I’m not going to patronize you by talking about the hot new social media platform that all the kids are raving about.
Obviously, you’ve already heard of TikTok.
With the app recently reaching one billion users, there’s a roughly one-in-eight chance that you’re a member.
Given that TikTok only had 55 million users as recently as January 2018, that’s some impressive growth.
That growth has helped its parent company, ByteDance, become the world’s second-largest “unicorn” company as of April 2021, with a valuation of $140 billion.
So it’s clearly a huge deal.
Despite this, brands are only just waking up to the potential of TikTok marketing.
Think TikTok is all unfathomable dance routines and teenagers waxing lyrical about “classic rock bands” like Oasis and My Chemical Romance?
There’s a lot more to it than that.
So sit back and let me show you seven killer TikTok marketing examples.
TikTok Marketing: The 7 Best Examples
What do you do if your corporate mascot develops a reputation for pure evil?
Most brands would quietly sideline it. Like how McDonald’s bumped off Ronald after a spate of creepy clown sightings in 2016. Duolingo chose a different path.
The language learning platform’s avian mascot, Duo the Owl, became a meme due to his somewhat persistent approach. The concept was basically: this owl will murder you if you don’t keep up with your lessons.
@duolingo after all, we have always said we’re free, fun and ✨effective ✨ at teaching languages. #Duolingo #squidgame #redlightgreenlight #run #helpme #owl ♬ original sound – Golden Stables
While that might not sound like a recipe for marketing success, Duolingo decided to lean into it—and TikTok was the perfect platform.
TikTok users love funny, irreverent content, and videos of a giant green owl who twerks to Adele, chases people who use Google Translate, and calls Dua Lipa “mommy” definitely fall into that category:
real ones let you do the bare minimum and give you full credit 😌 ##Duolingo ##ourgodisanawesomegod ##trend ##comedy ##god ##imscared ##DuaLipa ##DuaLingo♬ original sound – William
Given the thousands of think pieces and explainers that have been written about Duolingo’s TikTok marketing strategy in recent weeks, you’d think the brand had been doing this for years.
In reality, Duo the Owl only began appearing regularly in its TikTok marketing a couple of months ago.
Before then, its content was much more educational, focusing on interesting factual tidbits and useful information about different languages. Very worthy, but nowhere near as shareable as the madcap adventures of an anthropomorphic owl.
Speaking to NBC News about the thinking behind the brand’s strategic shift, Duolingo social media manager Zaria Parvez explained:
Our mascot sits right next to the marketing team, and we thought, ‘Maybe there’s something here.’ The meme of Duo has been known to be persistent and pushy … and we asked ourselves, ‘How could we make it relatable to ordinary people but also make it super funny?
That’s an important point.
Duo’s TikTok persona definitely isn’t a bloodthirsty killer hellbent on forcing you to learn Spanish; he might chase people, but he never wields a knife or physically harms anyone.
He’s just fun—and funny.
Clearly, the new approach is working. The hashtag #duolingo is fast approaching 280 million views on TikTok, while #duolingobird has six million.
Doing marketing for anything fitness-related isn’t easy.
While everyone knows that they should do regular exercise, no one wants to be guilted into working out or made to feel bad for choosing the couch over the elliptical machine.
Obviously, fitness brands want to talk up the benefits of exercise, but at the same time, they don’t want to shove that message down people’s throats. Why would you follow an account that makes you feel like a terrible, lazy slob?
With its focus on irreverent, funny, feel-good content, TikTok is the ideal marketing platform for health and fitness brands—as demonstrated by British fitness apparel and accessories company Gymshark.
Humor is at the core of its TikTok content strategy, demonstrating that it doesn’t take itself too seriously:
Oh you thought that was a new world record?? My bad ##Gymshark ##GymMemes ##WorldRecord♬ Drilly T Whos Gonna Lift That Weight – Gymshark
However, while the funny stuff has helped the brand build a TikTok following of 3.4 million, it’s the regular challenges that have really propelled it to viral success.
