TikTok Advertising 101: How Small Businesses Can Compete with Big Brands

Make Money Online - Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Jussi Hyvarinen

TikTok Advertising 101: How Small Businesses Can Compete with Big Brands

Jussi Hyvärinen

I'm Jussi, with over 25 years of expertise, I help entrepreneurs navigate the online business world. My services include tailored recommendations, step-by-step tutorials, and insightful reviews to help steer your business aspirations. Please reach out if you need assistance with your online business plans or have any questions.

TikTok advertising is the use of paid promotional content on the TikTok platform to reach a targeted audience, drive engagement, and achieve various marketing goals.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn commission from any sales made or actions taken as a result of users clicking the links on this page.

TikTok has exploded in popularity over the past few years, becoming one of the most influential social media platforms globally. With almost 2 billion monthly active users, it's a platform that no marketer can afford to ignore.

TikTok's addictive short-form videos keep users coming back for more content. This presents a massive opportunity for businesses to get your brand in front of a highly engaged audience. TikTok advertising can help you reach new demographics, increase brand awareness, and drive conversions.

In this comprehensive guide, I'll cover everything you need to know to create successful TikTok ad campaigns and beat those big brands, including:

  • An overview of TikTok advertising and its benefits
  • Types of TikTok ads
  • TikTok ad specs and requirements
  • Setting up a TikTok ads account
  • Creating and optimizing TikTok ad campaigns
  • Writing compelling TikTok ad copy
  • Designing effective TikTok ad creative
  • Targeting your audience on TikTok
  • Measuring performance and results
  • TikTok advertising tips and best practices

Whether you're new to TikTok marketing or looking to step up your efforts, use this guide to get the most out of advertising on one of the hottest platforms right now.

What is TikTok Advertising?

TikTok advertising refers to paid promotions on the TikTok platform to reach its massive user base. 

Brands can utilize TikTok ads for various marketing goals, such as brand awareness, user engagement, website traffic, app installs, e-commerce, affiliate marketing, local promotions, customer retention, and social causes. 

Here are some of the main options for advertising on TikTok:

  • In-feed video ads - Ads that appear between organic TikTok videos. They look and feel just like regular TikTok content.
  • Brand takeovers - Full-screen ads appear when users first open the app. They capture attention before transitioning into a standard in-feed video ad.
  • Branded effects - Sponsored lenses, filters, or AR effects that users can apply to their own content.
  • Branded hashtags - Custom branded hashtags that promote user-generated content around a campaign.
  • Spark ads - Organic posts that are promoted to reach a wider audience.
  • TopView - Full-screen video ads that play when users open the app.
  • Collection ads - Product catalog ads that enable seamless shopping without leaving the app.

Benefits of TikTok Advertising

Age and Gender Distribution of TikTok Users in 2022

Here are some of the major benefits of running ad campaigns on TikTok:

  • Massive reach - Access to TikTok's 1.7 billion+ active user base.
  • Engaged users - TikTok users are highly engaged, spending an average of 52 minutes daily on the platform.
  • Younger demographics - Around 60% of TikTok users are under 30, allowing you to reach younger audiences.
  • Viral potential - TikTok's addictive format makes it easy for ads to go viral quickly.
  • Shoppable experience - TikTok is testing shoppable video ads that allow instant in-app purchases.
  • Precise targeting - Options to target users based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and more.
  • Full-funnel marketing - Ads can be optimized for objectives across the entire customer journey.
  • Affordable platform - TikTok advertising is still new, so costs are generally lower than platforms like Facebook and Google.
  • Creative flexibility - Businesses can experiment with fun, engaging video ad formats.

Types of TikTok Ads

TikTok offers a range of ad formats for businesses to use in their marketing campaigns. Let's take a look at the main types of TikTok ads available.

In-Feed Video Ads

Tiktok ads image1

In-feed video ads appear natively within TikTok user feeds, seamlessly blended with organic content. They can be up to 60 seconds long and are skippable after a few seconds.

