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June 22, 2023

Let’s Talk TikTok Ads: Actionable Insights for Performance Marketers

A man sets up a table to cook while women films him.

TikTok is a global phenomenon that is impossible to ignore. With more than 1 billion active users, it consistently ranks as one of the top social media apps. Such popularity has naturally attracted the attention of advertisers. But is it a worthwhile outlet for your marketing dollars?

To learn more about TikTok advertising, Norwest held a virtual panel discussion with three performance marketing experts: moderator and Norwest advisor Jamie Fontana and panelists Kyra Richards and Abir Hegazi from the marketing freelancer platform Right Side Up.

Following are highlights from the discussion, which covered three topics:

    • The current — and rapidly evolving — state of TikTok
    • Testing ads on TikTok
    • Best practices for advertising on TikTok

The Current — and Rapidly Evolving — State of TikTok

TikTok has been downloaded more than 3.5 billion times and is available in more than 150 countries and 75-plus languages. Its advertising revenue has also expanded rapidly. Last year, revenue surpassed $11 billion and is forecasted to top $23 billion by 2024.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of TikTok is how “sticky” it is. Users spend an average of 95 minutes per day on the platform and open the app an average of eight times daily. Around 60 percent of users are from Gen Z, a demographic that soon will be the largest generation by population. But TikTok is not just a Gen Z phenomenon; some 20 percent of users are over 40.

Users spend an average of 95 minutes per day on TikTok and open the app an average of eight times daily.

TikTok is not taking its growth for granted. It is constantly evolving, making improvements in features and incentives to advertisers. While TikTok has attracted some negative attention due to mounting privacy concerns and its ties to ByteDance, the Chinese parent company, it seems too well-entrenched to imagine it disappearing.

Should You Start Advertising on TikTok?

Authenticity may matter more to TikTok than any other social platform out there. Before diving headfirst into creating ads, you might consider posting organically first. This will help you understand what people are engaging with — and ultimately help you make more informed decisions later down the line. Before allocating marketing budget, you should pay special attention to some unique aspects of the platform.

Three questions to answer before advertising on TikTok:
  1. What is the objective? What do you hope to achieve? Is it awareness of your name or product, consideration, or outright sales? How about capturing leads, or mailing list sign-ups? Perhaps a download of your app.
  2. Is there a product-channel fit? Does your product/service fit the TikTok platform’s content style? Is it visually engaging and able to be shown in 6-10 seconds? Is the tone of your brand authentic and fun?
  3. Do you have the creative resources? You may be familiar with the process for developing ads for the Web, print, TV, email, and other outlets. But TikTok is very different — different even from ads you already may be placing on YouTube or Facebook. TikTok’s primary attraction is user-generated content (UGC), so that’s the format that works best for advertisers. And that may be an art form that your team (in-house or agency) doesn’t have much experience collecting and repurposing.


Once you’ve answered the questions above, you may want to create a testing program.

Three considerations for your pilot program:
  1. Don’t make a major commitment to TikTok advertising until you have conducted — and learned from — content and audience research. It may be as simple as determining if you can find a subsegment of users on TikTok who closely match one of your target audiences. Or are there TikTok users posting content that addresses needs or interests close to those you are targeting? The goal here is to learn, refine, and optimize. Committing to specific strategies and content will come later.
  2. Budget enough time and money to run a sufficiently long and broad test. Our panel of experts suggests spending $25,000 to $50,000 a month for three to four months. Make sure you and your team will have measurement tools in place to gather the data needed to make a fair assessment.
  3. Not ready to invest a high level of resources yet? Start organically. Use SEO tools to see what topics are trending and whether any of them are relevant to you. You can start with traditional keyword research for search engines and search those terms on TikTok to understand what content already exists on that topic. The app also auto-populates the most popular keywords related to your query. Creating and posting TikToks with rich text builds your organic search results both on TikTok and on other search engines like Google.

Best Practices for Advertising on TikTok

Make TikToks, Not Ads.

If you remember only one thing from this blog, this is it. Experienced TikTok users can easily tell what is native and what isn’t; what’s an ad and what isn’t. Your post should feel like you’re sharing something with a friend — a tidbit of information, the solution to a problem, or having a bit of fun. Successful UGC has an authentic, do-it-yourself quality. The minute anything starts to feel inauthentic, users will simply scroll away.

Make TikToks, not ads. Your post should feel like you’re sharing something with a friend — a tidbit of information, the solution to a problem, or having a bit of fun.

TikTok is a highly creative platform, so 85 percent of your time should be spent on creative strategy, coordination, and vision. That’s where the magic is. In general, it’s best to keep the audience broad. TikTok’s hashtag targeting is still limited, and you don’t want to limit the algorithm from finding the right users.

Picture of a phone with the TikTok app open

Hook Viewers in the First Three Seconds

The first thing every single piece of content needs is a hook. It should come in the first one to three seconds and stop the user in their tracks and compel them to watch. After you’ve captured their attention, share your product, its benefits and impact. Show that the product can solve a problem or is a great life hack — why it’s better than everything else out there. Viewers should believe this is the only product for them and be glad they discovered it on TikTok.