An excellent case in point is Gymshark 66—an annual event in which followers are encouraged to form positive, lifelong habits by setting a fitness goal (like running 5 km or going to the gym every day) and sticking to it for 66 days.
@sydneybrown_xo The ultimate stairmaster with 3922 steps! 🌿🙌🏻 Wearing @gymshark 🦈 #gymshark66 #hawaii #fitness ♬ One Foot – WALK THE MOON
It really works: At the time of writing, #gymshark66 has racked up more than 243 million views.
TikTok marketing is a comparatively new tactic for most brands on the platform.
However, some have been doing it since way before the app’s growth started to skyrocket. Chipotle is one such company.
It became the first major restaurant chain to adopt TikTok as a marketing channel back in 2019, making its account positively geriatric in TikTok marketing terms.
Much like Gymshark, it’s seen a ton of success through challenge-based content.
Its first viral success was the Lid Flip Challenge, which is basically what it sounds like. The brand launched the campaign with support from YouTuber and self-confessed Chipotle stan David Dobrik, with the aim of promoting free delivery on digital orders to celebrate Cinco de Mayo:
@daviddobrik #ChipotleLidFlip @chipotle #ad ♬ Flip – Future
According to Ad Age, the campaign generated 111,000 video submissions from Chipotle fans in just six days, which helped the restaurant chain enjoy “record-breaking digital sales” and app downloads among the key Gen Z demographic.
But it’s not all about challenges.
Chipotle’s TikTok presence is very much what you’d expect from a platform on which almost half of US users are aged 10-29.
It’s all very knowing, referencing popular memes and trends like the Home Depot 12-foot skeleton…
@chipotle Final result on Chipotle’s insta #chipotle #halloween #viral #content #trending #12ftskeleton #fyp #bts ♬ original sound – Chipotle
…and the fact that Boomers don’t know how to pronounce the word “Chipotle”:
@chipotle The world needed a part 3 (@a.i.nsley @harley.420 @emmymagers @dcook.04 @nataliegrillo @ginajablonski) #chipotle #boomers #funny #viral ♬ original sound – Chipotle
In short, Chipotle has been on the platform for a long time, and it understands its audience inside and out.
Much of its success stems from its decision to build an in-house team of “culture hunters”, tasked with scouring online conversations and assessing new platforms to understand whether they’d be a good fit for Chipotle.
Other examples of the team’s input include a collaboration with payment platform Venmo—another app with a user base that skews younger—in which the brand created a custom emoji that automatically appeared in conversations about Chipotle.
4. The NBA
The world of sport can take itself a little… seriously at times.
Sure, we all like watching people kick or throw a ball around, but it’s hardly life or death.
However, if you’ve ever spent any time trawling Reddit or Twitter during a big game, you’d think it was the most important thing that’s ever happened.
And the stats… oh, the endless stats.
Fortunately, the NBA has realized sport can actually be fun. That’s a big focus of its TikTok marketing, which is light on statistics but heavy on exciting—and often funny—videos.
This one’s a good example, featuring the bench’s reaction to some outlandish skill from Golden State Warriors star Andrew Wiggins:
@nba Wiggins takes it STONG baseline💥 #nba ♬ original sound – NBA
The basketball league has amassed 13.8 million followers and more than 330 million likes on TikTok to date.
Much like Chipotle, the NBA was one of the few brands that bet big on TikTok way before its recent growth surge. In fact, it first started using the platform’s predecessor, Musical.ly, way back in 2016.
As such, it’s not had much of a roadmap to follow, which means its TikTok content strategy has very much been a case of trial and error. However, that’s not the same as blind guesswork.
The NBA has fixated over data, crunching the numbers to figure out which posts play best with its audience (and why).
As Bob Carney, the league’s senior vice president, digital, and social content, told Sports Illustrated:
Any content that involved music or dancing, or any sort of fun moment surrounding our game, we sort of used that content for two years to gain success. We have a data strategy team that we work with every minute of every day, obsessing over every post on every platform.
5. Fenty Beauty
I’ve already mentioned how challenges are a big, long-standing trend on TikTok. But they’re not the only type of content with massive viral potential on the platform.