In-feed ads look and feel like regular TikTok videos. The only difference is a small "Sponsored" tag identifying them as ads. They are an ideal format for businesses looking to drive video views and engagements.

Users can interact with in-feed ads just like regular TikToks - liking, commenting, following, and more. They are great for raising brand awareness and expanding reach.

In-feed ads also support product tags and clickable elements that drive traffic to external websites or apps. It makes them highly versatile for different campaign objectives.

Brand Takeovers

Brand takeovers are full-screen interstitial ads that appear when users first open the TikTok app. They display for up to 5 seconds before transitioning into an in-feed video ad.

These "launch screen" takeovers are impossible to miss. They provide complete brand dominance, giving businesses a chance to make a bold first impression.

Brand takeovers help capture attention and quickly build awareness. Due to their prominent placement, they come at a premium cost. Availability is also limited to one advertiser per day.

After the initial takeover, the standard in-feed video ad continues playing, allowing brands to sustain the momentum. This combination offers both brand-building and direct-response potential.

Spark Ads

Tiktok ads image2

Spark ads enable businesses to promote their organic TikTok content to reach a wider audience. They appear just like any other post from the brand's TikTok account.

The benefit of Spark ads is that they harness the creativity and authenticity of a brand's real TikTok presence. And since they live permanently on the brand's profile, they continue accumulating views and engagements over time.

Spark ads work well for raising awareness and expanding your reach on TikTok. They can help grow your follower count and overall profile engagement.

To run Spark ads, brands first need an established, active presence on TikTok with high-quality organic content. The promoted posts should match the style of a brand's other content.

TopView Ads

TopView ads are TikTok's newest video ad format. They provide brands up to 60 seconds of exposure on the full screen when the app opens.

Like brand takeovers, TopView ads instantly command attention when users launch TikTok. However, they last up to 60 seconds compared to 5 seconds for takeovers.

During the 60 seconds, audio begins auto-playing while the brand's logo and name are displayed prominently. Users have the option to tap through after 5 seconds.

TopView's longer, sound-on format makes them ideal for showcasing engaging branding videos or product stories. They offer an immersive experience that leaves a lasting brand impression.

Branded Hashtag Challenges

Branded hashtag challenges encourage TikTok users to create and share content related to a brand campaign. TikTok prominently promotes the branded hashtag, making it easy for users to participate.

Participating in hashtag challenges allows brands to leverage TikTok's creative community. User-generated content can expand a campaign's reach while making it feel more authentic.

Hashtag challenges work best for brands with a compelling concept or theme that inspires people to create fun, shareable content. Examples include dance challenges, comedy skits, recipes, and more.

To launch a branded hashtag challenge, brands work closely with TikTok's marketing team. In addition to the promoted hashtag, challenges can also include sponsored branded effects.

Branded Effects

Sponsored lenses and AR effects allow brands to create their own filters, stickers, or augmented reality experiences. Users can access these branded effects from the Effects tab and apply them to their TikTok videos.

Branded effects provide a fun way for users to interact with and share brand content. The organic engagement generated can help expand a brand's reach.

Like TikTok's famous Cartoon Face filter, effects that go viral can significantly boost brand awareness and exposure. However, creating a popular effect requires creativity and extensive testing.

Branded effects are a great way to engage audiences creatively with your TikTok brand. They often work well tied into broader branded hashtag challenges.

Collection Ads

Collection ads showcase branded product catalogs that users can flip through without leaving the TikTok app. They provide an immersive shopping experience featuring multiple products or product categories.

Each product in a collection is presented with images/videos and details like product titles, prices, ratings, and more. Users can tap on products to view details or be redirected to the brand's site or app.

Collection ads are currently being tested in selected markets. When launched more widely, they will provide a powerful new tool for TikTok e-commerce marketing.

The swipeable, visual catalog format is perfect for the TikTok environment. Collection ads will make it easy for brands across all industries to showcase their products natively.

