Analysis: Why marketers aren't spending on TikTok despite its explosive growth

Analysis: Why marketers aren't spending on TikTok despite its explosive growth

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Social media platform TikTok has been the talk of the town in recent times, more so now given people from all around the world are at home and turning to their digital screens to be entertained. The 15-second platform has seen a rapid uptake since its launch, propelling opportunities on its platform in 2019. 

According to a leaked pitch deck, TikTok offers brands various advertising campaigns such as in-feed videos, brand takeover, creating a hashtag challenge, building a branded lens on the platform, and custom influencer package. However, despite its wide reach of over 800 million users monthly globally, marketers do not seem to be too keen in pushing its marketing efforts on the platform.

The lack of understanding of the platform and content fit seems to be the main reason holding marketers back, according to industry players. Having its main target audience comprising teens and young adults (16-24 year olds), marketers may not fully understand how to go about marketing on the platform to reach its consumers.  According to Jay Milliken, senior partner of marketing agency Prophet, joining a platform such as TikTok can pose additional challenges for marketers as they may not understand the platform, or be of the right demographic. Many are also reluctant as they aren’t yet able to fathom the demonstrated impact on the overall business, since TikTok’s success stories are mostly centred around engagement but not business impact.  

McDonald’s marketing director Eugene Lee who looks over the regional marketing for the Asia business seconded the statement, adding that many marketers are not of the demographic TikTok videos target, and as such might prefer to stick to tried and tested platforms such as Facebook and Instagram during this turbulent period. Lee added that his concern when marketing on TikTok would be getting the right content for the platform. 

“With any form of social media advertising, you need to adjust your creatives to match and blend into the platform’s environment. You can’t simply take your existing TV Commercial and just edit it into a vertical format for TikTok because it will be rejected by the audience,” he said. 

Issue of a lack of measurement? 

Given TikTok only opened advertising opportunities last year, and being a new kid on the block, marketers may not know what their efforts will translate into on the platform. According to TikTok, the campaign metrics that it boasts differs for different advertising packages, but mainly consists of impressions, clicks, reach, video views, and consumer engagement. 

Johnson Lim, senior digital consultant of digital agency Hashmeta, said when it comes to TikTok, there is a lack of conversion tracking and retargeting features, as well as a lack of detailed targeting options for certain markets such as Singapore. Marketers are not able to concise its ad targeting efforts to a certain group of consumers on the platform. Lim also added that it is much harder to pull off a success on TikTok as it requires marketers to either ride on an ongoing trend (which could have faded away by the time the campaign is ready to launch) or start one. Since TikTok trends are also largely soundtrack-based, to start a trend would also require brands to create their own unique soundtrack for the campaign. 

Jeffrey Lim, founder and managing director of marketing agency 8traordinary, is also of the opinion that it may not be easy to monetise their content if they create content on TikTok.  

“Going viral does not mean having monetisable content.” 

Every marketing tool and channel has its effectiveness for different points of a consumer journey. Creating content of TikTok can be very effective for the brand’s discovery objective or raising awareness, but it may not translate to sales or increase in website traffic for the brand. At the end of the day, Lim said it boils down to what brands are looking to achieve out of its marketing efforts on TikTok. If the objective is to raise awareness, then the ROI will be high for the brand.

Additionally, Lim noted that the advertising rates on TikTok are higher compared to Facebook or Instagram, which could be another factor that keeps marketers at bay during a tough economy. As of 2019, TikTok was charging a minimum of US$25,000 for its in-feed video campaign, US$50,000 for a one-day buy of brand takeover, US$150,000 for a 6-day package for the hashtag challenge, and a range of US$80,000 to US$120,000 for its branded lens.

Agreeing with the lack of success measurement is Christopher Daguimol, ZALORA Group’s director brand communications. This was one of the main concerns ZALORA had before launching its TikTok challenge in September 2019. “With Facebook and Instagram, it is easy to measure direct business results from these platforms as both have rolled out social selling functions. We had to work closely with the TikTok team to find ways on what will be an effective campaign for us and how we can measure the success of the campaign,” he said.

ZALORA launched a hashtag challenge which was timed during its ZALORA Fashion Festival with the goal of amplifying the social buzz of the event and reaching a wider consumer base.  

Measurement issue not unique to Tiktok, but brand safety concern arises

Preethi Sanjeevi, managing director of VMLY&R Singapore, however, said measurement issue is not unique to marketing on TikTok because the problem of measurement exists across many channels which are already established. Instead, each brand, for each initiative or campaign, will have to define their own success metrics – which can range from vanity engagement metrics to business metrics, to eCommerce or the holy grail of it all, a cultural change or movement. 

Sanjeevi also cautioned brands to be prepared for effective measurement to be layered, and not on one singular element such as ROI on a media spend. As such, brands should not think of TikTok as a channel in silo, but rather find an irreplaceable aspect it can play in the marketing ecosystem. 

However, Sanjeevi warned that brand safety is more of a concern for brands who want to market on TikTok as there is little control on the context the brand content could appear in, and that’s a risk a lot of brands would not want to take. 

Milliken agrees with this, stating that TikTok has experienced some high profile setbacks given its youthful target audience. One such case was the data privacy issues where it was fined US$5.7 million by the US Federal Trade Commission for illegally collection of personal information from children without parental consent. There have also been cases of moderation problems on the platform, including evidence of violence, hate speech, bullying, and sexually explicit content. These threaten the brand’s safety, which may make them hesitant to join the platform. 

For brands who are looking to market on TikTok, Milliken cautions them to know their audiences first, as TikTok is not for every brand. The TikTok platform skews young (41% of users are 16-24), which may not be appropriate for all brands consumers. 

Additionally, he said brands should stay true to its DNA of authenticity, especially on new and trendy platforms where they can be seen as trying too hard to get in on the hot trend. 8traordinary’s Lim agrees with this, adding that marketers need to find a way to ensure its content on TikTok resonates with the overall brand positioning.

“If you are a brand that is serious, you need to break down into a personable identity which aligns with your brand image,” he said. Brands also need to be aware that the organic content they create may not be as effective as it may get lost in the sea of videos churned rapidly on the platform. 

Lim also said that consumers will have different expectations when they enter different social media channels, and as such the content on each platform has to remain unique.

“Consumers may look out for more news-related stories on Facebook, more aesthetic-related content on Instagram, and simply just want to be entertained on TikTok. Thus, brands should also be flexible and avoid using the same content across different channels,” he said.

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