What’s the Deal with TikTok?

Diego Hernandez
February 27, 2019

Have you found yourself missing the good ol’ days of spending hours and hours watching those pointless and hilarious 6-second clips on Vine? Well you’re in luck! Long gone are the days of reminiscing over “Vines that keep me from ending it all” on YouTube.


Allow me introduce you to the newly redesigned TikTok (Formerly known as Musical.ly).

What is TikTok?

Let’s back it up for a second and tackle some quick and basic history on Musical.ly – which would later become TikTok. Musical.ly was an app developed in Shanghai by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang in 2014. Originally, it was created to be an educational app where users could share short, 3-4 minute videos educating other users on various subjects.  After their first attempt failed produce a substantial audience, the creators decided to try and approach their app’s interface and functionality in a different way. Instead of focusing on educational videos, they rebranded as an app focused on short music video clips allowing Musical.ly users – called “musers” – to essentially lip-sync over these songs in creative ways.


From the time of the launch in 2016 to the end of 2017, Musical.ly grew from 10 million users to 90 million users primarily in the USA and Europe. Because of their newfound audience, Musical.ly was eventually purchased by Bytedance Technology, owner of TikTok. TikTok’s primary audience at the time was in Asia. Wanting to expand their demographic, they purchased Musical.ly to obtain a larger audience in the USA. Once the app was acquired by Bytedance they decided to merge the two apps together and keep the best features from each app to achieve the best format for its users.

How did TikTok blow up?

In 2018, TikTok became the most downloaded app on the IOS networks app store surpassing 45.8 million downloads, up from YouTube’s 35.3 million and Instagram’s 31 million.  How did this happen? The answer is quite simple: people want quick and mindless entertainment that they can both consume as an audience and essentially have a stake in by creating content themselves.


From the above clip you’ll notice that, like Vine that came before it, TikTok focuses on a short-form self-produced video format.

Something unique about this particular platform is the trend of “short-format challenges” that really helped it take off. Instead of focusing on skits and random clips as popular Viners so often did, some of the most successful TikTok videos are challenges. These can come in the form of music challenges, makeup challenges or sometimes well-choreographed dances. Check out these examples.



Advantages of advertising on TikTok

Since TikTok has proven itself to be a hot new social platform with a massive audience, it was only a matter of time before brands got involved. But unlike places like Instagram, where brands so often rely on influencers to post aesthetically pleasing imagery within brand guidelines, TikTok has given influencers the freedom to be more creative with their sponsored content.

With these two examples, you can see how influencers and brands have to think a little more outside of the box to showcase the product they are advertising. Because of TikTok’s quick nature, these ads have to get right to it. Not so much subtley as you might see on other platforms.

In example 1 you’ll notice that this #ad is more of a user interactive ad where Coca Cola – rather than contacting high-profile influencers – created a marketing campaign that essentially centered around TikTok users creating videos for them. A brilliant take on the challenge trends I mentioned earlier.

As for example 2, you’ll see that there’s more of a scripted element that is more so connected to a specific brand and a specific user.

While neither of these are really new forms of marketing, they do urge you to think a bit more creatively about specific tactics and avenues for implementation.