TikTok Ad Specifications

Tiktok ads image7

To properly set up TikTok ads, there are certain technical specifications you need to follow. Here are the requirements for the main ad formats:

Video Ads

Resolution: Minimum 540x960 pixels or 640x640 pixels

Aspect Ratio: 9:16 recommended (vertical)

Length: 5 to 60 seconds

File Size: Up to 500 MB

File Types: MP4, MOV, MPEG4, AVI

Image Ads

Resolution: Minimum 720x720 pixels

Aspect Ratio: 1:1 square

File Size: Below 300 KB

File Types: JPG, JPEG, PNG


Title: 25 characters

Description: Up to 500 characters

Hashtags: Up to 20

Emojis: Supported in description

Following these specifications will ensure your ads meet TikTok's requirements and appear polished to users. Formats like stories or landscape videos are not supported.

Setting Up a TikTok Ads Account

Tiktok for business

To run paid advertising campaigns on TikTok, the first step is setting up a TikTok Ads Manager account. Here is an overview of the quick and simple process:

  1. Create a TikTok business account - You can convert an existing personal account or create a new standalone business account.
  2. Sign up for TikTok Ads Manager - Head to ads.tiktok.com and click "Get Started." Follow the prompts to create your ads account.
  3. Choose a payment method - Options include credit card, PayPal, wire transfer, and invoice. Cards are the easiest for most advertisers.
  4. Set up pixel - Install TikTok pixel to your website. This allows track conversions.
  5. Create your ad campaign - Build your first campaign following TikTok's user-friendly template.

It only takes about 15 minutes to set up your ads account and publish your first campaign. TikTok provides a step-by-step ebook to optimize the ads manager for your brand.

As long as you have a valid payment method, there are no financial requirements to begin advertising. Your spending limits will adjust over time based on account performance.

Creating and Optimizing TikTok Ad Campaigns

Once your TikTok ads account is ready to go, it's time to set up and optimize your first campaign. Follow these steps for success:

1. Choose Your Objective

Tiktok ads image3

Be clear about what you want to achieve from the start. TikTok campaign objectives include:

  • Reach - Increase brand visibility by showing your ad to the maximum number of people.
  • Traffic - Drive users to a destination like your website or app.
  • Website conversions - Get users to take a specific action like a purchase.
  • Community interaction - Grow your TikTok follower count.
  • Video views - Get more views for your video ads.
  • Lead generation - Collect leads for your business.
  • App promotion - Get people to install your app or take desired actions.

Pick the objective that aligns with your primary goal. 

2. Set Up Campaign Settings

Tiktok ads image4

Campaign settings control budget, schedule, audience targeting, and placements. Key options include:

  • Daily budget - A minimum of $50 per day is recommended, although lower budgets are possible.
  • Dates - Set start and end dates or leave them open indefinitely.
  • Audiences - Target by demographics, interests, behaviors, placements, and more.
  • Placements - Choose where ads can appear (feed, profile pages, etc).

Use settings to dial in your ideal target audience and maximize your budget.

3. Create Quality Ad Copy

Write compelling ad copy to catch attention and convince viewers to act. Some best practices:

  • Lead with a creative hook - Ask a question or highlight benefits.
  • Keep it short and scannable - Every character counts on a small mobile screen.
  • Add emojis - Emojis stand out and are widely used by TikTok users.
  • Include a clear, clickable CTA - Give viewers a reason to swipe up or click through.

I'll explore tips for writing winning ad copy in more detail later.

4. Produce Engaging Ad Creatives

TikTok is fueled by video content. You need eye-catching footage to compete with organic posts. Strategies include:

  • Shoot vertically - Optimize for mobile screens.
  • Use high-quality production - Invest in professional clips.
  • Make it interactive - Encourage likes, shares, follows.
  • Leverage effects - Apply lenses/filters/text for extra flair.
  • Be authentic - Align creatively with TikTok culture and trends.

More on crafting winning TikTok ad creatives is later on in this guide.

5. Track and Refine Performance

Tiktok ads image5

TikTok provides robust analytics to monitor and refine your ad results. Metrics to analyze:

  • Reach and impressions - How many users you showed ads to.
  • Clicks, taps, conversions - How many took your desired action.
  • View rate and cost per view (CPV) - How engaging your ads were and their cost efficiency.
  • Audience retention - How long users stuck around to watch.

