February 7, 2020


TikTok: it’s the new social video app, it’s everywhere, and it’s the next generation of video. Similar to the departed app, Vine, TikTok is the new short form video app from Chinese tech company ByteDance. Previously known as Music.ly, TikTok is the  expanded version of the app, and in 2019 was downloaded 700 million times globally, just ahead of Facebook, according to data firm Sensor Tower.  

TikTok is unique compared to other social media platforms, which is one of the reasons why it’s become so popular.  Unlike platforms like Snapchat where users primarily communicate directly with each other, TikTok’s features provide a true creative outlet for users to share content widely. And unlike the perfect aesthetic of Instagram, TikTok has a raw, genuine user experience; you can truly be yourself there. Unlike other apps where users repost content, if you find something you like on TikTok, you create your own version of it.  

It’s extremely easy to use, meaning just about anyone who is well-versed in using a smartphone can create, edit and post videos. As reported by GlobalWebIndex, 40% of TikTok users are between 16 and 24. Users can shoot and edit videos up to 60 seconds; the most common themes for videos are lip syncing, dancing and comedic skits.

And much of the content on TikTok is buzzy – challenges and audio encourage viewers to create their own versions, growing the viewership and interaction of each new idea exponentially.

One example of a challenge is the #HariboChallenge, started by TikTok creator David Hasparak. He took audio from an Adele concert where the mic cut out and the crowd kept on singing… and placed it over a video of Gummy Bears to make it look like hundreds of the little candies were singing an Adele song. This quickly became a trend, with celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg weighing in as the trend found its way to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond. In the end, the original post received 2.2M views, 31.3k comments and over 119k shares. The hashtag itself received almost 45M views on TikTok.

“If I have 30 minutes of screen time I’d do 20 minutes of a TV show or something and 10 minutes of TikTok. It has all kinds of videos and they’re short so you don’t have to watch a whole video that’s like 10 minutes long. It’s also fun to create videos.” – Lily, age 11

“I just recently deleted TikTok because my screen time was almost double other apps, something about TikTok is addicting and I started to spend hours scrolling the FYP to begin and end each day.” – Camille, 18

What does it offer to brands?

As TikTok continues to grow, more brands are recognizing the importance of the app in reaching a younger demographic. TikTok has responded to this uptick of advertiser interest by creating a comprehensive, affordable and biddable ad structure that is similar to other social platforms, with advertisers being able to set up ad accounts and choose campaign parameters.

Within TikTok’s Traffic, Conversion, and App Install objectives, there are currently four ad types available:

  • Brand Takeovers/Top View
    • Ad appears as soon as user opens the app
    • The most expensive ad unit
    • Brand takeover features short videos/GIFs
    • Top View features longer in-feed style videos
  • In-Feed Ads
    • Native ads placed at the bottom of organic videos or in the feed as part of the video queue
    • Average cost — $10/CPM
  • Hashtag Challenge
    • Sponsored hashtag that encourages users to share content on your brand’s behalf
    • Average timeline is 6 days
  • Brand Lenses/Effects
    • Similar to Snapchat’s lenses
    • An awareness/consideration tactic

TikTok also offers a range of user targeting that includes location, gender, age, interest, language and devices. Optimizations are done on a CPC/CPM basis and require a minimum of a $500 budget.

In addition to the existing ad units, TikTok is listening to advertisers’ feedback and are in the process of developing a feed of curated content like Snapchat’s Discover Stream. The new highlights stream would allow advertisers more control over where their ads are served, to ensure brand safety.

Why TikTok for healthcare?

HCPs are using the app to reach a younger audience. Whether it’s dispelling vaccine myths, giving tips on dealing with just-tightened braces, or giving an inside look at what it’s like to be an HCP, we’re seeing nurses, NPs and MDs all using the platform to share important information with the 16-24 audience. While Instagram and Snapchat still specialize in the under 35 audience, TikTok differentiates itself in several ways:

  • It trends younger, with its core audience firmly in the Gen Z demographic
  • The content that achieves the highest reach on TikTok is typically highly relatable and only a few seconds long
    • Easier to produce once the creative development process is complete
    • Allows for quicker MLR submissions
  • Sponsored hashtag challenges
    • While hashtags (and challenges using hashtags) are prominent on Twitter and Instagram, sponsored hashtag challenges are more unique to TikTok
      • These challenges are a core part of the TikTok ecosystem
      • Brands can sponsor a challenge to encourage user-generated content and promote awareness

Currently, we see the greatest potential for pharma marketing in unbranded influencer campaigns – identifying and working with a range of health care professionals to share educational messages across a variety of therapeutic areas in an authentic, accessible and potentially high-reach way.

Additionally, we see a key opportunity to partner with TikTok to establish a healthcare education platform. TikTok India has partnered successfully with a number of educational technology companies to provide educational content across a range of disciplines – something that could be expanded upon in the US with healthcare topics.

It’s also worth noting that content that “hits” on TikTok is increasingly being shared widely on other social platforms (notably Twitter and Instagram), which would provide an additional demographic set of eyes, although not one that could specifically be targeted.

Looking forward, as the platform evolves, there is high potential for branded campaigns utilizing TikTok’s different ad types. And as the demographic evolves to add older segments, as social platform demographics always do, the scope of disease state topics and potential audiences will increase.


  • Branded content beyond reminder ads would require scrolling ISI (for pharma) to be incorporated into the video
    • Since the most effective TikTok videos are 15 seconds or less, unbranded or reminder ad content would be the least challenging to produce
      • Outside of Rx content, branded OTC campaigns have also seen good results, e.g. Mucinex’s #TooSickToBeSick challenge
  • Competition is growing.
    • Facebook is testing a TikTok rival called Reels in Brazil. Reels is integrated into Instagram Given that the highly successful IG stories were developed to rival Snapchat stories, we are monitoring Reels’ progress closely
    • One of Vine’s cofounders has launched a new Vine-style app called Byte which also features looping 6s videos
      • Byte will be launching a formal creator payment structure, something TikTok does not currently have
  • Brand safety is still evolving
    • TikTok is actively working on a curated stream for advertisers as mentioned above, but this is still a work in progress
  • TikTok is not without its challenges. In addition to increased competition, their legal team has a lot on their plates:

Recommendations and What’s Next

We are working with TikTok to explore how our pharma and healthcare clients might best partner. As they are a relatively new player in social media, they are still building out their policies and process with highly regulated industries like pharma. While this does leave some things uncertain, we see it as a huge opportunity.

As with any platform, we recommend careful consideration to ensure this platform and its tactics are right for your campaign. Please check with your CMI/Compas rep for more on how TikTok could be part of your brand campaign.