TikTok Advertising 101

There can be zero doubt that TikTok is just a thing now, and despite how many people (past me being one of them) like to whinge about the rise of a new social media platform, it presents a wellspring of new opportunities for businesses particularly those looking to advertise their services to a brand new emerging market.

09 Aug 2023

By Cole

Writen by Cole

TikTok has over 1.1 billion monthly active users as of 2023. To put it in perspective, that’s an eighth of the world’s global population (or if you have any experience of buying Taylor Swift tickets, about the same number of other people also trying to buy Taylor Swift tickets).

With the rise of TikTok, not only are you guaranteed to get in front of users you may not have considered, but you can also guarantee that you are targeting an audience who are engaged. The platform is currently ranked #1 in ad equity across all platforms, demonstrating its overall value to the people spending money to promote their business, products or services.

TikTok Stats
TikTok Statistics from the Academy Programme.

TikTok’s raison d’etre is capturing your attention, wholly and unabashedly without any distractions. 46% of TikTok users engage with the app without distraction or multi-screening, with a total of 7 minutes and 32 seconds per session being devoted to watching short form video content through TikTok, over just 2 minutes and 39 seconds on average across instagram.

From TikTok’s perspective, it’s creating a community, and it’s clear that the focus, especially when creating ads, is on protecting that community and making sure that the feed is not disrupted in any way between user generated content and advertisements. The way that the ad platform is structured ensures a seamless transition between the two experiences in a way that engages a captive audience that the platform identifies as being genuinely interested in the products and services you have to offer (43% of TikTok users say that advertising ‘blends in’ with the content).

Real is rewarded.
Real is rewarded.

The focus is on how you create ‘real’ and ‘genuine’ content in the advertising space where everything is particularly…not…real…

The aim of this article is to provide a comprehensive guide to setting up and running TikTok ads effectively, as I learn how to set up and run TikTok ads effectively.

Come with me on this journey of self-discovery.

Step 1: Setup, Strategy & Quirks

If you’ve used self-serve ad platforms before, TikTok feels instantly familiar. The key here is to ensure that you are structuring your campaigns in the right way. Different ad formats and objectives will require different skeletons, but the basics are all there. In order to set yourself up for success, you must make sure you are nailing the basics. As with every new platform, making sure that you are fighting to achieve best practice is the very least you could be doing.

TikTok Advertising Objectives
TikTok Advertising Objectives

The objectives outlined within the ads platform are also largely the same as you would expect to find, although it’s important to come in with a different strategy, as TikTok themselves are adamant that they serve content (and especially ads) in a way that is different to the others you might have used before. This is one of the key benefits of TikTok as an ads platform, as mentioned before - your ads are served directly on a users For You Page, amongst all organic and user-generated content. In order to set yourself up for success, it’s important you acknowledge that your content is going to perform better if it’s indistinguishable from organic content across the channel.

What is a ‘For You Page’, I hear you rasping, dust in your lungs as you reach for your weathered walking stick and packet of Werther’s Originals. Well, put simply, it’s where all your tailored content shows up. TikTok’s algorithm is constantly fighting to learn who you are, and what you like - this could be based on such innocuous things as the content you engage with, things you search for on the platform, or the content you create.

One of the great things about the platform is that it comes with a built in Shopify integration, so if you do happen to have an ecommerce website with a store that is already up and running, it’s incredibly easy to connect the two and to set your products up in a way that is super easy for TikTok users to make purchases, both through your website or even through the app if you set up a TikTok Shop (which Shopify also makes wonderfully simple). The difficulty with that comes with how you present that content visually in a way that doesn’t seem like a sales pitch. Granted, a lot of TikTok shop content on the app is painfully cringe, but it doesn’t mean you have to lean into that in order to start funnelling your wares.

