It’s now been more than a year since TikTok launched in the US, and in that short period, the Chinese-owned video app has capitalized on the viral nature of its platform by partnering with a number of brands and slowly unveiling a slew of advertising capabilities.
Cosmetics brand e.l.f. is one of the latest advertisers to launch a paid campaign targeting TikTok’s Gen Z user base. Using the popular “Hashtag Challenge” ad unit, the brand recently launched its #eyeslipsface campaign, encouraging TikTok users to create videos showing off their makeup using an original song created for the activation. e.l.f. Beauty also purchased a 24-hour takeover ad, which prompted users to participate in the challenge upon opening the app.
“Gen Z is a huge audience for us,” said Kory Marchisotto, CMO of e.l.f., in an interview with eMarketer about the news of the partnership. “It’s of critical importance to make sure we're not only where they are, but also serving up content that's relevant to them.”
Marchisotto says it’s not just TikTok’s demographic that has e.l.f interested in the platform. “I think [TikTok] is bringing something very different. Instagram has become highly polished, it's still the coffee table book, it's very curated. On TikTok, everybody's out there to have fun and express themselves in unique ways.”
Below is a roundup of TikTok’s current ad offerings and some of its biggest brand partnerships to date. (Updated 10/4/2019.)
Though the video app has yet to roll out all its ad capabilities—such as augmented reality lenses and full-screen video ads, as listed on its website—some early adopters are testing select formats.
Brands like Guess and Chipotle Mexican Grill partnered with TikTok on sponsored “Hashtag Challenges,” which placed branded hashtags on the app’s Discover page. Food delivery app Grubhub was reportedly testing video ads on TikTok as early as January 2019, and fashion retailer Hollister Co. ran a series of in-feed video ads last spring. TikTok has also become a popular platform for influencer marketing, especially for brands looking to work with the platform’s up-and-coming video creators.
A representative from TikTok confirmed that its hashtag unit was still the only ad product officially available in the US, but it is conducting early experiments with other models. Last month, sponsored hashtags were expanded under the name Hashtag Challenge Plus and now include an in-app shoppable component.
Walmart TikTok’s list of advertisers also includes the largest company in the world. Walmart launched its #SavingsShuffle hashtag challenge in late September and promoted the campaign using a roster of TikTok influencers. “It's kind of one of those seminal moments when you start seeing those kinds of brands,” said TikTok vice president Blake Chandlee at Advertising Week in New York City. The brand used the hashtag challenge Explore tab—which pops up when a user taps on a hashtag—to advertise a variety of shoppable products and ask users to guess Walmart’s best-selling item. (The answer: toilet paper.)
In perhaps the largest US branding effort to date, TikTok announced a multiyear partnership with the NFL that will allow third-party brands to sponsor content on the NFL’s TikTok account. When the announcement was made prior to the 2019 season, the NFL began posting using the hashtag #WeReady. Although the NFL told AdAge that it did not pay to promote the hashtag, the organization plans to use the Hashtag Challenge feature in the future. The NFL also hopes to generate user engagement by inviting fans to create TikTok-centric content to support their favorite teams and players.
As the official outfitter of the US Open Tennis Championships, Ralph Lauren was one of the first brands to use TikTok’s shoppable Hashtag Challenge Plus feature to show off its collection for the 2019 tournament. The challenge asked TikTok users to post a video wearing Ralph Lauren products using the hashtag #WinningRL. At the end of the contest, creators of the top three videos with the highest engagement were awarded free US Open gear.
The department store kicked off the back-to-school shopping season by bringing its omnichannel “All Brand New” campaign to TikTok using the platform’s Hashtag Challenge. The challenge encouraged students to post videos wearing back-to-school outfits, and if users tapped on the hashtag, a “Shop Now” prompt appeared above Macy’s official videos linking to its website.
For its own back-to-school campaign, Kroger became the one of the first brands to use TikTok’s shoppable Hashtag Challenge Plus feature. The grocery chain promoted its #TransformUrDorm campaign, which encouraged college students to show off their decorated dorm rooms. Similar to Macy's, the campaign allowed users to tap on the sponsored hashtag, which led to a separate Explore tab showcasing Kroger products and direct links to its ecommerce channel.
One of TikTok’s most notable US partnerships was with Chipotle, which worked with the video platform twice on hashtag challenges. For Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant chain asked fans to post their best “lid flip”—where users flipped an aluminum dish lid onto a Chipotle plate and then used the hashtag #ChipotleLidFlip—to promote its free delivery offer. The brand went viral on TikTok in August when it announced a new challenge, #GuacDance, which became TikTok’s highest-performing branded challenge in the US.
For more insight into TikTok, look for our upcoming report, releasing in October.