Study the data, then optimize campaigns by adjusting targeting, budgets, bidding, creatives, etc. Testing ads constantly will help to improve performance.

TikTok Ad Copywriting Tips

Writing compelling ad copy is paramount for convincing TikTok viewers to engage with your brand. Here are some pro tips for creating persuasive TikTok ad text:

Grabbing Attention Quickly

You only have a few seconds to hook viewers as they rapidly scroll feeds. Some attention-grabbing openings include:

  • Tease a reveal - "We tested 50 lip balms and found the BEST one..."
  • Ask a question - "Tired of heavy makeup clogging your pores?"
  • Highlight benefits - "Regrow thicker hair in 30 days with..."
  • Create curiosity - "Beauty hack only makeup artists know..."

Keeping It Short and Scannable

Get your message across in minimal text. TikTok's 500-character limit requires a tight, concise copy.

  • Use emojis - 😍❤️👌 Emojis stand out and add flair.
  • Cut filler words - Removing excess words keeps the text tight.
  • Break into short lines - 2 to 3 lines max. Avoid big blocks of text.
  • Include @mentions - @yourbrand links directly to your profile.

Incorporating CTAs

Clear calls to action motivate viewers to engage as desired. Simple CTAs include:

  • Shop now - Directs to your online store.
  • Learn more - Drives clicks to your site or bio link.
  • Install now - Links to app download pages.
  • Sign up - Gets leads via subscription forms.
  • Follow @yourbrand - Builds your TikTok follower count.

Maintaining TikTok's Creative Spirit

Align your copy tone and style with the platform's fun, playful vibe:

  • Use a casual voice - Avoid overly salesy, formal language.
  • Show personality - Inject some friendly flair and humor.
  • Try popular lingo - Terms like "epic fail" or "life hack."
  • Leverage trends - Capitalize on viral sounds, songs, effects, etc. You can check what is trending on TikTok's Creative Center.

Following these tips will ensure your ad copy connects with the TikTok community. Always A/B test copy variants to determine what resonates most.

Creating Effective TikTok Ad Creative

With any social platform, the creative makes or breaks your ad performance. Here are strategies for producing TikTok video ads that engage:

Shoot Vertically

Tiktok ads image6

Optimize footage for TikTok's vertical, mobile environment. A 9:16 aspect ratio fits screens perfectly.

Avoid landscape videos with black bars. Vertical is less intrusive for in-feed viewing.

Invest in Quality Production

High-quality footage stands out from cluttered feeds. Enlist help from:

  • Videographers - For pro shooting/editing.
  • Influencers - Provide authenticity and relatability.
  • Ad studios - Specialists in branded social videos.
  • Special software - Use tools like Pictory to create high-quality, compelling videos without breaking the bank.

Make It Interactive

Encourage viewers to engage through:

  • On-screen text prompts - "Double tap if you agree!"
  • Follow/share overlays - Add graphics encouraging follows and shares.
  • Profile tags - @mention your TikTok handle.
  • Hashtag incorporation - Include a branded hashtag challenge.

Leverage TikTok's Creative Tools

Titktok video editor2

Within the Creative Center, the Creative Tools section offers a range of free tools to help you build, edit, or mock up a video for your advertising needs.

  1. Video editor - A video editing tool that enables content customization with TikTok-styled elements, including royalty-free music, text fonts, text colors, and creative dimensions.
  2. Video templates - Provides various ad templates that users can quickly customize by selecting a template and uploading existing photos, texts, and videos.
  3. Interactive add-on - Helps visually understand all the innovative TikTok ad formats and features while previewing ads with add-ons to see how they will look once live.
  4. Script generator - Generates ad scripts leveraging smart technology to provide ad script ideas quickly.
  5. Commercial music library - A searchable directory of audio cleared for commercial use in TikTok ads.

