Exploring TikTok’s Ad Formats

If you're Charli D’amelio or one of the other famous TikTokers pulling in as much as $200k per sponsored post, this article is not for you. I'm sorry, Charli.

If, on the other hand, you wonder “what’s all the fuss about?” every time TikTok breaks a new growth record or steals another headline, then I'm writing this for you.

What's all the fuss about?

The short form video creation and sharing platform has been redefining the way we consume social media since its popularity skyrocketed in 2018 — shortly after Shanghai-based lip-syncing app was acquired by and merged with Beijing-based ByteDance's Douyin app, a video sharing platform exclusive to mainland China. In August 2018, the combined app — TikTok — went international.

TikTok has quickly become the social app of choice for Gen Z’ers. A burgeoning platform for comedic skits, dance challenges, social commentary and tutorials ranging from arts and crafts to makeup tutorials to job hunting skills, 32.5% of TikTok's 100 million+ U.S. users are under 20 and a full 63% are under 30.

Today, TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users (and perhaps over 1.2 billion this month), making TikTok the fastest growing platform in the world. For context, it took Facebook almost four years to reach the same number of active monthly users that TikTok managed to acquire in under three years. Instagram took six years to cross a billion. Everpost is on track to hit that volume in just under six hundred years.

Needless to say, opportunities for brands abound. But it's going to cost you.

How do people use TikTok?

What we’ve learned about TikTok advertising

With TikTok operating in 154 countries and 75 different languages and ads on the platform still relatively new (their self-self ad buying portal launched in 2019), the platform is still very much a "Wild West" of ad experimentation and 2020 was the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Here are the 2021 TikTok Ad formats... so far:

Brand Takeover Ads

As soon as a user opens the app, they’ll be greeted by a Brand Takeover Ad (replacing the user post a user would otherwise see upon opening TikTok). This ad format can either be a 3-second static image or a 3 to 5-second video without audio. For brands seeking mass awareness, this is the first format to explore. You can target these ads by profile characteristics and include a redirect link for potential customers. They’re also instantly engaging and just about impossible for users to miss.

If you’re thinking of trying this feature, be ready to pay a premium price, since TikTok only shows one Brand Takeover Ad to a user each day, and only one advertiser can take over any given category per day — $53,000/day is the minimum spend, buying 8.9 million impressions, but the rate can reach $100k a day for the most popular channels.

Source: Facebook TikTok Ads

TopView Ads

Essentially a slightly delayed version of a Brand Takeover Ad, a TopView Ad is, true to its name, an ad that appears at the top of a user’s feed when TikTok is opened. This format occupies the full screen and can feature a 60-second autoplay video with sound and a custom link. The cost of $65,000/day buys advertisers 7.4 million impressions. Advertisers have the option of turning a Brand Takeover ad into a TopView ad by covering the difference in cost.

Source: Facebook TikTok Ads

In-Feed Ads

This format is similar to the those seen on Facebook or Instagram: In-feed ads are videos with sound that can run up to 60 seconds and blend seamlessly into users’ feeds. Typically 5 to 15 seconds long, these video ads are shown in feeds for only one day. The ad itself is the fourth in-feed video shown to users. The starting cost of $26,000 for In-feed ads buys 3.6 million impressions.

An alternative in-feed video unit, Brand Premium, randomly places your ad amongst the first 130 in-feed a user watches. This format's minimum spend is $25,000.

Source: Facebook TikTok Ads

Branded Hashtag Challenge

TikTok's famous Branded Hashtag Challenges allow brands to create specific hashtags linked to video challenges (typically dance or comedic) which compel users to create their own versions for six days.

When successfully executed, these prompts can open floodgates of user-generated content, achieving significant reach and creating massive brand awareness. But it’s not as easy as it seems — you'll need a creative and engaging idea, music that’ll make people want to sing and dance, and some fun incentives to get more TikTok users involved. And $130,000 for six days.

For that hefty price tag, advertisers receive a host of unique options including "official" music for the challenge and special content protection that prevents videos from being restricted from the challenge. Branded Hashtag Challenge ad buys include Brand Takeover and One Day ads.

Ideally, brands use this ad format in comprehensive campaigns that combine paid and organic tactics to resonate with the target audiences, as ZALORA's #ZStyleNow campaign succeeded in doing:

ZALORA’s #ZStyleNow Challenge invited participants to flash a “Z” hand signal, which would trigger the guise of an instant outfit change.

Hashtag Challenge Plus

For an additional $30,000, advertisers can enhance their Branded Hashtag Challenge campaign with the additional ability to direct users to the advertiser's store within TikTok.

Branded Effect

Similar to the filters, lenses, and special effects you see on Instagram and Snapchat, the TikTok Branded Effect allows users to engage and play around with 2D animated lenses designed by TikTok that, when applied, are triggered by users' face and hand movements on their own posts. This ad format costs $45,000 for 30 days.

Last year, TikTok launched a gamified branded effect ad unit that allows advertisers to gamify their brand messages to allow for more interactive engagement.

TikTok's gamified branded effect

That's a liiiiiiiiiiiittle tiny bit on the expensive side. Anything else?

Yes, TikTok’s marquis ad formats are expensive, but its Creator Marketplace provides another, less costly alternative for advertisers to explore the platform's potential and test campaigns. Focused on influencers, this is the official platform for TikTok brand/creator collaborations.

Influencers are the only way to advertise on TikTok because all the best viral content on the platform is made by them,” said Jide Maduako, CEO of the influencer platform Yoke Network. “Advertisers need to be paying closer attention to the consistency of views of influencers. It’s a strong indicator as to how successful your video will be when brokering deals.

Here are TikTok's Creator Marketplace offerings:

Mid-tier package

Allows an advertiser to work with five creators, each with less than a million TikTok followers, for $12,000.

Top-tier package

Lets an advertiser to work with five creators, each with between 1 and 5 million TikTok followers, for $35,000.

Value Hybrid Package

A package that bundles two top-tier creators and three mid-tier creators for a cost of $20,000.

Premium Hybrid Package

This packages pairs the advertiser with a mix of influencers including one "VIP Creator" with more than 5 million followers, along with 2 top-tier creators and 2 mid-tier creators, for a cost of $30,000.

TikTok's Creator Marketplace dashboard

How can your brand get the most out of TikTok ads?

Many marketers are still iffy about running TikTok campaigns since it’s still relatively early in its growth stage, but it’s impressive to see the results brands like Guess, Red Bull, Ralph Lauren, BMW, E.l.f. Cosmetics and the Washington Post, among many others, have achieved in their campaigns on the platform. How’s that for inspiration?

For many, TikTok is a breath of fresh air, an exciting new platform that allows brands to push boundaries. Whether you choose to collaborate with influencers, hire a video production company, or work with your internal team, TikTok allows the freedom to get creative in how you draw attention to your brand and turn those engagements into conversions.

Diversification aint a bad thing.
Vin Diesel

Unless your campaign has an important reason for existing solely on TikTok, I suggest spreading out your marketing efforts across different social media platforms to drive better overall results. For ideas, take a look at our Facebook’s 2021 video ad formats breakdown or learn how to optimize the timing of your video posts on LinkedIn.

Now stop reading and start dancing!

Here we go TikTok!