TikTok: Social Advertising’s Disrupter of the Year

Dana Davis

By: Dana Davis

Account Strategy Manager

TikTok is more than just a fad. It’s the latest player in short-form video messaging and it’s quickly becoming a major player in the world of social media advertising.

The app, owned by Bejing-based ByteDance, was launched in 2017. Not long after, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the US in October 2018 — the first Chinese app to achieve this. It is available in over 150 markets and in 75 languages, and as of Q1 2019 it has been ranked the #1 most-downloaded app world-wide.

The video-sharing social networking service is based on short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. The application allows users to create short music videos of 3 to 15 seconds and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds.

According to TikTok, their “mission is to capture and present the world's creativity, knowledge, and moments that matter—directly from the mobile phone. TikTok enables everyone to be a creator, and encourages users to share their passion and personal creative expression through their videos.”

In the U.S., TikTok is quickly securing it’s position as the latest and greatest social advertising opportunity for brands, touting highly engaged audiences and better customer service.

On the TikTok Ads platform, it’s easy to choose a campaign objective, define a target audience, make ad creatives, and schedule when and where your ads deliver to prospective customers.

But what sets this platform apart from the rest?

  1. Ad types for everyone. Marketers can choose between a Homepage take-over for maximum guaranteed exposure, a deeper plunge into a custom execution like a hashtag challenge, or they can buy in-feed ads similar to Instagram or Snapchat. But unlike other social platforms in their early days, TikTok has made affordable options easily available for all brands, with some pricier tactics available for those who choose to make the extra investment.
  2. Cheaper Exposure — for now. TikTok is currently cheaper to deploy than other platforms. The scale might still be smaller than some, but they’re fighting for dollars, so it’s priced competitively. For now at least, there are also fewer brands in the space, leaving a lot of opportunities for brands to be the leader in their vertical.
  3. Quality Customer Service. Like other platforms, TikTok dedicates partners across accounts to help agencies stay apprised of new features and help them apply strategies according to best practices for better results. But between the sales team and the agency partners, the customer service is particularly responsive and agile, with people from both teams ready and willing to jump in for creative or strategic brainstorms.

For the most part, brands and agencies are still figuring out what TikTok is and how they might be able to tap into it. And according to Direct of US Marketing, Stefan Heinrich, the company is on a mission to educate brands and advertisers on what the app is, and learn more about how advertisers want to use it.

So what is there to know about TikTok’s current ad products?


TikTok currently offers age, gender, and state-level geo-targeting, and the company has also promised interest, behavioral, more granular demo targeting in the future.

Marketers can also create custom audiences, such as CRM lists, and they can white list or blacklist the audiences. However, CRM integration is not available at this stage, but physical lists can be used.

And though there are currently no minimum spend thresholds, the company does encourage advertisers  to make an investment large enough to achieve statistically relevant results and generate actual learnings.

Ad Types and their Benefits

Brand Takeover

What is it?

  • A Brand Takeover ad appears upon opening TikTok and it’s the first interaction users will have
  • It can be a 3-second static image or a 3-5-second long GIF or Video

Why this ad format?

  • Can drive users to click through to an external or internal destination
  • Category exclusivity – they only allow one advertiser per day

In-Feed Native Video

What is it?

  • 15-second long, full-screen, auto-play, audio-on immersive video experiences within the homepage For You feed
  • These ads appear as native as possible (profile pic, user name, all functions that organic content has, like, share, comments).

Why this ad format?

  • Can drive users to click through to an external or internal destination
  • Opportunities for amplification and earned impressions via sharing functions
  • Impressive average watch time
  • Impressive cost per completed video view

Top View

What is it?

  • A TopView ad appears upon opening TikTok and it’s the first interaction users will have with the app. It then blends into the For You feed as the first In-Feed Video

Why this ad format?

  • Seamlessly connects Brand Takeover with the first video display, providing a more integrated user experience
  • 100% SOV for a brand with an exclusive daily placement

Hashtag Challenge

What is it?

  • Hashtag challenges capitalize on our audience’s natural tendency to create and share content
  • They encourage UGC by asking users to record themselves completing a specific action or following a set of directions to participate in the “challenge”
  • All UGC aggregated within hashtag challenge page
  • 6 day package with media placements, creative guidance, seamless setup

Why this ad format?

  • High potential for the baked-in virality features to increase brand awareness and engagement
  • 37% of users participate in challenges


As TikTok continues to improve its advertising tools, more metrics are becoming available. Right now there are 38 metrics available in the platform overall, including:

  • Reach
  • Impressions/Cost Per Impression
  • Clicks/Cost Per Click
  • Video Views/Cost Per View (6 secs.)
  • Total Watch Time
  • Average Watch Time per Video View
  • Engagement/Engagement Rate
  • Likes/Comments/Shares/Follows

As for paid campaign objectives, there are three currently available:

  • CPM
  • CPC (cost per click)
  • CPV (6-sec. cost per view)

Brand Safety

TikTok stands behind the safety of their platform for brands, implementing advanced machine-learning and other technologies to analyze, flag and classify content.

They also employ manpower in the form of a 24/7 moderation queue dedicated to reviewing flagged content on customized standards developed for each market to guarantee safe and culturally-appropriate ad environments.

How it works:

  1. Develop a series of content feature flags based on safety policies
  2. Match the flags with sensitive video demos to create seed videos
  3. The seed videos are fed into machine learning algorithms
  4. Machine learning allows TikTok to understand and predict a high volume of video content
  5. Automatically analyze and flag questionable contents based on key features
  6. Local moderation team respond to flags in <1 hour
  7. Displays legitimate ads in safe environment

Having both automated and real-time methods for identifying policy-breaking content allows for a prompt reaction and flexible application of brand safety guidelines.

TikTok Will Continue to Grow

With 31MM Monthly U.S. Users, 76 Billion Monthly Video Views, and 60 Minutes average time on app per user/per day, TikTok is securing it’s role as a unique real-life, call-and-response creative social platform.

One trend within TikTok that will make marketers eagerly excited is that users are now commenting on videos with videos of their own. This places the platform in a unique position for hosting conversations where users don’t just watch, but create visual and audio responses of their own.

“Part of the reason TikTok has taken off is that things move in trends,” Heinrich says. “People have been in a perfect, manufactured world for a while, where they have to live up to expectations and ideals. Now it’s about real life. Real people. It’s getting a window into someone else’s life, with surprise and delight. And because it’s content-driven, not connection-driven, you see people you wouldn’t normally see, outside of your traditional circle.”

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