The viral platform has also been dealing with new privacy rules that have also been impacting rivals, including Meta, Twitter, Snap and YouTube. Apple's data crackdown has made the advertising businesses on these platforms more complicated.
Despite all of this, TikTok has been on an upswing in popularity and has become a central part of brands' marketing strategies. This includes a new deal with Unilever, which is sponsoring a CleanTok content channel in Europe, capitalizing on the fascination with home-cleaning videos on the app. TikTok also is innovating ad formats for shopping, search and AI, of course.
Here is Cao’s take on it all.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
What is TikTok talking about with brands at Cannes?
Our mission has been always consistent: Just build the product based on our user behavior and also bring that very authentic experience to advertisers and help them connect the dots on those billions of views that we are talking about. So, CleanTok, TikTok Made Me Buy It, all that kind of stuff, is basically the fundamentals.
[Also read: #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt challenged by influencer marketing platform]
Can TikTok go from a video app to a shopping app?
I am talking a lot about how we build an e-commerce solution this year, and a lot of advertisers and brands ask, “Hey, what else are we going to do.” So, shopping in general, the fully closed loop environment, we’re creating that in the U.S.
That’s basically our merchant strategy, we get them on board and help them to really sell on the platform, fully closed loop. On the other hand, for advertisers and brands, we also offer the open-loop options for them. If they have their own website, we drive to their website.
What are ‘open loop’ and ‘closed loop’ in terms of shopping on TikTok?
Live shopping is a good example of a closed loop. So when a user is actually browsing through we say, this is live and happening right now. And then you can just click through to watch live. The closed-loop part is video shopping. We are onboarding merchants’ catalogs and helping them really connect the dots on the platform by surfacing these catalogs to our users.
[Rewind: TikTok tests in-app checkout]
Will TikTok shopping work in the U.S.?
We just need to tune the product into better shape. We’re super successful in East Asia in terms of live shopping. How can you bring that experience to the U.S. consumer, and also the European consumer, that’s the work we have to do.
And from an advertising standpoint, my job is to make our advertisers really successful in Q4 this year. So, a lot of the advertising products we put out there, we’re going to make sure that they’re using them.
What brands are doing shopping ads on TikTok, and how?
Advertisers do A/B testing with us to prove incrementality and to understand how they can make it work. A lot of big-box guys are leaning in, and a lot of specialty retailers are leaning in. We have done stuff with Walmart and also we have really good conversations with specialty retailers, like Macy’s is a very good one, as well, for us. They see that we’re in this.
[Also read: Top 5 brand TikTok trends to know about now]
Let’s talk about search ads and AI.
We have been talking about machine learning and deep learning for a decade now as an industry. Our job today is actually finetuning those tools. How do you actually empower the merchants or advertisers to capture those moments? I think through advanced automation we should be able to provide a better return on investment and better impact from ads. That always was something that we’re looking at, you know, automation in general.