Leverage Voiceovers and Trending Sounds

Voiceovers are very common on TikTok and allow you to add details about your product. Be sure to record them separately from the video you’re creating; the audio quality will be much better. If you add captions, keep them under 30 characters to avoid eroding your visuals. And center your ads a bit to the left to ensure it doesn’t conflict with any native overlays, such as the like and share buttons.

Finally, adding music or sounds makes the content immersive and helps users find you. For example, if there’s a sound that’s currently trending on TikTok and if it’s in your content, you’ll show up in search results for that sound. One caveat: check with your legal team to ensure you have permission to use a specific piece of music.

Make a Clear Call to Action [subtitles encouraged]

Finally, close with a TikTok-specific offer or some call to action. This is a chance for you to tell users how to buy your product, or maybe just how to spell it. You can insert a headline at the end to show users where to find you.

Some additional best practices include text overlays, which can emphasize the hook and highlight the benefits of your product; and a concluding call-to-action screen with the product name and URL. Subtitles are another valuable tool. TikTok does auto-generate subtitles, but small overlays can make your main messaging more memorable.

7 Super Short Tips for Advertising on TikTok:
    • Make TikToks, not ads
    • Hook your viewers in first three seconds
    • Be authentic to your brand
    • Make a clear call to action
    • Record voiceovers separately
    • Use subtitles, but keep them short
    • Add trending sounds and music

TikTok is Making the Platform More Attractive to Advertisers

Spark Ads Let You Partner with Creators

As noted earlier, TikTok is an evolving environment, especially for advertisers, online shoppers, and B2B participants. A unique TikTok ad format that we have found valuable is Spark Ads — native ads that use content from other TikTok accounts, with their permission. Spark Ads have been found to perform better than other ad formats, especially in terms of views, engagement rate, conversion rate, and CPM. While Facebook and Instagram visitors may be used to seeing ads, TikTok users are more focused on finding relevant content. When you partner with a creator to develop Spark Ads, the content will come from that creator but will link to your landing page or app download.

TikTok Content Fatigues Faster Than Other Platforms

Creative content loses its appeal a bit faster on TikTok than other social media platforms because users spend so much time there. So, it’s important to refresh your content – every four to 14 days, depending on how often you serve it up. Ideally, you’ll have three to four creatives in an ad group with a few additional ads in your queue to swap in as you start to see signs of fatigue, such as an increase in CPM or decreases in click-through rates or conversions. But be careful not to build too many ads upfront. You might find out that your creative assumptions were wrong, and you’ll wind up with a lot of content that doesn’t work.

Creative content loses its appeal a bit faster on TikTok than other social media platforms. So, it’s important to refresh your content.

Creator Marketplace Helps You Find Collaborators for Your Brand

Another tool for advertisers is the Creator Marketplace, a database of TikTok creators who are open to brand collaboration and ad content creation.

A cardboard box with Hashtag TikTok Made Me Do It written on the top

Any account holder that wants to become a content creator can add themselves to the Creator Marketplace and list their rates. Brands can search the database and invite up to 100 creators a week to collaborate on creating paid assets.

Even if you don’t use Creator Marketplace, just searching on TikTok can be a way to discover potential content creators that may be a fit for your brand.

Influencer Due Diligence Is Crucial

Conduct some due diligence if you identify creators who might be a good fit. Are their followers engaged in their organic content? An engagement rate of 15 to 20 percent is good. Is their personal brand a fit for your brand and product? Is their content well-produced and does it demonstrate clear thinking?

Include an influencer creative brief when you start negotiating with content creators. The brief—which should be easy to read and run no more than five pages—should describe your brand guidelines, tone of voice, and any visuals you can share. Be clear about your objectives and key messages.

Building Your Creative Team for TikTok

What kind of team do you need to start testing ads on TikTok? We recommend having two core skill sets:

  1. Strategy and media buying – You want your media buyer to understand the TikTok platform well. Not only should they understand media buying on TikTok, but they should have excellent creative instincts to adapt your messaging and serve as a creative director.
  2. Creator management – Even if you’re just employing user-generated content from your customers, you still need someone to manage that process. If you do engage native content creators, you need someone to manage the relationship from start to finish. That may or may not include work by a video editor.


Some people may have more than one skill set, so the size of your team will vary, as will the mix of in-house and outside resources.

4 Key Takeaways for TikTok Advertising

    • TikTok is a wholly different medium, and that applies to advertising on this rapidly changing platform. What works elsewhere (even on other social-media platforms) will not necessarily work on TikTok.
    • Create TikToks, not ads!
    • Authenticity and relevance are essential. Partner with content creators to develop authentic TikToks that will attract users while still advancing your marketing objectives.
    • Start small, especially if you’re a B2B brand. Experiment and test to learn what messages resonate with which audiences.

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