TikTok Advertising: The New Breakout Channel For Ecommerce Brands

By Tinuiti Team

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. 

Sound interesting? Let’s cover the basics of TikTok advertising and how your brand can get the most out of it. 

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media platform where users produce and share short-form videos. It started as a Chinese video-sharing app called Douyin (which is still active in China) but transformed into TikTok after the parent company bought out and migrated its non-Chinese users to this new app.

Most TikTok videos involve music in some way, with users either dancing to a track, lip-synching or using it as a background for a funny sketch. Every user has the ability to record and upload single videos of up to 15 seconds or looping videos of 30 seconds. But like other social media networks, it’s the most talented and creative individuals who rise to the top and become influencers. 

Who is using TikTok?

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. 

Why Should I Get On It?

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 Ad Formats are Available on TikTok?

There are currently four ad formats available on TikTok:

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

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:

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

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. 




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. 

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 Do I Get the Most Out of TikTok Advertising?

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 areWhen 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. 

TikTok is still in its early growth stages, which 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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