April 13, 2021

An Update on TikTok’s Self-Serve Ad Platform

Dan Kerpen

We hadn’t written anything publicly on TikTok advertising since 2019, and the world has changed. Since then, despite a few scares that legalities would cause the platform to quickly fade away in the U.S. if an acquisition didn’t go through, the pandemic has helped usher in a tremendous boom on the network. Any Likeable employee that hadn’t already taken the plunge into TikTokville did so around the time that sea shanties became a national news story.

So here’s what else you need to know about advertising on TikTok.

Account setup is still wonky.

Several clients who we consult for struggled to get their accounts moving without our help. This, of course, shouldn’t happen, but the systems are still a bit fresh, can be confusing and require a lot of information at the jump (things like business licenses, tax IDs, and official documents that are typically tricky to track down. Good thing is, these are unneeded if you work through an agency account that’s already done all that. Twitter, by contrast, just needs a credit card, and for most promotions that seems about right.

The reps are actually pretty good.

Maybe it’s the fact that their platform is exploding. Or tons of fun. Maybe they made the investment in good reps because they needed to mitigate the very valid worries about privacy and the Chinese government. Maybe it’s just a well-run company. Whatever the reason, the reps are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and relatively helpful compared to those at other social networks. So if you’re big enough to have reps and used to ignoring them, take at least the first couple calls and be honest with them. So far, we’re impressed.

The fundamentals are there.

By “fundamentals,” we mean the core media metrics old-fashioned digital marketers (oxymoron?) are inclined to start with, even if advanced optimizations have grown up to be more important. You can find prominent articles around the web that make it seem like your costs are going to be dirt cheap. Not so anymore. But, also, in light of how hot the network is, if you make good creative decisions then you are likely to see worthwhile returns. Metrics like CPM, CPV, and CPC compete reasonably well. As of this moment, your buying options look like this:

The auto-bids work.

This is worth pointing out, because most new networks get it wrong—it took Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest years to be this far along in their automatic bids. Evidently, and somewhat unsurprisingly, TikTok is better at algorithms. In the U.S., Facebook seems to gobble up most of that machine learning programming talent.

Conversions are still a tough sell.

Poking around the audiences and pixel setups, most experienced marketers won’t find the limitations intuitive. Several critical functions don’t work “well” as of now. The attribution is limited to click-based conversions in the same session, which is going to be hard for most advertisers to meet. To optimize for conversions effectively, TikTok needs 1,000 conversions attributed to your ads already via this narrow window. That rules out virtually all B2B conversion campaigns, and pretty much everything unless you’re pushing app downloads or something cheap, universally appealing, or currently trending. Plus, as of now, you can’t make lookalikes off nearly as many sources as Facebook.

So what’s a performance marketer to do? Make sure you can devote a good budget to your efforts, and start out by optimizing for soft conversions such as content views or add-to-carts. Or, if that fails, just focus on views or clicks.

The interest and behavior targeting is on the light side, and location targeting is slowly coming along.

There are alpha and beta tests in place for DMAs and other location targeting, but most accounts just have states right now. Who knows how long until postal codes come around. As for interest and behavior targeting, the list is pretty good for entertainment but it doesn’t stack up well against other networks yet for much else. And it doesn’t seem likely there is anything like keyword targeting anywhere in sight.

You should probably look at TikTok advertising seriously.

Why should your brand add TikTok into the marketing mix? Mainly, because it’s probably the freshest network around for short-form content creators to focus on, and so thousands of incredible accounts have sprung up, ranging across all sorts of topics: Zillow Gone Wild, Gordon Ramsay & Jack Black and 10,000 other celebrities, even more absurd internet cat videos, comedians you probably don’t know, random bits of therapy, bands that have long been innovative online, songwriting advice, people writing great little diddies that wouldn’t work that well elsewhere, and dancers that will make even your most flat-footed and unmusical friends realize some dancing is pretty darn fun.

Or you can just check out pages we started for our clients: Great Wolf Lodge, Giant Food, and Party City.

This explosion of content is key, because combined with good algorithms that means behavior targeting is going to be getting better very quickly as new categories are identified.

Basically, don’t sleep on TikTok. It’s here (plus: it happens to be a popular destination for people who can’t sleep, which is a formula that has worked a number of times in the past). So, spend some time there. Your audience is probably already on TikTok, and so you should probably consider being there too.

It’s complicated, but we can help. Need to run a campaign on TikTok? Get in touch.


Tags: Advertising, Best Practices, Data & Analytics, Strategy, TikTok, Tools

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