Everything You Need to Know About TikTok Advertising

How TikTok is changing the way brands think about creators, e-commerce, and hiring

By Erika Wheless | Ad Age | Aug 2, 2021

After a year of quarantine boredom spurring people to download “that dance app,” TikTok has quickly solidified itself as one of the social media powerhouses—and has emerged as a brand go-to for creator and influencer marketing.

The Chinese-owned app had a tumultuous start in the U.S. due to a push by the Trump administration to have the company sell off its U.S. business. But with the political scrutiny behind it, TikTok has gotten to work on its advertising offerings, creator courting, and agency partnerships. In the first half of this year, TikTok became the most downloaded non-Facebook, non-gaming app globally, topping 3 million downloads. While some brands might be hesitant or unsure of where their brand fits into the app, those who have taken the plunge have often been rewarded (even if fleetingly).

Below, Ad Age has compiled what advertisers should know about TikTok creators, e-commerce opportunities, TK, and more.


TikTok, of course, is nothing without its user-generated content. Over the past few months, the platform has taken steps to balance the interest of creators and the brands that want to work with them.

This includes introducing new product features like TikTok Jump, which allows creators to add links to their videos leading to additional content built into the app, such as recipes, quizzes, flashcards, movie reviews and beauty tutorials. The integration is similar to the mini apps in Snapchat, which launched Snap Minis in July 2020. So far, TikTok’s version is different in that the experience isn’t centered on e-commerce, at least not yet.

Another feature is TikTok Shoutouts, an answer to Cameo. Shoutouts allow users to pay creators for a personalized video, with about a week between payment and final product. While TikTok has not officially announced the feature, creators and influencer marketing agencies have seen it pop up.

On the brand side, TikTok has taken steps to ensure brands feel more comfortable in terms of brand safety. In early July, the app quietly rolled out rules around branded content. The policy sits within a new branded content section under its business and creator monetization rules, separate from its ads policy. Creators have to identify if they are making branded content, and TikTok has cracked down on content promoting financial services, like cryptocurrency and dating sites.

TikTok has also added new tools that connect brands with user-generated content, like Spark Ads, which allows advertisers to tap into pre-existing creator content and use it as part of campaigns, with the creator’s permission. The move is meant to help brands keep up with trending content, and even supplement larger campaigns.


The potential success from TikTok is leading to the birth of TikTok-dedicated studios, as well as changing the business models and headcounts at agencies. For example, media company Attn launched its own TikTok Studio, and has worked with Unilever, Clorox, Madewell, Google, MTV and Geico. Warner Music Group’s IMGN Media opened its own shop, Vertical Studios.

Ad agencies are also hiring Gen Z staff with TikTok followings of their own. Their job is to understand the culture on platforms, discover consumer insights, and create content.


One of the perks and headaches of TikTok is that sound is just as important as the creative. Music and sounds can give brands an opportunity to be part of current trends, and make themselves more memorable (Olivia Rodrigo, anyone?). In a November 2020 survey, MRC Data found that 67% of TikTok users would prefer to see videos from brands that feature popular or trending songs.


TikTok, like all the social media platforms, is pushing to become not just a marketing vehicle for brands, but actually drive sales. There’s growing momentum around the ability to discover new products on TikTok; not only can brands partner with creators to promote products, but often creators make organic content featuring clothing hauls, Amazon finds, or viral recipes.

An Ad Age Harris Poll study found that 57% of millennials have purchased items featured on TikTok, while 38% of Gen Zers have done the same. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over 4 billion views.

And retailers have been quick to get in on the trend. Walmart was the first to host a live shopping event in December of 2020 featuring its own-label clothing lines. Other major names such as L’Oréal and Kate Spade have also found shoppable success on the app.


One of TikTok’s biggest issues as of late has been criticism regarding its support of creators of color. While companies promise diversity and inclusion standards, BIPOC creators are still facing inequalities around partnerships, sponsorships, and credit for their work. Such tensions led to Black creators going on strike on TikTok in July to make a statement on how they weren’t receiving credit for the many dances that go viral on the app.


TikTok has become not only a place to market products, but to find potential employees. Brands like Chipotle are experimenting with using the platform to tap into the Gen Z workforce. The TikTok Resume program goes beyond the traditional resume and cover letter, letting possible employees be more personal. The program can also be a good way for brands to find employees that can also serve as brand ambassadors. Potential employees are using the Resume program to pitch themselves for creative internships, project manager positions, and social media manager roles. The hashtag #TikTokResumes has over 271 million views.


Like other platforms, TikTok has had to reassure advertisers that are concerned about the Apple iOS 14.5 privacy changes. which requires users to opt in to sharing data with apps. TikTok has opted to use pixelsto collect first-party data, but their usefulness will still depend on whether or not a user has consented to cross-app tracking. TikTok currently auto-enrolls users into personalized ads based on their activity while they are on the app. But TikTok users will still have the option to prohibit advertisers from targeting them on the app based on data collected from TikTok. Opt-outs will make pixels less powerful.

Read the full story at Ad Age.