As TikTok becomes the latest social app to target the UK, we look at its potential for marketing fashion to a younger audience.
Short-form social video apps have tantalised fashion brands since Vine burst on to the scene in 2012, offering a new route to millennial and Generation Z consumers. However, the Twitter-owned company struggled to offer brands the same slick marketing experience as photo-sharing apps such as Instagram, and it quickly fell out of favour with the fashion crowd.
In October 2016, Twitter announced that it was shutting down Vine. It gave no explanation, but experts speculated that the app had failed to keep pace with innovation from its rivals.
The latest app testing the waters in short-form video is TikTok. Originally called Douyin when it was launched by Chinese online content platform ByteDance in 2016, the app was rebranded as TikTok in 2017. That same year ByteDance bought popular lip-syncing video sharing app Musical.ly for $1bn (£764m) and, in August 2018, the two were merged.
Today, more than 500 million people worldwide – most of whom are aged 13 to 24 – use TikTok to create, edit and share videos set to music of up to 15 seconds in length. In September 2018, TikTok topped the app download charts in the US for the first time after it was installed 3.81 million times via the App Store and Google Play. Facebook was in second place with 3.53 million downloads, according to the data from US-based app intelligence firm Sensor Tower. Indeed, TikTok’s growth prompted Facebook to launch a similar standalone app last November, called Lasso.
We saw great potential in partnering with a social platform that captured the Gen Z audience and was experiencing rapid growth
Iris Yen, senior director, social media, Guess
A spokesman for TikTok could not give the number of UK users it has currently, but confirmed it is investing in growth on these shores. In its first UK marketing campaign, which ran over Christmas on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, TikTok encouraged people to download the app with a series of “challenges” for their own video content. The challenges appeared on billboards around London’s Piccadilly and Oxford Circus throughout December.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of social media marketing company Socialbakers, says TikTok is “definitely worth watching”: “Despite being a relative newcomer in Europe, it has gained traction quickly across the Atlantic.”
Awareness of TikTok is slowly starting to build in the UK, but its marketing potential is as yet untested. In January it showed its first advert, for food delivery company GrubHub, and the TikTok spokesman tells Drapers it expects to roll out new brand partnerships soon, although he says it is too early to give further details.
Guess is the only big fashion brand to have partnered with TikTok so far. For 24 hours in September, any TikTok user in the US that opened the app saw a branded Guess video and was directed to its #InMyDenim challenge, which invited people to “transform themselves” with denim.
Some of TikTok’s “content creators” – influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers – posted their own videos in which they changed from ordinary clothing into Guess outfits. TikTok users were encouraged to respond with their own #InMyDenim posts.
“We saw great potential in partnering with a social platform that captured the Gen Z audience and was experiencing rapid growth,” says Iris Yen, senior director, social media, at Guess. “We predicted it would be the next big thing in social media, especially to the digital-native generation.”
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Yen says the campaign, which ran for a week, exceeded expectations. It achieved between 25 million and 30 million impressions, 9.5 million of which came from the branded video, and a click-through rate of 16.5%. TikTok users created more than 5,550 videos in response to the challenge, which drove a further 10 million views of content featuring Guess.
Tiktok is quirky, and its initial success has been fed through edginess
Ecommerce consultant Ian Rhodes
“We were able to widen our audience base while delivering TikTok users content they wanted to see and challenges in which they wanted to participate,” explains Yen. “TikTok is and will continue to be part of our digital marketing consideration set.”
Ecommerce consultant Ian Rhodes points out that short-form videos “force creativity” and can be a testbed for understanding what messaging resonates with younger people.
However, he warns brands not to expect polished results: “Tiktok is quirky, and its initial success has been fed through edginess. It’s not a place to perform and present beautiful video. Brands need to follow suit and understand how to present in a way that is aligned to their audience.”
It may be too soon to set aside marketing budget for TikTok, but the app is amassing new users at speed. Fashion brands targeting a younger audience should be aware of it, and make sure they understand how it works.