Dedicated video content is vital, it seems. The platform’s entire ethos is ‘Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks’. So make sure you account for this ahead of time, when building out your campaign strategy. Do not, I repeat, do not replicate content from Instagram and Facebook and hope for the best. Unfortunately it’s 2023, and whilst marketers of the past may have been inherently lazy, it just doesn’t work like that anymore.

TikTok Creative Best Practices
TikTok Creative Best Practices

Step 2: Audience Targeting & Budgeting

TikTok’s demographic is clear - it has and will continue to skew younger, and so it’s equally important that you account for this ahead of time before throwing your hat in the ring, particularly if your business doesn’t line up with a hip and trendy audience (clearly I’m not particularly ‘hip’ or ‘trendy’ if I’m using phrases like those in 2023. Curse my millennial sensibilities).

TikTok’s targeting tool is also very familiar, with affinity audiences via interests & behaviours (including users with ‘high spending power’ AKA more affluent users), and the ability to upload customer data in order to qualify users who match those already in your existing database, or to generate lookalike audiences for those who have previously engaged with your business in some way, shape or form.

Also worthy of note, is the fact that as the channel audience can be particularly young, in cases of legislative restrictions, some users will not be served targeted ads at all unless they are verified as being over 18 years of age (this is only in certain countries/states in the US, but it’s worth bearing in mind as the forecasting tool only accounts for prospective users over the age of 18 who may see your ads).

Your optimisation strategy is also limited to just two options:

  • Conversions: Aiming to get users to complete valuable actions on your website, i.e. buying something (which also requires you to either integrate with your ecommerce website via API, through Shopify, or via a TikTok Pixel)

  • Clicks: Just going for gold on pure volume. You want people to visit your website for more information, or to give you the opportunity to retarget people who have seen or interacted with certain content on your site, i.e. a landing page.

As far as bids and budgets go, you can either choose to cap your vid (if you’re only willing to pay a certain amount for either a conversion, or for a click), or you can choose to maximise your total budget throughout the course of your campaign, and let the machine do the legwork with ensuring it gets to the right kinds of audience at the right time. I realise that’s a lot of faith to have in a system you may not have used before, but if Meta & Google performance max campaigns are anything to go off, the platform’s own machine learning will likely give you a run for your money.

Step 3: Creating Compelling Ad Content

One of the eternal mysteries of the universe (or simply the marketing industry) is how do you create content that resonates with the right audience in order to market your business, product or service? The truth is, this will always be the most difficult part of any marketing strategy. As previously mentioned, TikTok would prefer that you create your ad content in a very particular way - naturally, humanly and as if you’re sending a video to a friend, and whilst you don’t need to stick to these as guidelines, shifting your tone, structure and format for TikTok is pretty important.

That being said, here are a few tips I’ve picked up on how to make the most of short form content to utilise as part of your ad campaign.

  • Keep it Short and Snappy (Not like this blog): TikTok is all about short-form content, so make your ad concise and attention-grabbing from the first few seconds. Capture the essence of your message quickly to hook viewers. You could even get away with literally leading with your elevator pitch. Selling a pair of glasses that lets you smell time? “Ever wanted to smell time? Here’s how.”

  • Leverage Trends or Challenges: This is something that is easy to do (in theory), but difficult to master in a way that doesn’t come across as unnatural and awkward. If you feel like a current TikTok trend or challenge benefits your message, or your product, by all means. Understanding and utilising viral trends can help you boost ad visibility and engagement. Just don’t go doing a dance challenge for the sake of it. Remember, the internet is forever.

  • Tell a Story: Storytelling works best across a platform like TikTok. You don’t have to just be selling a product or service - sell an emotion, a solution, or an idea. TikTok users are all about practicality and making their lives easier. If you can do that for them, and get in front of them to tell them exactly how you can help, you’ve already sold your business to them.

