TikTok Advertising: Is it Right For Your Business?


Social media has offered a plethora of new opportunities to brands looking to promote their products and services. Not only do these apps allow you to harness the power of influencer marketing, but they can also get your ads in front of users who are likely to buy your products without delay. After all, four out of five consumers shop on smartphones — so it makes sense to meet them where they already are.

If your business has already embraced advertising on Instagram and Facebook, you might assume that your other options are limited (especially if your brand doesn’t automatically align with Gen Z customers). But given the growing popularity of the TikTok platform, you might be doing your business a disservice by ignoring the advertising potential it provides.

What’s the Deal With TikTok, Anyway?

Although TikTok has been around since 2016, the pandemic caused app usage to explode in 2020. With its 1 billion monthly users and emphasis on short-form video content, it’s an especially appealing platform for brands that are looking to connect with younger consumers. The TikTok algorithm is unique in that it tailors what users see based on the kinds of videos they interact with. The videos that show up on a user’s “for you” page isn’t necessarily based on the creators they follow. Instead, the main draw of TikTok is that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get — but if you like it, you’re probably going to see more of it.

While it’s true that Gen Z makes up a huge portion of those who use and create on the app, it’s certainly not the only demographic that can be reached through a TikTok marketing strategy. And because the company has confirmed that it plans to roll out new features like affiliate links, in-app brand catalogues, and self-service advertising, it’s becoming an option with a lot of potential — even for brands that might normally dismiss it.

What Should Brands Know About TikTok Advertising?

Already, we’re seeing changes in how companies are embracing TikTok marketing. Advertising interest in the app spiked after Joe Biden won the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as former President Donald Trump had vowed to shut down TikTok — a threat that never really came to fruition. Although other social media platforms do much bigger advertising business, the company reported a 500% increase in U.S. advertising campaigns throughout 2020.

One unique aspect of TikTok, as previously mentioned, is that its user base tends to skew younger than most. That gives advertisers a unique opportunity to target young consumers — which can be both lucrative and dangerous. The platform maintains that it maintains ongoing conversations with advertisers on the platform regarding brand safety, which is just one of the reasons that alcohol advertisements are currently prohibited from appearing. Although some videos may feature drinking among creators of legal age, TikTok doesn’t allow alcohol to be advertised — yet. Even if both TikTok and advertisers want to eventually move in that direction (and many experts agree that it could very well happen at some point), the New York Times reported in August 2020 that an internal document from TikTok showed that one-third of its daily active users were under the age of 14. Since even a first DUI offense can include consequences like license suspension, fines, and mandatory overnight incarceration — and the promotion of alcoholic products could have disastrous consequences among impressionable young users — it’s likely that parents are relieved that alcohol brands aren’t allowed to advertise on the platform.

It’s clear that other illegal or explicit products might not be the right fit for TikTok advertising. Despite the fact that marijuana retail sales are expected to grow to $7.3 billion by 2022, ads involving illegal drugs aren’t permitted on the platform. That said, many CBD companies — and even makers of vape products, surprisingly — are taking advantage of the marketing opportunities that TikTok provides, despite the fact that the company says cigarette and tobacco products are banned from advertising on the platform. Gambling services, sexual products and services, counterfeit goods, and other offerings are reportedly barred from the advertising program, as well. But aside from the company’s policies and location-based restrictions, there may not be anything keeping you from advertising your brand on TikTok. The real question is: should you go for it?

Is TikTok Advertising Right For My Brand?

Over the last year, marketers have come to see the important role that the TikTok platform might play in their strategy. Prior to the pandemic, the value might not have been obvious. But now that users are actually spending more time on TikTok than on more established apps like Facebook, businesses are rethinking where they want to spend their marketing dollars.

There are a couple of key considerations to note here. For one thing, TikTok is all about video media. In other words, you can’t post a static ad like you would on Instagram or Facebook. TikTok ads have to be dynamic and more akin to a TV commercial than other social media advertisements. In-feed ads are among the most visible, but there are other ways to advertise through the platform (like through influencer marketing or top-view ads). These ad placements can range from 15 seconds to 60 seconds in length (and, obviously, you’ll pay more for longer ads), which means your brand really needs the resources if you plan on marketing this way. Most of the big featured ads users see when they first open the app are from well-known, national brands that have the money and know-how to create something truly dynamic and unique for the platform. That said, you can be successful with a short and funny in-feed ad even if it’s not as polished as something an advertising agency might produce.

Another thing to remember is that TikTok doesn’t really have a way to drive direct conversions. With other social media ads, that’s built right in. But TikTok is a bit more about building brand awareness than encouraging immediate sales. If your most urgent marketing goal is to drive sales, it’s worth considering whether you want to factor TikTok ads into your budget; you might have more success with another social media platform or even Google PPC ads. But if your target audience is made up of students and 20-somethings, the platform can help you get your name out there and can work in tandem with other parts of your strategy.

If you’re able to create entertaining or meaningful short-form videos to show off your products and you want a way to reach younger customers, TikTok advertising may earn its rightful place in your marketing plans. The same can be said for brands that are willing to try something different or take a less serious approach to their marketing. It’s certainly not going to be the right fit for every brand out there — and it’s a good idea to really study the platform before diving in to see whether it even aligns with your goals and your values. But considering just how many potential customers you could reach, your business may want to add TikTok ads to the list of promotional possibilities for your products in 2021.


“Devin is a writer and an avid reader. When she isn’t lost in a book or writing, she’s busy in the kitchen trying to perfect her slow cooker recipes. You can find her poetry published in The Adirondack Review and Cartridge Lit.”