27th September 2019

POV: TikTok


TikTok has hit the news again this week over claims that it is censoring content on the platform that is politically sensitive to the Chinese government, but this does not seem to have slowed the meteoric rise of the latest social media sensation. First launched by parent company ByteDance in 2016, Douyin sought to fill the gap for user-generated short video content in China’s rapidly changing media landscape. TikTok was launched in markets outside China in 2017 and is currently the No. 1 iPhone app in the US. Here is what you need to know.

Details and Implications:

ByteDance’s video-sharing app Douyin allows users to create and upload short 15 second videos, which can be accompanied by soundtracks or music clips. Originally developed as a lip-sync platform (the company merged with popular app Musical.ly in 2018), the app’s user base has skyrocketed to over 390 million monthly active users in China. With 86% growth YoY, the platform continues to grow faster than rival Kuaishou and the more established WeChat and Weibo.

Outside of China, it has gained popularity under the name ‘TikTok’ since its global launch in 2017, reportedly achieving 500 million global monthly active users in mid-2018 with a presence in over 150 countries, giving Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp a run for their money.

In February 2019, TikTok, along with Douyin, hit 1bn downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China, in just three years after launch. In comparison, Instagram hit 1bn downloads back in 2018, eight years after its 2010 launch.

To compete with TikTok, Facebook launched Lasso last year in the US as a standalone app. Lasso allows users to share short form videos with a soundtrack. Monthly downloads have averaged less than 1% of TikTok’s.

Looking to fuel its growth in China, Douyin continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate. Tapping into its large influencer base, the platform has recently popularised ‘Douyin Challenges’. Similar in nature to the Ice Bucket challenge, Douyin Challenges allow brands to invite users to create and share specific content, driving user-generated videos and conversations.

Marketing campaigns by Nike, which saw users show off their trendiest sports stunts for China’s Children’s Day, or Lay’s, which asked users to lip-sync to a comical music video accompanied by the crispy sound of potato chips, continue to push the boundaries of Douyin’s latest craze. Both micro and mainstream influencers have taken part in these challenges, attracting users to join in with their partner brands.

TikTok recently invited brands to advertise on its free-to-use platform with a beta launch of its “managed service platform”, bringing TikTok into the biddable ad space. However, fully self-serve ads aren’t available yet. Currently, TikTok offers a standard in-feed video ad. As the platform continues to grow, it’s likely that its ad offering will also grow, in efforts to compete for ad dollars.


As with any new platform, there are always teething issues for marketers to be aware of. Recently, in addition to the censorship allegations, the app has attracted attention around inappropriate content for minors, user addiction, as well as unqualified products in its e-commerce functions. ByteDance has gradually tried to address these concerns with underage restrictions, usage time limits and better customer service support for online purchases. Earlier this year, ByteDance paid a $5.7m fine to the FTC in the US for illegally collecting data from under 13s without parental consent.

Further Reading:
Business Insider | Marketing Land | BBC

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