Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks': A guide to native advertising on the mega-popular platform

By Janine Ford on June 21, 2022
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TikTok is a force to be reckoned with. According to TechCrunch, TikTok was the most downloaded app worldwide in Q1 2022. And according to NYU Professor Scott Galloway of the influential Pivot Podcast, the platform now commands more attention than Facebook and Instagram combined.

In this post, we explore how native advertisers can take advantage of TikTok’s enormous potential. 

Table of Contents

  1. What is TikTok?
    1. The sound and vision of TikTok
    2. Who uses TikTok?
    3. The nature of content on TikTok
  2. How to advertise on TikTok
     
    1. The In-Feed Ads format
    2. The TopView Ads format
  3. Spark Ads: The bespoke TikTok native ad format
  4. The benefits of Spark ads

What is TikTok?

Let’s begin with the basics: What is TikTok? 

TikTok is a platform that burst onto the social media scene in 2018. With over 2 billion downloads globally, it’s the world’s sixth-most popular social platform. And the most addictive, with a recent Bloomberg report showing that users spend an average of 28.7 hours per month on the platform, nearly double the time spent on runner-up Facebook.

The sound and vision of TikTok

The app centres around short-form videos – although it supports images as well – between five and 120 seconds in length. It has an assortment of filters and effects, as well as a massive music library, which users can use to create and share their own videos. 

Users can follow their favourite creators, although it’s not necessary because TikTok’s unique algorithm will automatically fill their feeds with curated clips. The app uses machine learning to show users personalised feeds known as For You Pages (FYP) that are different for every user. Its design focuses on what users like and dislike and based on these factors and then recommends relevant videos.

A very important aspect of the app is the sounds that creators can select to accompany their videos. A TikTok sound can be anything from an iconic line of TV dialogue to a song lyric from a popular artist to an unearthed gem from pop culture history. When a piece of audio is used over and over again, it becomes a trending sound. And the phenomenon of trending sounds is what actually differentiates TikTok from other social platforms.

Users discover great sounds as they scroll through their FYPs and tap on the spinning record icon to come to pages dedicated to those sounds. Meanwhile, brands can see which sounds are trending through TikTok’s Discover page and engage with those TikToks to reach specific audiences.

So, who uses TikTok?

Here’s the important thing. TikTok is the app of choice for the hyper-influential Gen Z, so it has an outsized influence on the cultural zeitgeist

The majority of the TikTok audience is Gen Z (generally defined as those born between 1997 and 2012), with 42 percent of the audience aged 18 to 24 years old. Nearly a quarter of Tiktok’s advertising audience are women within that age bracket. The next-biggest generational cohort on the platform is the Millennials (born 1981-1996), who account for 31 percent of users.

Source: Hootsuite

So, for native advertisers looking to target younger adults, especially women, TikTok is a platform with tremendous potential. But it should also be noted that older segments are starting to fill a significant part of TikTok’s user segment. 

The nature of content on TikTok 

Here’s the other important thing. The platform is the home of spontaneous, authentic and creative content. In fact, Galloway went so far as to say that while TikTok is a social media platform, it should actually be regarded more as a streaming platform given its entertaining content. 

In order to capture and keep the attention of the platform’s users, brands have got to play by their rules: sponsored content must be just as authentic and creative. Native ads must blend into the feed and not disrupt the user experience. This means dropping the polish of Instagram or the sales-driven approach of Facebook.

Hence, TikTok’s mantra: “Don’t Make Ads. Make TikToks.” 

 

While TikTok creators first used the app primarily for entertainment purposes, they’re also now using the platform to discuss complex subjects, campaign for change and educate audiences in subjects ranging from healthcare to accountancy. 

How to advertise on TikTok

Advertising on TikTok gives brands new opportunities to reach their target audiences. But how do native advertisers go about using it?

TikTok’s advertising tool is very similar to Facebook so those already using that platform will find TikTok fairly straightforward. Like Facebook, TikTok's ad account lets brands target relevant segments, select specific ad placements and plan the scheduling and budgets of their ads on several levels.

TikTok offers several ad formats such as TopViews, Brand Takeovers, Hashtag Challenges and Branded Effects (lenses, masks, etc.). These media ads can only be launched through the TikTok Ads Manager. You can read more about these formats here.

In addition to these ad formats, TikTok also has the In-Feeds Ads format. We concentrate here on In-Feed and TopView ads, as they are the most native in format.