Align with TikTok's Culture

To make branded content that resonates on TikTok, it helps to align creatively with the platform's culture. Some tips:

  • Monitor trending sounds, songs, effects, etc. and find ways to incorporate them into your ads.
  • Use organic TikTok influencers or users' content to inspire your video ads. Mimic the same vibe and style.
  • Participate in viral TikTok challenges by creating branded versions that put your own spin on them.
  • Use popular TikTok lingo, inside jokes, and references to make your brand feel part of the community.
  • Feature diverse, relatable personalities that TikTok viewers will find authentic and engaging.
  • Adopt a fun, playful tone rather than being overly polished or corporate.

Blending into TikTok's creative, community-driven environment helps your ads feel less intrusive and more likely to generate shares, likes, and engagement.

Take time to understand what makes content spread quickly on the platform, then embrace those elements in branded videos tailored for TikTok.

Targeting Your Audience on TikTok

One of TikTok's major advantages is its powerful audience targeting capabilities. You can zero in on exactly who you want to see your ads based on detailed filters and parameters.

Here are some of the main ways to target your ads:

  • Location - Target users by country, region, city, and even postal codes.
  • Age - Select specific age ranges.
  • Gender - Choose to focus on male, female, or both.
  • Keywords - Target videos or profiles containing specific keywords.
  • Interests - Select from a wide range of interest categories.
  • Follower Look-Alikes - Find users who follow similar handles to your targets.
  • Custom Audiences - Target existing contacts by uploading customer data.
  • Device and Connection - Filter by iOS vs Android, WiFi vs cellular data.
  • App Activity - Engage users who have taken actions in your app.
  • Engaged Audiences - Reach viewers who have watched, liked, or commented on your brand's content.

The best practice is layering multiple filters to reach your ideal customers. Test and refine your targeting over time based on performance data.

Measuring TikTok Ad Performance

Analyzing results is key to optimizing campaigns and achieving the best ROI. Here are some important TikTok ad metrics to monitor:

  • Impressions - Number of times your ads were seen.
  • Reach - Total number of unique accounts that saw ads.
  • Video views - Instances of your video being viewed for at least 2 seconds.
  • View rate - Percentage of impressions that resulted in views.
  • Clicks - Number of clicks on your ad or call-to-action button.
  • Click-through-rate (CTR) - Ratio of clicks to impressions.
  • Conversions - Number of users who completed a desired action.
  • Cost per result - Your average spend per conversion.
  • Watch time - How long (on average) users viewed your videos.

Dig into audience demographics and placements to see what's working best. Use the insights to refine your ads and improve results over time.

TikTok Advertising Best Practices

Here are some top tips to maximize your ad performance on TikTok:

  • Hook viewers immediately - You only have 1-3 seconds to grab attention. Make openings visually striking and text scintillating.
  • Leverage influencers - Partner with creators to infuse authenticity and widen reach.
  • Participate in viral trends - Integrate top songs, effects, hashtags, etc. to heighten engagement.
  • Post consistently - Maintain a regular presence both with organic content and sponsored ads.
  • Remain flexible - Be ready to swiftly adapt creatives, copy, and strategy based on data.
  • Provide value - Rather than hard sells, offer entertainment or helpful information.
  • Monitor competition - Keep an eye on what others in your niche are doing.
  • Refine targeting - Use specific layered filters to zero in on your perfect audience.
  • Retarget engaged users - Remarket to those who have previously shown interest.

With some strategic testing and optimization, TikTok ads can become a cost-effective customer acquisition channel for all sorts of businesses.

Wrapping Up

By now, you should understand how to effectively advertise on TikTok - from setting up your ads account to crafting engaging video creatives.

The key is putting in the work upfront to intimately understand TikTok's unique ad offerings, audience, and culture. Tailor your messaging and content specifically for the platform. Analyze performance data, then refine your approach over time.

With its explosive growth and massive popularity among younger demographics, TikTok presents a huge marketing opportunity. Now is the time for brands to start experimenting and establishing an advertising presence.

Use this guide as your TikTok ads playbook. Be prepared to evolve as the platform constantly develops new capabilities. With smart execution, TikTok can become a cost-efficient source of new customers and revenue.

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