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A 2023 Guide To TikTok Ad Features And Formats

a-2023-guide-to-tiktok-ad-features-and-formats

Why Advertise on TikTok?

With an estimated global user-based of over 1 billion, it’s difficult to find a brand that hasn’t heard of TikTok. The short-form video-sharing platform gives users the power to create and share content in 15 second snippets, adding music, voiceovers, text, animations, and more, amongst an array of constantly-evolving features. The sixth most-used social media platform in the world, TikTok reaches across demographics and has been downloaded over 3 billion times – with 656 million downloads in 2021 alone.

TikTok’s social media appeal is obvious, but what about its value as an advertising platform? TikTok For Business offers brands a dedicated Ads Manager to help reach audiences and achieve commercial results: research suggests that 55% of TikTok users discover new products through its ads, with 88% of users ‘loving’ the experiences that ad content brings. Essentially, the platform offers a frictionless advertising experience with the potential for commercial integration and shopping functionalities that don’t force users to click away.

Like any social media phenomenon, to get the most out of TikTok you’ll need to understand what you can do with the tools that it offers. To kickstart your TikTok journey, explore our guide: we’ll take you through the platform’s most useful advertising features and formats, including how to put together campaigns, measure your brand’s performance, and make sure that your ads reach your audience. 

Getting to Know TikTok Ads

TikTok business accounts give brand users the ability to run paid ad content, enter into creator partnerships, track content performance, and explore detailed analytics. The platform has rolled out a suite of features for its business users, including:

  • The TikTok Ads Manager: A space where brands can manage and create their ads, with tools to select audience demographics, manage resources and monitor data. 
  • The Store Manager: Using the Tiktok Store Manager, business accounts can upload products to their in-app ‘storefront’, and tag them to feature in their video ads. 
  • The Creator Center: A place for business users to explore the latest TikTok trends, see which competitor ads are performing best, and browse the audio and template libraries. 

TikTok Shopify Integration: In 2021, TikTok opened its arms a little wider to internet entrepreneurs by announcing a partnership with Shopify, and adding a range of new functionalities for brands seeking to sell through the app. The Shopify integration allows brands (that are also Shopify merchants) to connect their TikTok business and Shopify accounts, creating ‘shoppable’ ads which users can browse within the app. 

The integration can be managed entirely via TikTok’s Shopify dashboard, which includes options for users to target ads by age, gender, video category, and user behavior, and to monitor optimization and tracking. 

What Types of TikTok Ads Can I Run?

Not all TikTok ads are created equal: depending on your brand’s public image, customer base, and market goals, you’ll need to think carefully about your advertising strategy. 

Fortunately, TikTok offers an array of advertising formats to help you unlock your brand’s creative and commercial potential: 

In-Feed Ads

In-Feed ads are the go-to TikTok ad format and come embedded within the native content that millions of users generate every day. An In-Feed ad is a short video, or a still image, that appears in the ‘For You’ feed with the same look and feel as standard user posts.  

In-Feed ads can be purchased through the Ad Manager. Each ad features a clickable call-to-action that will drive users to a brand’s business account, to app downloads, or to external landing pages

Who are In-Feed Ads for? In-Feed Ads are for brands that want a native feel to their presence on TikTok and to participate in the creative culture of the platform. In-Feed Ads let brands get involved in current trends, and encourage users to like and share their content as a way to increase awareness and recognition.

Image Ads

You don’t have to make videos to advertise on Tiktok. Unlike In-Feed video content, TikTok Image Ads appear only in the TikTok associated news feed apps (such as TopBuzz, BuzzVideo, and Babe). Image ads may feature a picture in JPG, JPEG, or .PNG, along with text, a brand, or an app logo.

Who are Image Ads for? Image Ads work best for brands with some degree of existing name recognition that want to deliver quick, efficient, attention grabbing content. It’s worth bearing in mind that Image Ads are only displayed on TikTok’s news feed apps and won’t appear within the TikTok app itself. 

