What TikTok’s Explosive Growth and Advertising Innovations Mean for Marketers and Advertisers

TikTok app on phone

By Kristlyn Lyons
VP, Business Development & Partnerships

Of all the media trends that rose and fell during the past year-plus of life during coronavirus, TikTok deserves special mention for its explosive growth and popularity as a social medium. And now it is commanding brands’ attention as an emerging advertising platform as well.

Why are we hearing so much about it?

TikTok influencer

The New York Times recently offered several reasons for why we’ve heard so much about the platform over the past year.1

According to the Times, TikTok has:

  • Turned entertainment on its head by reinvigorating the music industry
  • Shaped shopping behavior, especially clothing trends
  • Offered a view of the front lines, giving users a glimpse of service and healthcare workers’ lives  
  • Helped people organize and speak out including groups like BLM supporters and politically-minded users
  • Helped people stay connected—schoolmates, teachers, friends, parents
  • Gave us life-affirming trends such as viral food culture (which migrated from Instagram in 2020), the cranberry juice-drinking skateboarder who cruised to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and so many more.

The fastest-growing app in the world

The world’s most downloaded social media app in 2020, TikTok is a way to make and share short form mobile videos. How short? Initially, videos recorded using TikTok could only be up to 15 seconds long, but now you can string together up to four 15-second segments and create a 60-second video. If you upload a video that was created elsewhere, it can be longer than 60 seconds.2

TikTok fastest growing app in the world

According to TikTok, there are 805 million monthly active users worldwide who view an average of 185 billion videos per month on their mobile devices.

The global audience skews young and female. The same can be said for the US, however, the 35 years and older audience is projected to grow from 25% to 38% of the TikTok user base over the next five years.3

In just a couple years, the percentage of the US population using TikTok has grown to more than 25%, and is expected to surpass 28% by 2025.4

Among US teens, only SnapChat was still slightly more popular as a social media app in 2020. In fact, according to mobile usage data from AppAnnie, US consumers spend more time on TikTok per month than Facebook or Instagram.5

The rise of social entertainment

Analysts suggest that part of the reason for TikTok’s success is that people use it differently than other social media—I.e., they use it more as entertainment than as a way to connect with family and friends.6

TikTok is social entertainment

Other apps have emerged that mimic TikTok, indicating that the “social entertainment” might be the next big thing for social content and communication. For example:

  • YouTube’s Shorts
  • Instagram’s Reels
  • Snapchat’s Sounds and
  • Triller.

While traditional social media may have been diminished by increasing controversy and disinformation the past couple years, social entertainment apps like TikTok mainly offer lighter, fun fare that has tended to bring people together, as mentioned in the New York Times article cited above.

‘For You’ algorithm drives engagement

For You Algorithm

TikTok has two main user modes, ‘Following’ and ‘For You.’ The Following mode includes all the videos of TikTok creators you follow. 

The For You mode is built on TikTok’s groundbreaking algorithm which employs user interaction, information about the video (and especially, the audio) and account/device settings such as location, language preference, device type, etc. to begin showing the video to users who are not followers of the creator.7 

Depending on response—completion rate, and whether users like, share or comment—TikTok shows it to more and more like users.

Brands balancing opportunities and risks

Why should you consider advertising on TikTok? Aside from its explosive growth and popularity, particularly among 34 years old and under audiences, the platform’s advertising offerings continue to expand, including:

  • Targeting options, e.g., demographics, customer data files, content engagement, interests and behaviors
  • Variety of ad formats align with different outcomes8
  • Creator Marketplace offers brands access to influencers
  • New ecommerce features like Dynamic Product Ads and Collection Ads to drive seamless in-app purchases for brands

For one real-world example, check out how top beverage brand Vita Coco capitalized on a viral TikTok trend to engage its audience via a focused ad campaign. Or contact our TikTok experts with any questions.

Get the full size Power of TikTok infographic

You’ve seen snippets of the stats and data from our Power of TikTok infographic throughout this article. Now download the full size version and get all the inside information on TikTok!

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  1. This Is Why You Heard About TikTok So Much in 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/style/tiktok-trends-2020.html
  2. TikTok Video Length & Video Formatting Guide https://boosted.lightricks.com/tiktok-video-length-video-formatting-guide/
  3. TikTok User Share, by Age, eMarketer, April, 2021. https://forecasts-na1.emarketer.com/5e4c6b5ec56a401090de843e/60895b2d0b2f28075cb1a57d
  4. TikTok Users, US, 2021-2025. https://forecasts-na1.emarketer.com/5e4c6b5ec56a401090de843e/5e4c6a29c56a401090de843b
  5. US consumers spend more time on TikTok per month than on Facebook or Instagram, says App Annie, by Daniel Carnahan, Jan 15, 2021. https://content-na1.emarketer.com/us-consumers-spend-more-time-on-tiktok-month-than-they-do-on-facebook-instagram
  6. eMarketer’s key digital trends for 2021 [Part 2 of 2]: Disney+, event transformation, ‘brandstanding,’ social commerce, and social entertainment, Dec 15, 2020. https://content-na1.emarketer.com/emarketer-s-key-digital-trends-2021-part-2-of-2-disney-event-transformation-brandstanding-social-commerce-social-entertainment
  7. How the TikTok Algorithm Works in 2020 (and How to Work With It), by Masooma Memon, July 29, 2020. https://blog.hootsuite.com/tiktok-algorithm/
  8. Everything You Need to Know About TikTok Ads, by Jessica Worb, June 12, 2020. https://later.com/blog/tiktok-ads/
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