platform to place dollars in right now. We’re predicting it as the breakout channel this holiday season for retail and ecommerce brands. While their paid offering continues to be optimized and expanded – it has proven powerful results for a few of our clients this year.” – Lauren Guerrieri, Senior Manager, Paid Social at Tinuiti.

    “The type of engagement we have seen is higher than many other channels and users are clicking through to discover more and buy! TikTok has innovated around advertising products like their Hashtag Challenge that bridges brand and revenue goals.”

    “Another key reason to explore TikTok is the powerful influencers that were born out of the platform. Called ‘Creators’, brands can partner with them (and should!) to elevate any campaign deployed on TikTok. They help humanize the brand and tell the story in their own creative and authentic way to the eyeballs already highly engaged with them on a daily basis.”

    Much of the content is off-beat and light-hearted. The low production values are part of its charm and provide a low barrier to entry compared to the glitzy, over-produced content now found on Instagram and YouTube. This allows brands to take risks and experiment with their content.

    What are TikTok’s Ad types?

    TikTok is Gen Z’s new social media app of choice, and marketers are chomping at the bit to get on the app and connect with its young audience. But the app is still maturing, and at the moment potential TikTok advertisers are limited to options that aren’t as robust as those offered by more established social media platforms.

    Having said that, there are still plenty of advertising opportunities for brands who want to get in front of the users early, before in-app ads get too prolific and the user base gets jaded.

    There are currently four ad formats available on TikTok:

    • Biddable Ads
    • Brand Takeover
    • Hashtag Challenge
    • Hashtag Challenge Plus
    • Branded Lenses

    All ads require that you go through a TikTok advertising representative. Let’s focus on each ad type in detail:

    1. Biddable Ads

    TikTok’s rep-based ad setup is not the norm for this type of ad. In other networks, advertisers have access to a self-serve bidding platform where they can manage their own ad campaigns and spend. This may change in the future as TikTok’s marketing demand grows, but for now there are no other alternatives.

    This lack of options also extends to the types of biddable ad units available to you. Right now, there’s only one: the in-stream video. This is to be expected on a platform whose content is composed primarily of short videos, since the ads can be seamlessly inserted into a user’s feed without being disruptive, but doesn’t allow for campaign flexibility.

    Each in-stream video ad can use one of three available action models: CPclick, CPM and CPView. In order to count for CPView, a user has to watch your ad for more than 6 seconds.

    TikTok’s ad targeting options are pretty basic, as well. So far, the targeting filters only allow you to include/exclude by:

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Location

    You can also use your own targeting lists if you have any already compiled.

    2. Brand Takeover

    A brand takeover is when your ad appears immediately after a user opens the app, “taking over” the opening screen. Once opened, the brand has the option of bringing users somewhere else, whether it’s a TikTok profile or an external site.

    This ad type has a high barrier to entry, as it’s more expensive than the biddable ad and the fact that only one advertiser can leverage this ad per day.



    3. Hashtag Challenge

    TikTok’s user-generated content is unique, clever and remarkably shareable, and the Hashtag Challenge ad format takes full advantage of this. Users are asked to participate in a challenge campaign that will last for six days, where they post their own videos based on the suggested theme.

    The Hashtag Challenge has already created impressively viral content for participating brands, such as Guess’ #InMyDenim challenge.

    This coincided with TikTok’s release of a subset of the Hashtag Challenge called “Hashtag Challenge Plus,” which allows users to shop for products featured in a Hashtag Challenge without leaving the app.

    4. Branded Lenses

    These lenses are similar to those offered by Instagram and Snapchat. Filters range from face filters to motion effects and Augmented Reality.


    Credit: Adweek


    How to Advertise on TikTok

    With such a limited range of ad types and filtering options, any brand that wants to conduct a TikTok marketing campaign has to take extra pains to create the best and most relevant content possible.

    Consider the following strategies:

    Lighten up. Spend fifteen minutes watching videos on TikTok and you’ll see just how zany, off-(or on-) beat and quirky the content can get. This is a space where people can cut loose and dance like nobody’s watching, even if they totally are. When in Rome, dance as the Romans do. Show your brand’s lighter side and produce content with a personal and creative flair.

    Take risks. Users on TikTok are creating authentic content that is raw and unfitlered, that has just as much chance of flopping as going viral. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to test the waters yourself with content that you’d never risk releasing on Facebook or Instagram, where the stakes are so much higher.

    Engage, engage. Engagement is a golden rule in any social media campaign, but it’s even more important on TikTok, where the user base is so small but fervent. Engage with people as much as you can: respond to those who rise up to your hashtag challenges, and participate in other people’s challenges yourself. Engage in duets with fellow users or other even other brands.

    Although the app is still in its early growth stages, TikTok is now running app ads targeting potential Facebook advertisers. It appears now is the perfect opportunity for your brand to jump in and be noticed, while there are relatively few competing brands vying for attention.

    As with any social media platform, paid ads offer a cost-effective way to get users to notice you–provided you release ad content that fits with the community’s tastes.

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