Carousel Ads 

Like Image Ads, Carousel Ads only appear on TikTok’s News Feed apps. Carousel Ads allow brands to upload a series of 2 -10 images in JPEG or PNG format. Each image may have a unique caption and URL link. 

Carousel Ads / Source: Hootsuite

Who are Carousel Ads for? Carousel ads enable brands to tell a story through images. Rewarding creativity, carousels work best for brands wanting to showcase a range of products. 

Video Ads

Video ads appear in both the For You feed, and the News Feed, and can be uploaded in .mp4, .mov, .mpeg, or .avi format. While business users can upload video ads of up to 60 seconds long, TikTok recommends durations of 9 to 15 seconds for optimal engagement. Video ads have all the features of standard user content, including audio clips, effects, and transitions.

Who are Video Ads for? Video Ads are native-style content that appear on all TikTok feeds. They work best for brands that want to reach a broad audience and connect creatively with prospective new customers. 

Top View Ads

Since they’re the first thing users see when they open TikTok, TopView Ads are a popular choice for brands that want to be seen. TopView Ads are fully customizable, clickable video ads that last for up to 60 seconds and are shown to every user before any other content on the platform. TopView Ads are so effective because they guarantee a broad reach and a high number of impressions: 71% of users agree that the ads ‘grab their attention’. 

Top View Ad / Source: Hootsuite

Who are TopView Ads for? TopView Ads are for brands seeking to showcase their creativity and capture the attention of as many new customers as possible. 

Spark Ads
Spark Ads harness the creativity of fans by turning user-generated content into advertisements. For example, if a brand notices a TikTok influencer campaign performing particularly well, they can boost the reach of that content by using the post as an In-Feed Ad or a Top-View Ad. The Spark Ad is labeled as ‘sponsored’ and includes a clickable call to action that takes users to the brand’s landing page. Spark Ads are an immersive advertising strategy and generate a 43% higher conversion rate than normal In-Feed Ads.

Spark Ad / Source: Strike Social

Who are Spark Ads for? Spark Ads are for brands that want to communicate authenticity to their audiences, building trust and engagement organically and in collaboration with TikTok influencers or particularly successful customer posts.

Brand Takeover

Need to grab users’ attention quickly? A TikTok Brand Takeover is a full-screen ad that launches when users open the app. Presenting as a three second image or a 3 – 5 second GIF, Brank Takeover ads are exclusive to their advertising category, which means that users won’t see any other ad for that type of product for the entire day. 

This exclusivity comes at a higher cost than other types of ad, so Brand Takeovers are typically chosen by larger brands. A recent Brand Takeover by Pepsi in Australia reached more than 2.4 million TikTok users in a single day, with a 24% click through rate (CTR).

Pepsi Brand Takeover / Source: TikTok

Who are Brand Takeovers for? Brand takeovers are best suited to brands that want to nudge users towards a landing page, or towards participation in a branded challenge (more to come on that in just a second). The increased cost of the ads means that they are often more accessible to well-established brands. 

Branded Hashtag Challenge

Branded Hashtag Challenges represent a sweet-spot between user creativity and engagement. You can promote a sponsored hashtag via In-Feed video ads, or via banners on the Discover page, and challenge users to create their own content featuring that hashtag. If you hit the right chord, the hashtag will go viral and draw in huge numbers of participants. Pringles smashed the branded hashtag with its #playwithpringles challenge, which attracted over 1 billion views. 

#PlayWithPringles Challenge / Source: TikTok

Who are Hashtag Challenges for? Hashtag Challenges work best for brands that want to raise awareness, encourage user-generated content and cultivate a community of followers. 

Branded Effects

Branded Effects are about letting your audience have fun. You’ll be able to create and launch your own TikTok effects, stickers, and filters for users to incorporate into the content they produce. Branded Effects help you drive creative engagement beyond your existing fanbase, and are often launched in partnership with Branded Takeovers for enhanced impact

Netflix hit the right note with a Salvador Dali mask effect, released for Brazilian users to promote the Money Heist TV show. In combination with a hashtag challenge, the campaign generated over 1 billion views. 

