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 in recent years.

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing apps and social media networks out there, claiming 30 million active users every single month (in the U.S.) and more than 500 million users worldwide.

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

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

“TikTok is not only a completely fresh and unique opportunity for people but also for small and large brands. The impact brands have on culture will eventually lead to an impact on business. By connecting with the community on a creative level, you’re able to tap into new audiences who may not be active on other platforms.”

kiana corpus tinuiti

— Kiana Corpus, Paid Social Coordinator at Tinuiti

What is TikTok?


TikTok is a social media, video, and music platform all in one. 

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.

“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. Some media companies use TikTok app ads 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 Charli D’amelio, with 41.4 million followers, and Loren Gray, with 41.3 million. Both have launched successful YouTube channels as a result of their TikTok fame.

tiktok audience

Source: TikTok


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 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

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.

Over 41% of TikTok users are 16-24-year-olds. 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 16-24-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 using TikTok advertising to target 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 advertising is 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 TikTok app ad 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 six ad formats available on TikTok:

  • Biddable Ads
  • Brand Takeover
  • Hashtag Challenge
  • Branded Lenses
  • Top Views
  • Custom Influencer


All ads require that you go through a TikTok advertising representative.


1. In-Feed Video 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 TikTok app ad campaigns and spend. This may change in the future as TikTok’s marketing demand grows, but for now there are no other alternatives.

infeed tiktok ad

Source: TikTok

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.



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.

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.


3. Branded Hashtag Challenge


tiktok branded hashtag challenge

Source: TikTok

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 leverages 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.


4. Branded Lenses


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


Credit: Adweek


5. Top Views


tiktok topview ad

Source: TikTok

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.


6. Custom Influencer


Tiktok influencers have a massive amount of influence over their followers. Brands can partner with influencers in their niche to utilize the influencer’s fans to engage with their brand and get more exposure.

Influencers know that their followers will only trust them if they partner with brands that reflect their own values and beliefs. When reaching out to influencers to partner with, it’s important to make sure your values and vision match up.


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 daily 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.


More TikTok strategies to consider:


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 unfiltered, 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 in TikTok advertising, 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 even other brands.

Although the app is still in its early growth stages, TikTok app ads are now 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.


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

“e.l.f.’s #eyeslipsface campaign 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.

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