Ever since young Americans began their exodus from commercial television to streaming services and social media, advertisers have sought the digital equivalent of home shopping channels, an online place where users can interact with advertisements rather than to simply click quickly in front of them.
Now they think they’re closer to finding that holy grail of marketing, and that is nothing like QVC.
Welcome to the holiday shopping season on TikTok, where retailers are present like never before, their authentic-looking ads falling between dances, confessionals, comedic routines and makeovers.
Young men and women feature glittering American Eagle tops as pulsating music plays in videos designed to look like they were filmed in the 1990s. Woman in a unicorn jumpsuit collects a specific brand of cookies at Target to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”. A home chef mixes and bakes Walmart’s Apple Cinnamon Cakes in 30 seconds, displaying a blue bag from the retailer.
This type of advertising presence would have been unfathomable for retailers last year, when President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok because its Chinese parent company and marketers struggled to find the best way to reach users. of the platform. But President Joe Biden revoked the executive order in June, and TikTok topped one billion monthly users in September. As a result, a steady stream of products, from leggings to carpet cleaners, has gone viral on the platform this year, often accompanied by the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which has been viewed over seven billion times.
TikTok has worked hard to make the platform more lucrative for the marketers and creators they work with. And TikTok’s popularity with Gen Z and Millennials, who are drawn to its addicting algorithm and setup as an entertainment destination versus a social network, has made the appeal to retailers undeniable.
âThe growth we’ve seen is insane,â said Krishna Subramanian, founder of influencer marketing firm Captiv8, where about a dozen employees focus on TikTok. âBrands have gone from just testing TikTok to making it a budget item or creating dedicated campaigns for TikTok specifically. “
As of August, at least 18 public clothing, footwear, makeup and accessories retail brands have referred to their efforts on TikTok in calls with analysts and investors.
In reports shared with advertisers and obtained by The New York Times, TikTok said 18 to 24 year olds on average watch more than 233 TikToks per day and spend 14% more time on the app than older users. TikTok also told an agency that 48% of Millennial Moms are on the platform, and women ages 25 to 34 spend an average of 60 minutes a day on the TikTok app.
TikTok declined to comment for this article, and the numbers it provided to advertisers could not be independently verified.
âTikTok is all about mindset,â said Christine White, senior director of media and content strategy at Ulta Beauty, which increased its spend on TikTok. âPeople go there for many different reasons – they seek to connect, they seek to laugh, they seek to find wellness stories, and they inadvertently seek to shop, if they consciously know or no.
The retailer used the creators of TikTok to introduce the addition of Ulta Beauty sections to Target stores and posed a challenge asking regular TikTok users to show off their favorite skin care products. Ulta Beauty has also seen its sales increase after viral videos involving certain products it offers, such as Clinique’s Black Honey lipstick.
âWe see a lot of these impulse buys,â White said.
Retailers are increasingly turning to popular TikTok designers to model or demonstrate their products and encourage store visits. They’re testing live shopping events, where people can interact with hosts and purchase real-time videos, along with other new tools in the app. Brands have also repurposed the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt concept with sponsored giveaways tagged #TikTokMadeMeGiftIt.
Marketers are now talking about their spending on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, the way they discuss more established advertising platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.
âThe last vacation, what really messed things up was Trump tried to play with TikTok,â said Mae Karwowski, CEO of Obviously, an influencer company that has worked on TikTok campaigns with retailers like Ulta and Zappos. âWe had a lot of brands that said they were going to do a ton on TikTok and then they got really worried. This year over 60% of our campaigns have a TikTok component.â
One of those who benefit is Maddison Peel, a 22-year-old woman in Hebron, Ky., Who posts cooking videos on her account with more than 300,000 subscribers. She gained a huge following this year after taking off a clip she directed with a roast chicken and a song by Cardi B. Since then, she has worked with brands and retailers like Heinz, Kroger and Walmart, earning $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 per month. The payments enabled her to quit her job at McDonald’s.
âNo Gen Y or Gen Z watch TV so much, so they don’t see these ads,â she said, âbut when they parade on TikTok, they see them.â
Abbie Herbert, 25, creator of TikTok in Pittsburgh, joined the platform at the start of the pandemic and quickly amassed 10.6 million followers. She has worked with retailers such as Pottery Barn, Alo Yoga, Amazon Prime, and Walmart, and has made over 100 brand deals this year.
Initially, his audience for silly skits and reaction videos was largely made up of teenagers. But after she got pregnant and started posting about it, “it opened up a new demographic” of people in their 20s and 30s.
âIt’s a lot of work doing TikTok,â said Herbert, a former model. âMaking a branding deal on Instagram is always a huge amount of work, but TikTok is a whole different ball game because you are doing an advertisement and trying to make it loyal to your followers and audience.â
Anna Layza, 31, of Melbourne, Florida, has over a million subscribers on TikTok and recently posted an ad that involved wearing a unicorn jumpsuit and picking up a box of cookies from Target. But she said she mainly posted to Instagram Reels, which recently started paying her for views on a lot of videos.
Katrina Estrella, spokesperson for Meta, owner of Instagram, confirmed in an email that the company is testing “a range of bonus programs” in the United States as part of a $ 1 billion investment in the creators.
Still, retailers are eagerly experimenting with TikTok, especially as they see the app appealing to older users. Brands want to be ready in case they go viral.
âThere are just certain things that are going to be felt or they aren’t,â said Karwowski of Obviously. “But the TikTok algorithm is really going to amplify things in a way that can all of a sudden change the culture.”