Netflix Branded Effect / Source: Strike Social

Who are Branded Effects for? Branded Effects are for brands seeking engagement. They showcase creativity and often appeal to younger TikTok users that understand what the app can do. Look out for opportunities to boost Brand Effects with other ad formats, such as Brand Takeovers or Hashtag Challenges. 

How to Run Ads On TikTok

Your TikTok Business account has all the tools you’ll need to take your ads from idea to execution – and you’ll manage it all in the TikTok Ads Manager. Let’s take a look at how you’ll launch your first campaign: 

Setting your campaign objectives

First thing’s first: when you set up your campaign, you’ll be guided to choose your advertising objectives. The TikTok Ads manager organizes 7 objectives into 3 categories: awareness, consideration, and conversion – each of which describe different business goals. 

Here’s a summary:

Campaign Name and Budgeting

Next, you’ll need to give your ad campaign a name. The campaign name can be a combination of letters and numbers up to 512 characters. 

After choosing a name, you’ll set your campaign’s budget. Budgets can be set to specific amounts, such as daily limits or lifetime spends, but you’ll also have the option to set your campaign budget to ’No Limit’. Choosing ‘No Limit’ will enable you to share unlimited ads at the campaign level and only face restrictions if there are any confirmed budgets at the Ad Group level (we’ll talk more about Ad Groups next).

Set Ad Groups and Placements

With your campaign named and budgeted, your next job is to set up its Ad Groups. An Ad Group consists of one or more individual TikTok ads that have a similar purpose and target audience (you’ll be able to specify that target audience later). Each campaign can contain up to 999 Ad Groups, each of which can be given a name of up to 512 characters. 

Each Ad Group must be assigned a placement in one of TikTok’s media feeds. You’ll have four main options: 

  • TikTok placement: Your In-Feed ads will appear on users’ For You pages. 
  • News Feed placement: Your ads will appear in TikTok’s associated News Feed apps.
  • Pangle placement: Ads appear in external apps via the TikTok audience network.
  • Automatic placement: Your ads are automatically assigned a placement by TikTok to generate the best results based on your campaign goals. 

Consider Automated Creative Optimization

If placing your Ad Group seems complicated, don’t worry: TikTok offers an Automated Creative Optimization feature that automatically combines promotional images, videos, and text to create ads for your brand. The algorithm continuously evaluates these ads to determine which are performing best in relation to your campaign objectives, and then promotes combinations of those assets to your chosen audience.

TikTok recommends Automated Creative Optimization for smaller or less experienced brands since it spares marketers from spending time and resources tinkering with ads to fine-tune performance. 

Select Audience Targets

Next up, it’s time to select your target audience. Within the TikTok Ads Manager, business users can customize their Ad Group’s target audience by including and excluding certain demographics. They also have the option to create a ‘lookalike audience’, which gives TikTok permission to share their ads with users in similar demographics to those in their chosen audience.

TikTok’s demographic criteria includes:

  • Gender, age, location, and language
  • Interests and behavior
  • Device type, connection type, operating system, and carrier

Set Ad Group Budget

Once you’ve set a budget for your campaign, you’ll be invited to divide that budget for specific Ad Groups, and choose when those ads will run. 

TikTok Ads Manager allows you to assign a daily or lifetime budget to your ads, set start and end dates, or set them to run continuously. You can also use the ‘Dayparting’ function to select a specific time of day for your ad to run. 

