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TikTok- The Key to Reaching Gen-Z?



The app TikTok has shot to fame in the last two years. It was the third-most popular app in the world as of November 2018, barely a year after its creation. While many people recognize it as just a trend among Gen-Z teenagers, this app could actually become the key for brands to directly connect with young consumers.


TikTok was born when the app Musical.ly was acquired by Chinese AI giant ByteDance in late 2017. Bytedance then created an app that allows users to post short video clips, originally lasting six seconds and now up to fifteen seconds, and curates content based on a user’s viewing preferences.


Many of the top creators on the app are influencers who made their start elsewhere, such as Vine or Instagram, and have adapted their usual style of content to fit TikTok’s format. For example, Zach King was known for his optical illusions and comedy videos on Vine, and now is one of the most popular figures on TikTok. Other creators have risen to the top of their respective niche categories, including beauty, drag, and dance.


In addition to giving individual creators a platform, this app has seen an interesting blend between new and traditional media. Celebrities such as Will Smith, BTS, and Miley Cyrus use TikTok to share videos directly with fans and participate in viral challenges. The success of mainstream celebrity figures on the app is evidenced by the popularity of the “Tumbleweed Challenge” posed by talk-show host Jimmy Fallon, which accumulated 9 million videos posted with “#TumbleweedChallenge”.The app has also had a major influence on the music industry. TikTok is responsible for the popularity of some of 2019’s greatest hits, such as “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. The app has even begun to make appearances in American music videos, such as those of American hip-hop singer Doja Cat.







The user experience on TikTok is highly interactive. When the app is opened, the landing page is divided into “Following” and “For You” sections. The “For You” page aggregates trending videos from across the app. Once a user begins liking videos, the app will curate content based on these preferences, narrowing down the “For You” page to suit their individual viewing history. When filming videos of their own, users have access to thousands of audio clips taken from songs, films, and other user’s original videos, as well as a variety of filters and augmented reality features. They can participate in challenges using hashtags, which are promoted on the app’s “Explore” page. While this app has become popular for allowing users to share their talent, comedy, and daily life with others around the world, its potential for brands to reach young consumers is only just beginning to be explored.


A leaked ad pitch deck from June 2019 revealed that the majority of TikTok users (69%) are from Generation Z, or between the ages 16 and 24, while only around 25% are above the age of 25. Most users are also female (60%). In the U.S., TikTok has more than 30 million monthly active users who spend, on average, 46 minutes on the app per user per day. The number of active monthly users around the world is about 800 million. This platform has done an excellent job congregating a Gen Z audience, and could be the perfect window for brands to directly interact with young consumers.


However, brands are learning that traditional digital advertising methods may not be as effective on this platform. David Herrmann, president of Herrmann Digital, stated that paid advertisements on TikTok “perform very differently” from the advertisements on more mature platforms, such as Snapchat.

“It’s not a direct response now. It’s more of an awareness play where on Snapchat it’s a conversion play.”

As an alternative to paid advertisements, many brands, such as Chipotle and the NBA, have created their own TikTok accounts which focus on creating a personal connection with consumers and sharing a more fun, light-heated side of their company.


TikTok is currently beta testing a Creator Marketplace which will enable brands, agencies and marketers to more easily connect with TikTok influencers. Influencers have already aggregated an audience that responds to certain types of content, and could be the key for brands seeking to target different groups of Gen Z consumers on TikTok. While this is still in its early stages, it could transform the marketing landscape on TikTok from a platform for brand awareness to a space for sponsored posts and brand partnerships, more like Instagram.

ByteDance is focused on global growth, and has attempting to recruit from other tech giants such as Facebook and Snapchat in the United States. As the app continues to expand its presence around the world, it is time for brands and advertisers to start paying attention to its potential for changing the way brands interact with consumers.


Written by: Brianna Wren

Edited by: Nicola Curci

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