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 — the TikTok app, formerly known as Musical.ly, is what brought the silly song to the forefront of pop culture years ago.

Today, TikTok isn’t just for teens. It has quickly become one of the fastest-growing apps and social media networks out there. And as the first US Independent Agency to receive the TikTok Campaign Management Agency Partner badge, Tinuiti knows a thing or two about how to help brands create engaging successful TikTok campaigns.

Here’s a look at how TikTok works, its demographics, advertising features, and how you can get started with TikTok ads.

“TikTok is the #1 downloaded platform across mobile. It’s no longer the best-kept secret for advertisers, but the platform is spreading its wings against wider demos and we expect this to continue.”

Avi Ben-Zvi, VP, Social at Tinuiti


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What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media, video, and music platform all in one. From its humble beginnings in 2016, to securing its spot as the most downloaded app in 2020, the social media platform has captured the imaginations of people and brands all over the world, inspiring no shortage of dances and ‘challenges’ along the way.

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.

According to Tinuiti data, in 2021, we’ve seen double the number of clients on TikTok and the highest increase in spend YoY when compared to all other social channels (including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, and Linkedin).

“With engagement becoming more costly on Facebook, brands should look to emerging social channels for more affordable growth opportunities. This is why it’s necessary to diversify your media mix and pivot to inventory where there is faster growth potential, such as TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest and others.”


katy lucey

— Katy Lucey, Director of Paid Social

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. Companies use TikTok app ads to create shorter “shows” (similar to the news stories shown on Snapchat). 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).

While the highest number of TikTok users fall within a decidedly younger age range than many other popular social platforms, the overarching audience is diverse. Users are still spread across a wide range of ages, geography, and gender and each individual user has unique preferences for the video content they are most interested in seeing. As for determining what content to show which users and when? That’s where the TikTok algorithm comes into play.

TikTok has been secretive about its algorithms in the past, which has led to much speculation about how the personalized For You Page (FYP) is populated. That changed in June 2020, when TikTok published a blog post detailing how the For You Page recommendations are generated.

Factors that influence these recommendations include user interactions, video information, and device/account settings. TikTok favors organic content that can help influence your paid ad strategy (specifically as it relates to ad creative).

“What I love most about working on this platform is how advertisers are rewarded for enhancing the user experience rather than disrupting it. We see much stronger engagement and touchpoints to purchases when we embrace TikTok trends and the native content experience that is led by the consumer,Haley Kimmen, Senior Specialist, Paid Social at Tinuiti said.

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.

tiktok audience

Source: TikTok

TikTok has become 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

Stats You Should Know About TikTok Audience And Reach


What are TikTok’s Ad types?

Today, TikTok offers a variety of robust ad types including:

  • In Feed Ads
  • Brand Takeover
  • Branded Effect / Hashtag Challenge
  • Top View
  • Dynamic Product Ads
  • Reach and Frequency


In-Feed Video Ads

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, and Location. You can also use your own targeting lists.

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.

tiktok brand takeover ads

Source: TikTok

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

Branded 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.

“TikTok hashtag challenges leverage a user’s tendency to create and share content around unified themes. Brands can build affinity by turning users into co-creators. TikTok understands the ripple effect one challenge can have, so incorporating brands elevates the idea even more!”

kiana corpus tinuiti

— Kiana Corpus, Paid Social Coordinator at Tinuiti

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.

“They also have an upgraded version called the Hashtag Challenge Plus which is basically an upgraded engagement solution that drives engagement and UGC, as well as sales potential. Users are able to discover more about the brand with an additional “Discover” tab directly within the Hashtag Challenge Page. Brands are allowed to customize their Discover Page with different interactive components (Discover Banner, Product carousel, survey, offline store, related hashtags),” explains Corpus.

Top Views

Similar to Brand Takeover, this ad appears when the app is opened. However, Top View allows videos such as In-Feed Video to be used as advertising material.

Dynamic Product Ads

Dynamic product ads automatically retarget people with products according to their online behaviors.

“We partner with our clients to use TikTok to drive everything from brand discovery to end purchase. From leveraging Top Views and Branded Effects to running In Feed or Dynamic Product Ads, Tinuiti clients are seeing TikTok move the needle throughout the funnel.”

Katy Lucey, Director, Paid Social at Tinuiti


katy lucey


How to Advertise on TikTok

Setting up your TikTok ad campaign:

Setting up your TikTok advertising campaign and running TikTok ads is a straightforward process that allows advertisers plenty of options for reaching their desired audience and driving engagement. Here’s a step by step guide to setting up a TikTok advertising campaign.

Start a TikTok Ad Account

To get started, create a user account through TikTok ads by clicking “create an ad”. After verifying the account and agreeing to TikTok’s terms of service a TikTok ad campaign can be created.

Create a TikTok Ad Campaign

After signing up for TikTok advertising, under account setup there will be a section for “business information” made up of six sections: business name, promotion link, industries, street address, state/province, and postal code. Next will be sections for contact information, tax information and payment information. 

Setting Objectives

With the personal details taken care of, the user can choose from three sets of objectives for their TikTok ad campaign: Awareness, Consideration, or Conversion.

Awareness will help new brands to develop brand awareness. Consideration is better for more established brands to encourage users to seek more information and to drive traffic to the brand. Conversion will help to bring users to take action towards the brand using TikTok advertising. 


When setting up the budget for an ad campaign there are two choices: Daily budget and Lifetime budget. These are the maximum amounts set to be spent on either a daily basis or on an entire campaign. It should be kept in mind that TikTok advertising has a minimum budget requirement depending on the user’s choices.