Set Up Bidding and Optimization

TikTok allows business users to optimize their ads for 3 different goals: conversion, clicks, or reach. The optimization goal that you set will automatically determine how much your ads cost, with TikTok billing on the basis of: 

  • Reach: Cost per mille (CPM)
  • Clicks: Cost per click (CPC)
  • Conversions: Optimized cost per click (oCPC)

To maximize ROI, you’ll be required to set a bidding strategy for your optimization goal. TikTok offers 3 bidding strategies: 

  • Bid Cap: Keeps the maximum amount you are willing to pay per result at a level below your bidding threshold. You’ll enter the maximum cost per result that you’re willing to pay, and the TikTok algorithm will optimize delivery against that cost. 
  • Cost Cap: Sets an ideal average cost per result that TikTok will attempt to achieve. The cost may rise above and dip below the bid amount with the goal of averaging out over time. Cost cap is only available for ads with the conversion optimization goal.
  • Lowest Cost: TikTok will use the available Ad Group budget to generate as many results as possible for the lowest cost. The Lowest Cost strategy will alway be able to spend budget, regardless of the competitiveness of the auction. 

Create Your TikTok Ads

Finally, the fun part: it’s time to create your ad. You’ll have access to all the tools and resources that TikTok offers its users, including a vast library of audio and effects. All you have to do is choose the ones that you like, apply them to your content, and you’ll be able to upload your ad in minutes. The process involves the following steps: 

  • Name your ad: Choose a name for your ad – up to 512 characters.
  • Upload your media: upload a video or an image, or select a Spark Ad. TikTok Ads Manager has a video creation template to help you design your video Ads. If you’re happy with the way your ad looks, select a thumbnail image: you’ll be able to see a preview of your ad within the Ads Manager dashboard. 
  • Enter ad text: Fill out the details that your ad will display, including your display name, the text that will appear alongside the ad, calls to action, and if necessary, the URL of the website you’d like to drive traffic to. 
  • Watch a preview: Preview your ad to make sure it looks and sounds the way you want it to.

How to Measure the Success of TikTok Advertising

Once your ad is live, you’ll want to know how it’s performing. TikTok offers four categories of analytics for business users to measure their ads’ success:

  • Overview: View performance data broken down by week, month, or two month period – or select a custom date range
  • Content: Like Overview, Content analytics offers a date range breakdown but with performance metrics including ad views, likes, comments, and shares
  • Followers: Access information about your accounts’ followers, broken down by metrics like gender, global location, and activity
  • Live: The Live analytics option displays insights into recently posted videos – from the last week or from the last month

How Much Do TikTok Ads Cost?

TikTok uses a bidding model for ad clicks, per your campaign’s objectives. TikTok’s bidding model typically involves the following minimum budget levels:

The exact cost of TikTok ads varies by campaign but brands can expect to pay an average price of $1.00 per click ($6.06 CPM). Additional factors that can affect the cost of your TikTok ads are as follows:

  • Campaign objective: Your campaign objective will affect the number of ad events that it takes for the algorithm to gather enough data to optimize your campaign. 
  • Audience: The narrower your target audience, the higher the cost of CPM and CPC. With this in mind, TikTok recommends combining audiences where possible.
  • Bidding strategy: Choosing a cap will ensure you never spend more than your bid amount. However, if your cap is set too low you may end up not spending your daily or lifetime ad budget. 
  • Content: It’s important to think about how much it will cost to create your ad content. In order to keep your cost per acquisition (CPA) at a healthy level, you should aim to achieve an ad click through rate (CPR) of greater than 1% – or consider changing your creative approach. 

Consider the following example costs: 

  • In-feed ads with an advance payment for 600 impressions: $10 per impression
  • Brand takeover with a guaranteed 5 million impressions: $50,000 per day
  • Branded hashtag challenge: $150,000 per week

TikTok Ad Specs

When you’re creating your TikTok ads, you’ll need to stick to the following specifications:

Brands That Got TikTok Advertising Right

Businesses of every shape and size use TikTok advertising and there are plenty of success stories if you’re looking for inspiration: 

LG

In 2021, LG launched its Life’s Good campaign. In conjunction with the release of an official song by Charlie Puth, LG’s campaign called on TikTok creators to share their own musical version of the Life’s Good message. To support the campaign, LG created a Branded Effect and Branded Hashtag Challenge which added a background filter to videos as creators danced along to Puth’s track. The campaign resulted in 2 million user-created videos, with 12 million impressions of the Branded Effect panel. 

