A dummies guide to running brand campaigns on TikTok in India

A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance’s app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo…
A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance’s app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo…
Image: REUTERS/Stringer
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In its first year itself, TikTok India has clocked a profit of Rs3.4 crore ($479,000), when its advertising services only started seven months ago. That’s a lucid sign of where this new form of mini communication is headed in the coming years, not just as a digital recreation for individuals but for brands who have already started benefitting from it.

Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani led Pepsi India’s crowd-sourced videos for #SwagStepChallenge that has over 23 billion views on the TikTok, while Lay’s India’s #Wavez4India has already crossed 9 billion views. Looking at these numbers, can you ignore the tornado of an app that TikTok has become? Certainly not.

But brands should be strategic with their plan and have better reasons to dive right in to engage with the super active users who make time spent on Facebook look like kindergarten. Basically, if your product is Eminem don’t put it in front of a stadium full of Ronan Keating lovers, neither will benefit.

Google, a few years ago, introduced the keyword “micro-moments,” which talks about how the modern consumer has a certain urgency in their search and purchase decisions when on their smartphones. 2019 has seen an insurgence of “micro-influencers” who might have thousands of followers in place of millions but know the nerve of their audience flawlessly and cater exactly to the niche people expect from them. TikTok branding needs to be the bridge between micro-moments and micro-influencers.

Here are the five steps to understand the why, when and how of TikTok brand campaigns:

Audience match

Does your audience actually use TikTok regularly? Or do your consumers only watch the most viral TikTok trends on Instagram’s explore feed? It is very important to know the difference between loyal Netflix users and the ones that torrent only Stranger Things and Black Mirror.

For reaching an untapped audience, respected names such as the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), too, have jumped on the TikTok wave. But with multiple global reports quoting more than 65% of users between early teens to mid-twenties means a dominating mix of high school and college kids who are good at spreading quick awareness but may not be the end consumers of smart TVs, kitchen products or international holiday packages. For the UN or your average PG13 movie, awareness unequivocally across strata can work. For yourself, the easiest way to check this right now as a brand custodian is to ask: does my core audience celebrate Friendship Day or Valentine’s Day?

Consequently, a hashtag challenge can get you 1 billion views for your new sedan car model, but it might not reach the decision-makers.

Stage study

At what stage is your brand imagery? And can you afford the audience to ride your campaign idea without a rein?

Comparatively new and mass category leader brands can do that. But the mid and elite section of brands should wait another year till the audience type distributes itself well internally and TikTok’s algorithm allows you to reach the precise subset you desire.

Though the mid-segment will have the audience, it won’t have the budget to rope in the top 25 influencers on the platform to control the narrative like PepsiCo. Or someone like The Washington Post which already has serious market credibility and can smartly choose to post humor heavy behind-the-scenes videos, discussing The Bachelorette over political debates.

All the global brands spending money on TikTok right now know it is strictly for brand awareness. Unlike YouTube, the videos aren’t hyperlinked nor redirect to your microsite or e-commerce product pages for a proper digital funnel conversion. So, for now, if as a brand, your CFO will demand a clear return on investment of the spend on campaigns and influencer engagement, hold your horses. Do know it took Facebook many years to customise the reach to newly engaged and frequent international travellers for surgical lead conversions.

Price point

The price point is a decisive factor here unlike on Facebook, Amazon, and Google, where almost the whole universe is present for you to choose.

Here, the majority is of two kinds: constant creators and bored loopers. Either would buy a thousand bucks Bluetooth speakers but will wary of Rs7,000 leather shoes. They are there to be entertained in 15 seconds and it would take a lot of 15 seconds by big A-listers to convince the average 21-year-old college student to spend that amount on shoes.

Cadbury and Nestle fit the bill seamlessly. San Diego Zoo’s TikTok account is another great example of the product and medium synergy. They post cute animal videos synced to adorable music and almost nothing makes for better loop material or to organically push the locals to visit the zoo the coming weekend. For high ticket value items, TikTok needs to branch out to the manifold user base.

To be fair, early Instagram days had a similar dilemma for steeply-priced brands and not surprisingly the app took five years from launch to open their limited advertising to all brands and businesses. Today even million-dollar condos are being effortlessly advertised there and with TikTok, be assured it will be a much faster journey, just not yet.

Tailor fit

Don’t force-fit other social media campaigns in TikTok, it is a beast of its own that demands special attention.

If you thought of a serious charity challenge try Instagram. Here, something goofier has multifold virality probabilities. The key feature most million views skits have is lip sync ability, but brands should start thinking of more creative ways to weave their concept around the other app offerings like 3D/AR lenses. Else, like once famed early social media vanilla campaign “tag your friends and win goodies,” everyone will be technically doing the same hashtag challenge with a new song and dance routine. The ADHD syndrome that has brought the videos to be 15 seconds long will get boring very quickly. As the first movers, you have to pave the creative route not yet fathomed.

When you enter their turf leave your home weapons behind. Arguably the most meme-friendly app of the world right now celebrates and flourishes with nostalgia, montages and pop culture trends. And as long as you can weave your campaign smartly around one of them the community will do the rest. The more realistic and doable the concept, the further it will spread.


The true litmus test of TikTok branding is asking your campaign idea if the same concept can work on Instagram or YouTube. If yes, then stick to it there. When you adopt this medium, make it your own.

A lot of brand managers on LinkedIn talk about the low quality of content there without understanding that each medium has its signature. And the fact that videos here don’t look and feel like a regular polished YouTube video is why it has gone to make ByteDance the most valuable startup in the world. Just because TikTok doesn’t have your kind of content doesn’t mean it is the wrong kind of content. Please don’t jump on TikTok half-heartedly and definitely not patronisingly. The fastest growing social media community will see through it immediately and weed you out.

In the next two years every major brand in the world will have their verified account on this platform, the sooner you strategize the better chances you have to leverage the early boom. And as a marketeer, please be humble enough to know that you need TikTok. They are substantially growing without you, not the other way around. It is your job to find the method in all the madness TikTok superficially is. I hope you do before your competitor does.