The minimum for both doily and lifetime budgets is 50 USD, but ad groups can run on a daily minimum of 20 USD.

With such a limited range of TikTok 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.


TikTok allows the advertiser to pick and choose what platforms the ads run on, not just TikTok itself but its affiliate platforms. These include News Republic, BuzzVideo, Vigo Video, TopBuzz and more. Some of these platforms are only used regionally such as Vigo Video. 

TikTok also offers a feature allowing the app to choose ad placement on its own, running ads where they would be likely to perform better.


Every ad campaign has a particular customer or set of customers in mind and the app allows the advertiser to target specifically based on certain characteristics. Typical demographic options available include:

  •  Age
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Location 

Advertisers can also target their audience by what devices they use and their interests.


For more specific targeting and retargeting TikTok allows advertisers to upload the IDs of existing TikTok users from previous engagement through ZIP, CSV, and TXT files.

Getting the most out TikTok Content

There are three great ways to make sure your content is reaching new audience members and even generating more content on its own to drive brand awareness.

Hashtag Challenges

As one of TikTok’s main ad types, these challenges prompt the user to engage directly with the brand and produce their own videos taking the challenges. This is an easy way to make your brand go viral if you leverage your creative correctly.

User-Generated Content

If you can get your audience to post videos of them interacting with your brand or product, that will go a long way to making your branding goals a reality. You can encourage this through your own profile and videos, or partner with influencers who already have a large following that may fit your target audience.

Influencer Marketing

Just like other platforms, Influencer marketing is a powerful tool. As long as there are influencers with a following similar to your target audience you can partner with them to create content promoting your brand to the right users. 

You’ll have to choose the right influencers and communicate effectively for influencer campaigns to be successful. They need to maintain their personal style and be trusted to make content that appears authentic to their followers.

Creative TikTok strategies to consider:

The most successful ads on TikTok don’t look like ads. The more fun you have making your TikTok ad, the more successful it will be. Forget stuffy corporate branding for a minute. Channel your inner performer, and you’ll have a better chance of connecting with your TikTok audience.

5 Tips for Improving TikTok Ad Creative*:

  1. Leverage native TikTok sounds—Use commercially licensed tracks to make music an essential part of the storytelling
  2. Get the brand message out early—Nearly 63% of all Auction Ads with the highest CTR highlight their key message or product in the first 3 seconds
  3. Stay trendy—1 out of 5 Auction Ads with the highest view-through rates leverage popular trends, effects, or music
  4. Think like a creator—Use the native interface to find the right balance between authentic-looking content that fits in with UGC and the look of polished advertising
  5. Highlight the main takeaways—4 out of 10 Auction Ads with the highest view-through rates use graphic overlays to highlight relevant information or tell the story in fast-paced ways

*Source: https://www.tiktok.com/business/library/Auction_Ads_Creative_Tips.pdf

Successful TikTok Ad Campaign Examples

Many brands are finding success advertising on TikTok using influencer marketing and hashtag challenges. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

TikTok’s #eyeslipsface Campaign

elf cosmetics tiktok challenge


“Elf’s music video ended up going viral on TikTok, and since it became so known on TikTok, it brought significantly strong performance when incorporating it across other channels, specifically Instagram,” says Corpus.

Chipotle’s #Boorito Challenge

Chipotle has been capitalizing on Hashtag challenges for a while now, using holiday promotions like the #Boorito challenge during Halloween, and celebrating national Avocado day with the #Guacdance challenge.
chipotle tiktok ads
While some may find it silly, these challenges grab attention and get users involved in their brand persona.

Kool-Aid’s #ohyeahchristmas Challenge

Just like Chipotle, Kool-Aid decided to use hashtag challenges to their advantage during a holiday launching the OhYEAHChristmas challenge.
kool aid tiktok ads
They took a well-known part of their previous traditional ad campaigns and made it into something their audience could directly participate in. Influencers also brought in millions of views when they participated in the challenge themselves.

Walmart’s #Dealdropdance Challenge

Like many retail giants out there, Walmart looked to social media to promote Black Friday deals with a combination of influencer marketing and a hashtag challenge called the #DealDropDance.
walmart tiktok challenge
To reach more of their audience they worked with six influencers, including Terry Crews, to reach a combined 17 million users.

The NBA’s TikTok Ad Campaign

When sports organizations advertise, they often display player stats, highlight reels, or gameday predictions, but the NBA has used TikTok as a platform to show a more human side of the organization.
nba tiktok ads
Music-backed clips of inspirational messages from players or funny clips of mascots help engage their audience in more endearing ways and make the brand more relatable.

The Washington Post’s TikTok Campaign

While they started as, and still are, a part of printed media, the Washington Post has not ignored the digital landscape. After creating their TikTok account, they began to post funny behind-the-scenes videos of their journalists in the newsroom. 
tiktok washington post ads
While this isn’t the hard-hitting journalism that the Post is known for, it’s funny and engaging, fitting perfectly into the social media landscape. Not only does it help to drive awareness, but it also allows them to keep in touch with the younger demographics.

Final Takeaway

With engagement becoming more costly, brands need to look to additional social channels for more affordable growth opportunities rather than limiting social spend to a single channel. This is why it’s necessary to diversify your media mix and pivot to inventory where there is faster growth potential, such as TikTok.

“While Facebook has historically been the king of direct response, each social channel has a unique offering that aligns with real business goals. TikTok should be considered when pulling together a holistic paid social strategy,” Katy Lucey, Director, Paid Social at Tinuiti said.

Ready to fuel your TikTok advertising strategy? Download our guide today!

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