Mercedes-Benz

In 2020, Mercedes-Benz kickstarted a Hashtag Challenge, encouraging TikTok creators to reimagine their famous star-shaped logo in a variety of artistic ways and then display their creations in TikTok videos. The MB Star Challenge alone generated over 2.24 million views but Mercedes then boosted the campaign’s reach with two memorable Brand Takeover videos. The campaign ultimately drew 180 million views and brought Mercedes-Benz over 30,000 new followers. 

KFC

KFC launched its KFC Chicken Sandwich ad campaign with two TopView Ads. Both ads featured popular TikTok creators dressed up as KFC’s famous mascot, Colonel Sanders, introducing viewers to the new sandwich. KFC followed up on the TopView Ads with a series of Spark Ads, encouraging creators to use the platform’s Duet feature to react and respond to the original TopView Ads, and to each others’ content. The campaign amassed a collective 221 million video views and 259 million impressions. The original TopView Ads reached 44 million people, with a 13.8% CTR to the KFC website.

Advertising on TikTok: Top Tips 

Choose a broad audience

It pays to advertise to as broad an audience as possible on TikTok. With the right post, at the right time, every user has the potential to go viral, so the platform is particularly effective as a top-of-the-funnel advertising channel. Targeting a broad audience also allows the TikTok algorithm to learn which demographics respond best to your ad content, so that you can narrow down your targeting later as your brand evolves. 

Draw inspiration 

TikTok is built on trends, with users creating and sharing popular music, dances, and audio clips. Brands should make every effort to participate in TikTok culture by finding the trends that work for them and then producing content that contributes to the community. Practically this means researching creators, industry competitors, and hashtags for inspiration, and then creating videos or Spark Ads. While brands might find success simply participating, it’s worth thinking about how a unique take on a trend could stand out from the crowd.

Get to the point

While TikTok allows Video Ad content of up to 60 seconds, your brand should try to capture your viewers’ attention much sooner than that. TikTok’s own numbers suggest that the first three seconds of an ad are crucial: over 63% of the platform’s highest CTR videos highlight their key message within that time. 

Speak directly

TikTok values connection and some of its best performing videos are those that speak directly to their viewers. TikTok’s research has revealed 33% of ads with the highest view through rate (VTR) break the fourth wall, with creators often looking directly into the camera to address their audience. Brands should aim to replicate this approach and go further to prompt engagement by asking questions or provoking reactions. 

Collaborate

If your brand’s goal is to create authentic TikTok content, it’s a good idea to get help from the experts – in other words, from creators. By letting TikTok Influencers generate content for your campaign, you’ll not only benefit from their knowledge but appeal directly to their pre-existing audience base. TikTok suggests that leveraging creator partners for your campaigns results in ‘better performing ads’ – which can be boosted further with tie-ins such as Branded Effects, Challenges, and Takeovers. 

Find out more about partnering with TikTok creators with our guide to TikTok Influencer Marketing. 

Creative tools

TikTok rewards creativity above all else. When you’re creating content for your campaign, make sure you’re familiar with the array of music, audio clips, effects, stickers, and other features that you have at your disposal. TikTok suggests that faster-paced tracks – specifically above 120 BPM – tend to drive higher VTR, and encourages brands to reinterpret the sounds and lyrics to stand out. Similarly, brands should carefully consider their captions and text overlays: be engaging and concise to match the pace and energy of your videos.   

To learn more about advertising on TikTok check out our TikTok resource hub, or head over to our TikTok integration page to find out how Aspire can help kickstart your TikTok Influencer Marketing journey. 

Special thanks to our friends at AspireIQ for their insights on this topic.
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