TikTok grew exponentially in 2020, due largely to the global pandemic. In a time filled with isolation and solitude, the app offered a new way for people to connect. By September, a whopping 800 million worldwide users were posting or interacting with TikToks daily.
Though the video content platform certainly had its trials this year, including contending against a ban in the US, it looks like TikTok is here to stay. Since its rise, the app has presented marketers with new opportunities to reach audiences through snappy video campaigns and trendsetting. But, what campaigns actually made a splash — and what can we learn from them?
TikTok’s “Brands & Campaigns That Inspired Us 2020”
Today, TikTok released its master list of brands and campaigns that resonated most with the platform’s US audience. According to the article, the key to successfully marketing on TikTok is “Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks.” Authenticity and the inspiring of connection between the app’s users was essential for brands to make the list.
“People come to TikTok not just for entertainment, but for education, inspiration, and a sense of community. Meaningful connection was more important in 2020 than ever before, and looking back we’ve seen partner brands in nearly every vertical bring our community together through authentic, unforgettable, and inspiring TikTok videos.”— Bryan Thoensen, Head of Content Partnerships, TikTok
There are some obvious insights to be gleaned from the list, many of which fit under “undeniable marketing truths” — like how a unique brand position will garner attention, or participating in active trends fosters engagement.
Hidden in the list, though, are important secrets to use specifically in your TikTok strategy. It’s broken down into categories that can offer insight into what it takes to make a campaign successful on TikTok. Below, we’ll dig into a few of these categories and explore how they should inform your TikTok strategy in 2021 and beyond.
Hashtag Challenges Offer Trend Potential — But You’ll Need an Influencer
The first two categories on TikTok’s list are “Top Hashtag Challenges that sparked creativity from our community” and “Top Hashtag Challenges that moved us through music.”
The brands that topped these categories embraced the way TikTok’s user base loves to make creative content of their own. These brands found success not in how many views or interactions their own account’s content pulled — instead, they generated a buzz by creating hashtag challenges that inspired users to craft their own relevant content.
Top performers included L’Oreal’s #LetsFaceIt campaign, which encouraged mask-wearing by asking beauty content creators how they coordinate their makeup looks with their masks. Warner Bros. #ScoobDance campaign enlisted the help of Jalaiah Harmon, creator of a viral TikTok dance, to create a new dance to a song from their upcoming film. They even animated Scooby Doo to participate in the ensuing dance challenge himself.
A fun and creative hashtag challenge is a great way to start a buzz on TikTok. If you take your strategy this route, though, remember that getting the buzz started will likely require identifying key influencers and getting them to participate before you have a shot at trending.
Content That Fits the “For You” Feed
Another noteworthy top-performing category is “Top eye-catching creatives from the ‘For You’ feed.” Campaigns in this category earned views and engagement by crafting content that fit seamlessly into the rest of the feed — basically, their ads didn’t stick out like a sore thumb amongst the non-ad content that makes up the majority of TikTok.
Hulu’s show Pen15 is praised in this category for using clips from an upcoming episode to promote the release of their second season. The clips are cut together in a rapid-fire format with a key piece of comical dialogue, making them resonate with the TikTok audience. Amazon Prime did something similar, pulling in a single clip to promote their upcoming season of The Boys. Their approach included placing the dialogue in on-screen text bubbles, as well, which adds to the “fits the feed” feel.
To better fit the medium, brands have even taken strides to adjust their brand identity within TikTok content. Historically family-friendly cranberry juice brand Ocean Spray leaned into the laid-back TikTok culture, releasing comical content that includes swearing — something that would have been considered off-brand for them on other media.
The moral of the story here is that TikTok is probably not the place for cinematic-level advertising, or for taking yourself too seriously. If you want your content to connect with the audience, don’t stray too far from the format that users come to the platform to see.
Branded Effects That Beg to Be Interacted With
Up next, TikTok calls out “Top branded effects that brought the joy of our community to life.” Campaigns in this category created filters and effects that users loved featuring in their content.
EA Games used this tactic in their #PlayWithLife campaign, encouraging users to live their best Sim lives. The effect placed a plumbob (the green crystal that floats over your Sim’s head during gameplay) over the user’s head. This spurred a trend of users reliving one of their favorite games by acting out the quirks and themes of Sim life.
Any effect that gets TikTok’s audience excited to create can be a worthwhile addition to your strategy.
Successful TikTok campaigns are all about leaning into the unique nature of the platform. There’s a lot of value to be found in encouraging user-generated content, rather than focusing fully on your brand account’s content. Remember that it’s an app people use to do more than consume — it’s also somewhere they want to be inspired to create. Hashtag challenges and branded effects can get a buzz going, but influencers remain key to driving those initiatives forward.
When it does come to your account’s content, though, don’t overthink it — stick to the playful, rapid-fire format TikTok users know and love.