Marketing on Douyin (Tik Tok)

by Frank Xu  
March 25, 2019
Frank is a brand/business strategist and researcher with extensive experience in Chinese digital marketing.

Which Chinese app has a true global influence? Which app is the most effective channel to connect the generation Z in China? What is the next must-have media platform for brands marketing in China?

You may have WeChat in mind, or some may choose Weibo, the equivalent of twitter in China. Or, the e-commerce platform from Alibaba group?

All of these might be wrong.

The answer may very likely be a weird yet familiar sounding name: Douyin or known as “TikTok” outside China.

First, some basic facts about Douyin(Tik Tok)

Douyin is an app for making and sharing short videos with filters, special effects and popular music clips, developed by Chinese tech firm Beijing Bytedance. It was first launched in China in 2016 and grew quickly after sponsoring the reality show “Rap in China” in 2017. Till mid 2018, it had reportedly hit 500 million global monthly active users, most of whom are young people age from 15 to 22-year-old. In China, 85% of its users are under 24-year-old and over 60% are female.

Next question: what makes Douyin(Tik Tok) so popular?

It is unapologetically algorithm-driven. When you click open the app, you will instantly see a feed of endless videos organized and pushed by algorithm instead of a feed of your friends like most other social apps do. The app is showing what you want to watch based on the time you spent, engagement level of each video. You don’t need to tell it what you want or build a contact list to start. Zero effort is needed from the user and the algorithm will feed you with endless contents.

It is super immersive. The videos are full screen, vertical format, taking up your phone screen entirely and seamlessly transition into the next one with just a swipe instead of a tap or click. And the video contents are mostly entertaining, grab your attention and end in less than 15 seconds leaving you an itch of wanting to see more. You feel zero distance and resistance to the content in the viewing experience.

It is emotionally liberating. Douyin offers extensive tools from background music, clips from TV shows to limitless filters to enable users to make a video at their fingertips. They use hashtag challenges to inspire users to create and upload contents. And without an audience of “friends” like in WeChat moments, you don’t feel the pressure to keep a socially-desired image and liberated to reveal the fun/wild side of yourself. Everything you do on Douyin is purely for fun, nothing else. It’s a free space with no bias and judgments and requires minimum efforts, which perfectly fits the mindset of generation Z.

How to do marketing campaigns on Douyin(Tik Tok)?

As a new media channel, Douyin also offers a range of innovative ways to do brand marketing. Here’re some best practice cases:

Michael Kors – Hashtag Challenge

Michael Kors is the first luxury brand working with Douyin. In The Walk Shanghai event in 2017, MK invited a group of Douyin KOLs to join their sponsored celebrities Yang Mi and Mark Chao. The KOLs created a series of Douyin-style short videos showing them doing a catwalk in Michael Kors apparels and started a “City catwalk” hashtag challenge to encourage other users to upload videos using the custom Michael Kors video filter. This type of hashtag challenge is a major feature on Douyin and also an effective way for brands to engage young target consumers. MK’s challenge achieved over 5 million times playing of the videos posted by the KOLs and 30,000 user-generated videos under the hashtag.

Sofy – Douyin-Style Commercial

Apart from hashtag challenge, Douyin is also inspiring a new style of video commercials with its cooperation with brands. Its custom campaign for Sofy, a Japanese feminine hygiene brand, to promote its new elastic sanitary pad product created a set of short, bold, witty commercials which look just like any user-generated fun videos on its platform. The new Douyin-styled ads quickly went viral. Audience commented that they didn’t even realize it was an ad. The product message, super elasticity, was clearly communicated and aroused curiosity from audience to click through the “learn more” button that linked to the product page.

Air bnb, Harbin Beer, Chevrolet – custom ads for Douyin(Tik Tok)

Inspired by the success of Sofy campaign, Douyin initiated a commercial competition for advertisers to create brand ads in Douyin’s format, the winners will get free spots on Douyin platform. Air bnb, Harbing Beer and Chevrolet became the top three winners. Their Douyin-styled ads once again changed audience’s perception on commercials and created lots of buzz. Commercial time was no longer regarded as an interruption on Douyin, but became the content itself.

Link to E-Commerce

E-commerce is a must-have link for social media platforms in China. Douyin is also trying to complete the loop from awareness to conversion. It recently announced an e-commerce deal with Taobao. A shopping cart icon has been added to Douyin’s user interface, which can link to brand’s product page on Taobao. This newly added function offers brands opportunities to do new conversion-based marketing strategies on Douyin platform.




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