  • Be Authentic & Relatable: As I’ve already mentioned, both TikTok & its users value authenticity. If someone sees you trying to sell something by shouting ‘buy this, buy this’, it’s going to put them off in the same way as if you went on a date with someone who just wanted to get into your pants. As the kids on TikTok say, ‘It’s an ick’. There’s absolutely 0 harm in being yourself on TikTok. Unless you happen to be a terrible person. In which case, don’t be yourself. One of the most important lessons to learn is how to break down the barriers of formality without compromising your professionalism as a business. But it is possible. When Twitter first shot into the limelight, businesses took a vastly differing approach to tone of voice - something that hadn’t really been done before, but has been replicated tirelessly by businesses ever since. One of the most notable being the fast food chain Wendy’s (see, image of Death). This tonal shift was something that was relished by social media users as it was a breath of fresh air. Wendy’s as a business weren’t selling their food, they were selling themselves, their own sense of humour and, subsequently, their humanity. This is something that you can easily replicate on a platform like TikTok, but it’s essential that you remain acutely aware of being ‘too much’. Find the balance between yourself and your business. It exists somewhere.
  • Use Humour & Creativity: Don’t talk to me about this. I’m clearly not very funny.

  • Incorporate Music & Sound: TikTok are immensely proud of being a ‘sound on’ platform. This not only means that you can get your message across quickly, but you can also lean into using popular music and trending sounds in order to improve ad relevance. Using sounds or songs that are a part of the cultural zeitgeist is going to help your content to stay in the minds of the users you impress upon, long after you have done so.

  • Focus on Visuals & Make Sure You Shoot Vertically: Ads require eye-catching visuals. This is not news, but it’s equally important to acknowledge when creating content (organic or paid) for the clock app. Take time with your video content, include high quality graphics, animations and make sure you’re not including too much text in the video. Equally important is making sure you shoot your video vertically, specifically for placement within the feed. Landscape videos won’t have the same level of engagement, even if you format it so users have to turn their phones.

  • Include a Call To Action (CTA): If you’re a marketer, this is nothing new. All of your content, paid or organic should include a clear call to action. This is difficult to do however whilst trying not to be too salesy, but thankfully the TikTok ads platform bakes in your CTA in a way that isn't too intrusive. You should also reiterate your call to action verbally if possible as part of your video content.

  • Collaborate with Influencers: TikTok influencers are peculiar creatures, but they are also incredibly useful when it comes to getting people to pay attention to you. Sure, you might need to end up paying out a little bit of cash in order to get somebody with some TikTok clout to help promote your brand or business, but there’s a reason brand deals are so lucrative for businesses and influencers alike. Make sure to do some research when looking for an influencer or profile that fits your brand perfectly. For example, if you’re selling beauty products, there are thousands of beauty influencers/bloggers/vloggers to choose from. But the aforementioned research is utterly invaluable, particularly when it comes to partnering with the right people. Not the least as young people can be quite unpredictable. Make sure you are making the right business decision, and tailor a contract ahead of working with anyone just so you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Step 4: Analysis & Reporting

One of the bedrocks of any campaign is making sure that all of your campaigns are tracked effectively. Thankfully, by using the TikTok ads manager, or the Shopify integration, it makes it incredibly easy to measure each campaign, by tracking your spend, and how you’re performing against each of your core KPIs. Through Ads Manager you can also export tables and data to a .pdf or .csv so you can present it exactly how you want. Key in this is going back to your objective to determine exactly what your goals are. Remember, not everything in marketing works first time, and there will likely be a few missteps along the way to success, especially when using a new platform. Reports can be as simple or as comprehensive as you or your clients demand.

In Conclusion: TikTok Ads is an incredibly powerful marketing tool when used correctly - and I cannot emphasise that last part enough. It is vital that you put thought and care into producing content for the platform that is tailored specifically to the platform. This may require a lot more strategy ahead of time than the tried and true methods that you are used to, but I highly encourage you to begin implementing your own tactics into creating some new campaign ideas, and testing out the platform to see if it works for your business. The most enjoyable part of marketing can be stretching your creative muscles, and the necessity to do so on TikTok will ensure that you are constantly thinking of your next big idea.