The In-Feed Ads format

The In-Feed Ads format allows advertisers to embed a video ad that auto-plays within a user’s FYP feed. In-Feed ads are up to 60 seconds long, play with sound on and look and feel like native content because they have the same user interface as organic TikTok posts. 

Each ad features a clickable CTA button that can be used to drive traffic towards external landing pages, app downloads or to a brand’s TikTok Business Account. TikTok users can like, comment, share and interact with native videos in the In-Feed Ads format, just like any other video on their FYP. 

And recently, TikTok made interactive add-ons available globally for In-Feed ads to help brands create more engaging ads.

The TopView Ads format

Brands can also put themselves front and centre by occupying TikTok’s prime ad real estate. TopView ads capture user attention by appearing at the top of the For You feed when first opening TikTok. TopView is perfect for brand awareness as it has an extremely wide reach and a high number of impressions.

In this format, videos can be up to 60 seconds long, offering an immersive viewing experience with no other competing content. The TopView ad placement is 100 percent sound-on and occupies the user’s full screen. 

Spark Ads: TikTok's bespoke native ad format

And then there are Spark Ads – TikTok’s new format specifically made for native advertising. It lets brands publish ads:

  • ​Using their own TikTok account's posts.
  • ​Using organic posts made by other creators – with their authorization. 

So if a brand stumbles across amazing user-generated content about its products or services, it can leverage and amplify that content for more customers to see in an authentic way, as long as it has the creator’s permission. 

Unlike regular In-Feed Ads, Spark Ads use posts from real TikTok accounts, which ensures that all views, comments, shares, likes and follows gained from boosting the video during the promotion are attributed to the brand’s organic posts. 

TikTok research shows Spark Ads have a 24 percent higher completion rate and 142 percent higher engagement rate than standard In-Feed Ads. 

What do Sparks Ads look like?

Spark Ads are labelled ‘Sponsored’ and include the brand’s choice of CTA. The ads feature account names, captions and audios and also feature the usual engagement drivers such as likes, comments and shares.

A Spark Ad behaves like a regular TikTok, letting users:

  • click the profile photo, nickname or swipe left to head to the brand’s page to follow them; 
  • click the video caption or CTA button to be taken to the brand’s designated landing page; or
  • click the music name and music disc to be taken to the audio page – this is especially useful if the brand uses its own audio.

In these ways, Spark Ads blend into the feed, giving a more organic functionality and helping the ad to look and work more natively to the TikTok feed.

In the below graphic, TikTok illustrates the difference between user actions in Non-Spark Ads and Spark Ads:

TikTok's explanation of Spark vs Non-Spark Source: TikTok

To find out how to get started with Spark Ads, check out TikTok’s Spark Ads Creation Guide

The benefits of Spark Ads

The ability of Spark Ads to turn organic user-generated content, or influencer content, into ads is a game-changer for marketers. 

Here are some of the benefits of this new native ad option:

Authenticity: Spark Ads is the only TikTok ad option with a 100 percent native in-feed format  featuring all functionalities of native TikTok posts. It’s authentic and blends in with organic content. The content comes straight from creators and works as an organic post, so can help build trust with customers.

Lasting marketing impact: The views a brand’s Spark Ad gets are added to the total amount of views on the organic video – beneficial if it’s boosting its own TikToks. Users can click on the video creator’s profile and follow the account straight from the Spark Ad, enabling brands to grow their TikTok audience and drive traffic to their profiles. 

More reporting data: Non-Spark Ads only provide metrics on paid clicks. Spark Ads provide brands with more metrics – data on paid clicks, music clicks, paid likes, paid shares, paid followers and paid profile visits – helping them better understand how effective their ads are. 

Increased ad performance: With their authenticity and ability to blend into the FYP, Spark Ads tend to perform better than other TikTok ad formats. According to TikTok’s data, the platform has seen increased video view, engagement, conversion and cost metrics when Spark Ads are used, compared to non-Spark Ads.

To see how native advertisers are using TikTok to great effect, read our blog 'Beyond teen entertainment: How TikTok is generating creative examples of native advertising' and if you’re looking for tips on how to create effective native ads on TikTok, check out our best practices article. And if you want to take a deeper dive into the importance of sound on the platform, you'll find that here.  

Main image by Collabstr on Unsplash