4 brand campaigns that tap TikTok’s creative potential 

TikTok emerged as the media channel with the most creative potential in 2023 in our Radar survey of industry executives.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels

‘[2023] will be a huge year for TikTok,’ according to WPP’s global CCO, Rob Reilly.

When we interviewed Reilly as part of our Radar survey, he told us that the video-sharing platform was both ‘over-hyped’ and ‘under-utilised’, and that the best creativity on TikTok was yet to come.

And he was not the only one.

We surveyed 100 advertising executives about the media channels with the most creative potential, and TikTok got the highest combined score in terms of potential and prioritisation, with 40.4% of respondents voting it the platform with the most creative potential, and 50.5% voting it as one to focus on in 2023.

Despite recently being presented with an ultimatum from the US government (the Biden administration is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, divests ownership or risk the app being banned), TikTok is going stronger than ever.

In fact, ahead of appearing in front of US congress last week (23 March), TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew revealed that the app had reached 150 million active users in the US – up from 100 million in 2020.

It’s hard to imagine a successful ban on TikTok, which has ‘secured an unrivalled grasp on culture,’ according to Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell.

It’s an information source, a channel for social and political activism, and a critical tool for musicians and record labels. It influences everything from beauty to book sales, lifting its most popular creators to previously unfathomable heights. 

And TikTok’s evolving role in pop culture represents a huge creative opportunity for brands; the best TikTok campaigns go beyond dance challenges and hashtags, leveraging the app’s popularity as an entertainment channel, search engine, source of information and community.

Here are some examples.

Nissan, How Do you Say Ariya? 

At the beginning of the year, car manufacturer Nissan created a user-generated TikTok campaign to promote its new SUV, the Ariya. TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York, was behind the #HowDoYouSayAriya campaign, which challenged TikTok users to play an AR filter game in which they spoke aloud a variety of words with subjective pronunciations (such as caramel, aunt and pecan) along with ‘Nissan Ariya’.

Then, the brand released a series of TikTok videos called Pronunciation Lessons, featuring celebrities with oft-mispronounced names (eg, Idina Menzel), teaching viewers how to pronounce their names, as well as that of Nissan’s new car. The TikTok hashtag #HowDoYouSayAriya has racked up 122.5 million views and the Pronunciation Lessons compilation video has 22.9 million views.

Canesten, Vagina Academy 

In another educational activation, Bayer-owned female intimate health brand Canesten used TikTok to tackle taboos and misinformation in Brazil. Inspired by the insight that one in four Brazilian women are ashamed to even say the word ‘vagina’ (which presents a barrier to getting treatment for intimate health issues) the brand created an online ‘school’ called Intensivão Da PPK (Vagina Academy). Canesten enlisted Brazilian content creators to deliver lessons on anatomy, psychology and body positivity, to normalise shame-free discussions about the vagina.

The Intensivão Da PPK TikTok channel received 44 million views and was followed by 210,000 Brazilians. By activating on TikTok, the brand circumvented the then Brazilian government’s censorship of sex education and tapped into the audience of people turning to #TikTokDocs for health information.

Hilton, For The Stay 

More recently, in February, hotel chain Hilton broke tested the limits of social media-users’ patience with a 10-minute TikTok ad. The #HiltonForTheStay ad, created by TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York, starred Paris Hilton and a slew of well-known TikTok creators, in a series of commentary-style videos and skits.

Each segment of the ad was edited and performed in the creator’s own style, resulting in an authentic and entertaining piece of TikTok content – which is particularly important amidst the current backlash against disingenuous brand content (indicated by the #deinfluencing trend).

Anyone who made it to the end of the video was rewarded with the chance to win Hilton Honors Points, experiences, and swag, because, as one creator notes in the ad, ‘10 minutes on TikTok is like three years in the real world.’ In fact, TikTok only extended the video length limit from three to 10 minutes in February last year, telling TechCrunch at the time that it hoped this ‘would unleash even more creative possibilities for our creators around the world’.

Eos, Bless Your F#@%ing Cooch 

Finally, an honorable mention goes to skincare brand Eos, for a TikTok-adjacent campaign that demonstrated acute social listening skills, cultural fluency and reactivity. In 2021, a TikTok by a user called @Killjoy, who praised Eos shaving cream in a clip telling people how to shave their pubic hair (or to ‘bless your fucking cooch’) went viral, causing a 25-fold increase in orders on the Eos website.

In response, the brand partnered with Mischief @ No Fixed Address, New York, to create a line of limited-edition scented shaving creams titled Bless Your F#@%ing Cooch, which sold out in a week. Eos also sent the products to @Killjoy, who recorded her reaction in a TikTok video that racked up 7 million views, and the brand sold 150,000 bottles of its shaving cream in a week.

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