TikTok's biggest brand campaign ever basically 'created itself'

Effort aimed at highlighting how culture starts on the platform arrives amid a fierce political battle

Published On
Aug 18, 2020

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TikTok may not be liked by everyone, especially President Donald Trump, but the social app likes everyone regardless. That's the message of its latest brand campaign, the largest in the company's history, which rolls out on Tuesday. 

Nick Tran, TikTok’s head of global marketing, calls the new TV spot, which will also run on rival social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, a “brand anthem.” The spot offers a rebuttal of sorts to the storm swirling around the company, which is owned by China’s tech conglomerate ByteDance. In recent weeks, Trump has used his bully pulpit to force TikTok into merger talks with a U.S. suitor due to concerns that the popular app gives a Chinese firm too much influence over Americans’ digital lives.

The campaign also serves to warn any wannabe apps like Instagram Reels, which is trying to usurp its position with creators, that it has the best grasp on digital culture.

The new ad is called “Celebrating You.” (Presumably, that doesn’t include Trump, as he’s obviously not mentioned.) The ad offers a glimpse into the heart of TikTok’s user base and runs with a mellow song by Walter Martin (featuring Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), called “Sing to Me,” featuring the catchy refrain “I like all of you.”

The campaign will ultimately showcase hundreds of creators, who are the lifeblood of the app. They are popular web stars who rose to prominence by shooting the short TikTok videos.

Tran started at TikTok in April, and before that he was a marketing leader at Taco Bell, Samsung and Hulu. Now, Tran is among a core of top-flight Madison Avenue recruits that TikTok has hired to beef up its presence in the U.S.

“Since joining I’ve been beyond humbled and grateful for our community,” Tran says in a phone interview. “The creators themselves are like the heart and soul of our brand. So to be able to kick off a brand anthem and a campaign that just celebrates them and highlights everything that they’ve done, not only for us as a platform but for culture over the past couple years, is going to be a really fun thing for people to see.”

The spot is 30 seconds, but there will be a 60-second version and 15-second installments. The ad was done with the help of the creative agency Known. TikTok had not previously announced its creative relationship with Known, and on Monday TikTok said it has a new media buying agency, too, Zenith, a part of Publicis Groupe.

Ross Martin, president of Known, says the campaign was part of Tran’s vision from when he first started at the company. The commercial seems simple enough; it’s a montage of emotional TikTok videos.

“This campaign really created itself, because the TikTok community is filled with such extraordinary creators that the community made it easy,” Martin says. 

TikTok creators have been rallying around the app as it has been threatened in the U.S. It has homegrown stars like Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio and Sarah Cooper, who rose to fame parodying Trump in TikTok videos (they have since landed a Netflix deal). TikTok called out those stars in its public announcement about the new marketing push, but the ad features a lineup of about 30 creators.

TikTok is sending a message to its community that it is sticking around, at a time when nervous internet-obsessed video makers could look to other startup apps like Triller and Byte or be tempted to create more for bigger rivals like YouTube and Snapchat. Facebook’s Instagram recently launched Reels, a copycat of TikTok.

Tran says he is not focused on rivals. “I love the TikTok product,” he says.

“It’s one of those things, whether I’m listening to the radio, whether I’m on a subreddit somewhere or whether I am on any other platform,” Tran says, “everything I see either originated or incubated and blossomed on TikTok. So TikTok is the center of gravity for all things that take off in culture right now.”

The objective of the campaign is to highlight that “culture starts on TikTok.” It shows how social media platforms fight for relevance and the ability to claim they have their fingers on the pulse of the digital world. Twitter has promoted a similar theme with marketing slogan’s like, “see what’s happening.”

In this case, TikTok, which claims to reach more than 100 million users in the U.S., has a hardcore user base of devoted followers. The company is trying to prove its value to culture and marketing by being a place where new music is discovered and new dance trends take off, and where makeup, fashion, sports and more get discussed.

The user base is the main reason any U.S. company would want to acquire TikTok, and why it instantly became a force in social media. Microsoft is trying to buy the company, but on Monday, Oracle emerged as a potential competing bidder. Twitter has been rumored to be interested, but is not seen as having enough financial weight to close a deal.

In the meantime, TikTok will keep insisting that no matter the outcome, it’s not going anywhere. 

“I understand that the swirl around the brand is louder than ever before,” Martin says. “But it doesn’t change who TikTok is at its heart.”