TikTok’s new premium ad unit aligns brands with top 4% of videos

NEW YORK — TikTok has become a major cultural trendsetter, but what’s catching interest on the video platform can change at a head-spinning pace set by the whims of its algorithmically-powered For You page. That poses a challenge for advertisers that are eager to reach the app’s global audience of more than 1 billion monthly users but need to set a concrete media plan ahead of time.

For its third appearance — and first in-person — at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s NewFronts, the ByteDance-owned company detailed a new ad product that lets brands latch onto creator videos as they’re taking off versus when their popularity is already cresting and an ad might register as wearing to viewers. Called TikTok Pulse, the offering demonstrates TikTok putting a larger focus on premium media units that cater to deep-pocketed brands versus a pure scale play.

“It wouldn’t be culturally relevant content if it didn’t change every single day,” said Jiayi “Ray” Cao, TikTok’s global head of product strategy, of the app’s content model to a packed crowd. Many attendees at The Glasshouse event space on New York’s West Side Highway were standing due to a lack of seating room, and the line to check into the Wednesday evening presentation snaked around the venue.

Advertisers and media buyers listening in heard a good deal about Pulse, which is sold through TikTok Ads Manager and has limited inventory. The format puts brand partners around the top 4% of all videos on the app, while trying to keep suitability parameters in mind. Pulse can be purchased across 12 categories, including beauty and personal care, fashion and automotive. It is bought at a fixed CPM rate and on a reservation basis — an indication that TikTok is gunning for more blue-chip, exclusive marketers with the rollout.

“With TikTok Pulse, branded TikToks will show up next to top-performing, brand-safe content that’s driving conversation and actions,” said Cao. “Think of Pulse as supercharged contextual targeting.”

IPG Mediabrands and Omnicom Media Group are already working with Pulse, according to TikTok’s advertising chief Sandie Hawkins. Those using the product can apply TikTok’s own brand safety filter or third-party verification, and the format launches with third-party viewability and sales lift integrations as well. Post-campaign audience reporting is also available.

“We’re already seeing strong commitment from the world’s largest brands and agencies,” Hawkins said at the show.

Tapping into community

While Pulse commanded the spotlight on the product development front, TikTok also made an effort to emphasize a diverse base of users and content creators, the latter of which act as the “lifeblood” of the platform, per executives. This was also an agenda item at last year’s NewFronts, indicating that the company has struggled to shake off a close association with young consumers.

“More than a billion people around the world using TikTok every month, and it isn’t just Gen Z,” Hawkins said. “Most of our viewers are actually millennials and Gen Xers.”

Reiterating that TikTok connects with an older crowd than teens is another signal that the app wants to broaden its advertiser base, including to brands that might target consumers with higher household incomes. Similarly, executives repeatedly pointed to the variety of communities present on TikTok, which it calls “CommunityToks.” These interest-based groups, which cover everything from book readers to mental health help, were positioned as a break from the usual cohort-based parameters brands look at for their campaigns.

“TikTok is one and a half times more likely to help users explore new communities and content,” said Sofia Hernandez, TikTok’s global head of business marketing.

“Communities are the new demographics,” she added later.

The community concept previously factored into TikTok’s pitch around its commerce products at the NewFronts, but discussions of shopping were scarce this year. Some of the e-commerce boom driven by the pandemic has started to cool, while privacy changes implemented by Apple have made targeting and measuring mobile campaigns on this more difficult front. Instead, embedding in communities was seen as a way for brands to raise their overall profile.

“Brands perform better when they work with TikTok creators,” said Hawkins. “In fact, brands who partnered with creators on TikTok saw a 26% lift in brand favorability and a 22% lift in brand recommendations.”

For creators, new bets like Pulse may be appealing. Cao said that TikTok is exploring its first revenue-share program with profiles that meet a minimum follower threshold.

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