TikTok Tops 800M Users: Is It Retail’s Next Big Social Investment?

Even though TikTok has only been available to the global market since 2017, it’s already won the hearts and attention of Gen Z (or Centennials) everywhere. The premise is simple yet powerful for its target audience, which is eager to be creative and express themselves. Users create vertical, looping videos that can be anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds long. Then they can edit their videos, adding music, sounds and other effects.

Retailers and brands, including big names such as Walmart, Kroger, Macy’s and e.l.f. Cosmetics, already have launched TikTok campaigns, garnering impressive levels of consumer engagement along with millions — in some cases billions — of views. Even so, TikTok has remained largely under the radar, making it an ideal medium for retailers to try out new concepts in a low-pressure environment. For now, marketers that can master the social network’s vocabulary and exercise their creativity will have an almost open field in which to create connections with younger consumers.

Competition From The Social Media Giants?

The social network now has approximately 800 million global monthly active users and more than one billion downloads — and Silicon Valley bigwigs like Mark Zuckerberg are taking notice. In a private internal meeting, Zuckerberg revealed Facebook’s plan of attack, especially in the U.S. and India, a key market for the social network. That attack is Lasso, a new app from Facebook that is being called a TikTok copycat by many in the tech space. Lasso was released in November 2018, strategically in markets where TikTok hasn’t yet caught on. 


“We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big,” Zuckerberg said during the meeting.

TikTok Creates A Gen Z Connection

Competitors and Internet behemoths aren’t the only ones paying attention to TikTok’s meteoric rise. The mobile video creation and sharing network has become a boon for brands and retailers that want to engage Gen Z — an increasingly coveted market. 

After all, Gen Z is not only significant in size; it’s significant in spending power and influence. Bloomberg predicted that the total number of Gen Z people on Earth (2.47 billion) would surpass Millennials (2.43 billion) by the end of this year. As a result, these consumers spend between $29 billion and $143 billion on their own, and influence another $166 billion to $333 billion in spending, according to Millennial Marketing

More than any consumer group, Gen Z gravitates to experiences. They want the interactions they have with brands to align with their needs and behaviors. Moreover, they want marketing campaigns and initiatives to be authentic. TikTok inspires users to take in-the-moment videos of their experiences — whether they’re singing a song, doing a choreographed dance with friends or playing a prank on a family member. Scrolling through the “Discover” section of the app, users will see a multitude of videos that are extremely creative and even a little bit silly — perfectly encompassing the essence of the TikTok experience.

Quick service restaurant chain Chipotle, which was one of the first brands to embrace the Hashtag Challenge offering, saw a flurry of activity with its “lid flip challenge.” Using the Hashtag Challenge offering, the chain encouraged users to film themselves performing a lid-flipping trick with their burrito bowls, ultimately garnering 110,000 submissions over a six-week period. After this success, Chipotle went bigger with the #GuacDance challenge — a campaign designed to celebrate National Avocado Day that received approximately 250,000 U.S. video submissions. 

With TikTok now reaching such a vast, highly engaged audience, the brands that eagerly dive in to test and learn will be the ones to win, according to marketing expert and VaynerMedia founder Gary Vaynerchuk. During a talk with TikTok VP Blake Chandlee during Advertising Week in New York City, Vaynerchuk explained: “It’s not super complicated. It went really fast on Vine, too. It went really fast on Instagram when Instagram didn’t have enough creators making for it,” he noted. “This is one big game of supply and demand of content and the attention on the other side. This is the one game played over and over again.”

Currently, TikTok has five ad products it’s going to market with: 

  • Hashtag Challenge, which encourages user-generated content creation and viral video creation connected to a brand; 
  • Brand Takeover Ad, a branded video ad that appears when users open TikTok; 
  • In-Feed Video, which is a full-screen, auto-play ad experience; 
  • Branded Lenses, which allow users to transform their environments with face filters and other elements; and
  • Top View, which takes over the entire TikTok

Although there have been some early adopters, Chandlee noted a recent inflection point. “When I talk to leading brands, I keep trying to say that we want to be different,” he said during the Advertising Week session. “We want brands to be this first-class citizen in the graph, so that when people see the content, they actually engage with it.”

Eos, E.l.f. Cosmetics And Walmart Among Early Retail Success Stories

While the TikTok user base is thriving, marketers’ adoption of the platform is still very low. As of February 2019, only 4% of U.S. social media marketers use the platform, compared to 89% on Facebook and 65% on Instagram, according to Sprout Social. However, several consumer brands and retailers are successfully using the app to generate buzz and engagement: 

From Sept. 10-30, lip care brand Eos ran an exclusive TikTok campaign for its larger #MakeItAwesome initiative. For the first six days of the campaign, the brand encouraged users to add its famous lip balm into a creative video, using the song “Post Malone” by Sam Feldt and RANI. As of October 14, #MakeItAwesome videos had 3.7 billion views total. The campaign was Eos’ first foray into TikTok in support of its brand reboot. More than half (53%) of the company’s media budget was spent on digital channels — and 7% of that total was allocated toward experimental formats like TikTok, according to Digiday

E.l.f. Cosmetics
E.l.f. Cosmetics capitalized on the creative and quirky nature of TikTok to create a unique track to promote its #eyeslipsface challenge. The song was created with Movers and Shakers and Grammy Award-winning producer iLLWayno. Consumers were asked to share videos of themselves singing along to the track wearing their favorite makeup looks by October 24. Selected winners will receive a prize package of makeup and skin care worth $250. More than 400,000 videos have been created to date, and videos have acquired more than 1.7 billion views. The song from e.l.f. has become such an Internet sensation, the brand has extended the length of the song and released it on Spotify.

The grocery chain was one of the first retailers to run a sponsored hashtag challenge that connected to shoppable content. The #TransformUrDorm campaign was designed to engage college-bound students, encouraging them to show off their decorated dorm rooms and add the hashtag to videos. Users could then tap on the sponsored hashtag to access a dedicated page of relevant Kroger products, which connected to the retailer’s e-Commerce site

Macy’s also saw success adding TikTok to its omnichannel “All Brand New” back-to-school campaign. The retailer onboarded social influencers to promote the campaign and encourage students to share videos of themselves wearing their favorite back-to-school outfits. When users clicked the hashtag in videos, they were redirected to a branded hub featuring official videos and a “Shop Now” feature.  

Walmart onboarded six TikTok influencers to post videos of them dancing, showing off their mega savings in stores. Other users were encouraged to do the same, adding the hashtag #SavingsShuffle to their in-store videos. As of September 26, videos tagged with #SavingsShuffle garnered 450 million views collectively. 

A recently leaked sales deck paints a fascinating picture of how TikTok plans to win over brands, spotlighting past campaign results, campaign costs and insight into key performance indicators. As far as whether brands will continue to flock to the platform to test these new campaign formats? Well, only time will tell. However, brands still have the opportunity to create their own accounts and create organic TikTok content that can help generate audience engagement and organic traffic. So if Gen Z is a primary audience for your brand, it may be time to turn on the camera and start thinking of your next creative idea.

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