Another format that consistently delivers results is the humble video tutorial, in which brands and influencers show us how to do something.
Naturally, that sort of content works better for some brands (and industries) than others.
It definitely plays well in the makeup industry, as demonstrated by the popularity of hashtags like #makeuptips and #beautyhacks, which have racked up 2.6 billion and 10.7 billion views on TikTok respectively.
Fenty Beauty has made tutorial content a key focus of its TikTok marketing strategy, offering practical walkthroughs on topics like how to fix winged eyeliner or contour a round face:
@fentybeauty How To Contour A Round Face—SAVE THIS FOR LATER BOO! ✔️ @rachelocoolmua shows us how to #contour round faces using #MATCHSTIX and blush 👏🏼 #roundface #tutorial #beautyhacks #makeuptips ♬ original sound – Fenty Beauty
The tutorial trend can work equally well in other industries, though. Hardware retailers can show their followers how to paint a wall or build a shelving unit; fashion brands can explain how to put together an on-trend outfit.
Maybe Drip will start using TikTok to demonstrate how to drive brand loyalty with marketing automation.
I’m not doing any dances, though.
6. Uffizi Gallery
To a greater or lesser extent, all the brands I’ve featured on this list are ones you’d expect to thrive on a platform catered to younger audiences.
However, that’s definitely not the case for Italy’s Uffizi Gallery.
By the admission of museum director Eike Schmidt, it was “pretty much in the stone age” from a digital perspective.
The gallery debuted on TikTok in April 2020; just a month earlier, it didn’t even have its own Facebook page, and it only launched a website in 2015.
In other words, it’s not exactly been at the cutting edge of digital.
Its success on TikTok is firmly rooted in the surreal, with videos often depicting Renaissance-era paintings “interacting” with the contemporary world:
@uffizigalleries Too much to handle #abba #mammamia #abbamashup #dancing ♬ ABBA Mashup – Joebot the Robot 🤖
“Maybe it looks a little stupid,” admitted social manager Ilde Forgione. “But sometimes you have to give people a different point of view, something that says, ‘Art is not boring. Art is not something you just learn at school. It’s something you can discover for yourself.’”
At the time of writing, the Uffizi’s TikTok account has just over 90,000 followers, so it’s a pretty small fry by the standards of more digitally savvy brands like Chipotle and Duolingo.
But it’s still impressive given that the gallery’s Twitter account, launched nearly four years earlier than the TikTok page, only has 57,000 followers.
If, like me, you keep a finger on the pulse of popular music, you’ll have noticed that an ever-increasing number of hit songs are collaborations between two or more acts.
According to data compiled by the Economist, from 1960 to the mid-1990s, collabs represented less than 10 percent of songs on the US Billboard Hot 100. By 2017, this had risen to about 35 percent.
Why am I telling you this?
Because the same thing is happening in the world of marketing.
Today, brands love collaborating with influencers (and even other brands) to expand their reach and boost awareness.
This brings us neatly to Converse, which uses TikTok almost exclusively to showcase influencer partnerships.
@converse @gentlesowle ♬ original sound – Converse
That strategy is immediately apparent when you land on the brand’s TikTok page, with its bio reading: “Here to collab.”
TikTok is a fantastic platform to host these collaborations because it’s highly visual. After all, if you’re going to pay an influencer to show off how amazing your products are, it’s better if your audience can actually see them using those products.
Marketing is a fast-paced industry.
What works today won’t necessarily work next month, let alone in a year.
But despite this, as marketers, we can be oddly reluctant to embrace new platforms.
TikTok is a great example. It has a huge user base and a great product, but a lot of brands treat it as some impenetrable space that’s not safe for them to tread.
Yet successful TikTok marketing is really no different from any other form of marketing.
As all the brands I’ve referenced here demonstrate, you just need to understand the audience you’re reaching and target your content to them.
TikTok definitely isn’t a place to recycle things you’ve already posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
But if you’ve got the resources to create content that’s tailored to the platform, there’s no reason you won’t see results.