While many brands have yet to effectively tap into the emergent platform, several beauty and fashion labels have galvanised the TikTok community with innovative campaigns. Here are a few notable TikTok marketing success stories – and what other brands can learn from them.
Fenty Beauty empowers creators
Along with the growing popularity of TikTok came the rise of the “collab house,” typically a Los Angeles mansion where TikTok stars live together and create content for their followers. In March, Fenty Beauty took advantage of this trend by setting up the Fenty Beauty House, a brand-centred space where a rotating group of makeup TikTokers, including Janelle Han (@janellemyh) and Layla Qasim (@neko_channn), could enjoy full autonomy over their content for Fenty Beauty. As brand founder Rihanna said of the initiative, “I can’t do it alone, so to join in with the people who are influencing the world and my community and my generation, this is a hub.”
The house, which offers creators an opportunity to hone their own artistry in addition to hyping Fenty Beauty, proved a worthwhile investment. According to Tribe Dynamics, TikTok content mentioning “Fenty Beauty House” and “FentyBeautyHouse” has garnered 8.3 million views and 1.7 million likes to date. The campaign’s impact is a testament to the importance of validating influencers’ expertise and partnering with them in a mutually beneficial capacity.
ELF song goes viral
One of the first beauty brands to integrate TikTok into its marketing strategy, ELF partnered with the creative agency Movers + Shakers to release a song titled “Eyes Lips Face” as part of its #eyeslipsface campaign. The song, which leveraged the key role of sound in TikTok content, quickly went viral, but the brand wasn’t ready to rest on its laurels. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ELF launched a remixed version of the track, “Eyes Lips Face Safe,” which promoted handwashing and social distancing practices.
According to Tribe Dynamics’ TikTok tracking software, 102 TikTok influencers participated in the two initiatives from August 2019 through late May 2020, driving a total of $1.9 million in earned media value (EMV) and garnering 87.3 million views. By identifying a campaign strategy that worked – and continuing to iterate on that strategy – ELF successfully navigated TikTok’s often unpredictable algorithm to win over influencers and consumers alike.
And ELF isn’t done taking risks. More recently, the brand teamed up with fast-casual Mexican restaurant Chipotle, another TikTok heavyweight, on a makeup kit in a bag resembling a burrito. A beauty-burrito collaboration might feel outlandish, but, in the words of ELF CMO Kory Marchisotto, “TikTok is a place to go and play and have fun, to test and learn.”
Aerie embraces influencer creativity
TikTok’s mission statement is to “inspire creativity and bring joy”, and the most successful brands on the platform fully embrace that ethos. This spring, for example, Aerie launched its #AerieRealPositivity campaign, which invited content creators to share what they were doing to stay positive, as well as what they were grateful for, while sheltering in place.
After TikTok powerhouse Charli D’Amelio (@charlidamelio) kicked off the initiative, the “challenge” quickly spread throughout the TikTok community. Tribe Dynamics’ TikTok data shows that 25 influencers tagged their TikToks with #AerieRealPositivity in April and May alone, prompting thousands of user-generated posts and garnering 1.8 billion views. Aerie’s willingness to grant influencers full creative control over their content, and uphold the joyful environment inherent to the platform, not only inspired widespread engagement but also fostered a sense of community among its fans.
Benefit Cosmetics champions authenticity
Unlike Instagram, which lends itself to an aspirational aesthetic, TikTok is all about unpolished, unedited fun. Top brands contribute to the platform’s raw, playful energy not only in their influencer campaigns but also on their owned channels (it’s worth noting that most brands that drive substantial earned media on TikTok are also active on their owned accounts).
Benefit Cosmetics understands the importance of cultivating a humorous, and human, brand identity. One video from the brand, for example, shows members of the Benefit team on a Zoom call and labels them with various coworker archetypes, like “the one that’s snacking,” and “the loud typer”. Describing the brand’s approach, Benefit’s associate director of social and PR, Angela Purcaro, shared: “We see TikTok as a place to create ‘edu-tainment’ content that celebrates unedited beauty, while not taking ourselves too seriously in the process.” Engaging with TikTok as a community of real, quirky people, rather than a faceless corporate entity, has helped Benefit inspire a sizable presence on the platform. The brand currently boasts 95.2 thousand followers on its owned TikTok account, @benefitcosmetics, and has accrued 840.4 thousand likes across its posts.
From stick-in-your-head songs to influencer houses, the strategies available to brands on TikTok are as diverse as content on the platform – but that doesn’t mean just anything will go viral, and identifying what resonates with your brand’s audience will likely take time. Here are a few quick takeaways for brands seeking to gain traction on TikTok:
- Treat TikTok as your playground: There is no single formula to going viral on TikTok, so brands must test out different strategies, and learn from what works – and what doesn’t. Just as ELF took a risk with its “Eyes, Lips, Face” song, and then iterated on its success, brands can constantly adapt their content to meet their audiences’ interests.
- Put creators centre stage: No matter how witty or charismatic your brand’s voice is, users come to TikTok primarily to view content from other users, not brands. Leverage the creativity of the TikTok community with campaigns that influencers can take in their own direction, like Aerie’s #AerieRealPositivity challenge. The resulting posts will be much more varied and interesting than a canned, advertorial initiative.
- Treat influencers as collaborators: Magic happens when brands and influencers support each other, and grow together. Fenty Beauty’s Fenty Beauty House was so effective because it provided a space for creators to further develop their own skills and raise their own profiles, while also building clout for the brand.
- Be human: When creating content for your brand’s owned account, eschew the aspirational images that might resonate on other platforms. Instead, be authentic, and have fun. Follow Benefit Cosmetics’ lead and share the human faces behind your brand, flaws and all. TikTok users would rather laugh at real-life, behind-the-scenes antics than admire a polished ad campaign.
Catherine Kulke is a senior content editor at Tribe Dynamics, a San Francisco-based influencer marketing software company.