Douyin (抖音 or Tik Tok) is the short-video app everyone seems to be talking about in the recent months- especially in China. In September 2017, the app celebrated its first birthday and in the first quarter of 2018, it became world’s most downloaded app for iOS (Google Play is blocked in China hence there is no accurate data for Android). In Japan alone, the app has been downloaded more times than Facebook.
It is a child-app of Bytedance – the owner of “Today’s Headlines” and Musical.ly. It allows its users to publish 15-second videos that often go viral as memes or online challenges, not only in China but also on Western social media. On YouTube, there are accounts publishing Douyin highlights in video compilations (example here). I often see videos created within the app circulating on Facebook and Twitter. I’d say Vine is the closest thing to Douyin we’ve had in Western countries.
Douyin is often called the most viral app in China as it’s become one of the people’s favourite ways of killing free time. People watch these short videos everywhere – and when I say “everywhere,” I really mean it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some casualties were reported because of people who ride a bike and watch at the same time (I see it every day). It’s so addictive, Douyin now limits users to watch only 90 minutes in one sitting! Nara - our social marketer - downloaded the app to help me do the research for this post and after only two days I heard: “Please, finish the post already, I want my life back! I can’t stop watching!”
So, how do you use the app’s virability to leverage your brand? There are two main ways: paid and organic marketing. The Douyin ads require you to work with the app itself, usually via verified agencies. For the organic marketing – your imagination is the limit.
The most important advantage of micro-videos, similar to live-streaming, is the relationship built between the content creators and their audiences. Videos are not only entertaining- they also feel authentic. That’s why many KOLs (influencers) are “born” thanks to Douyin.
The app is mostly a playground for people born in 90s and later. It’s said to be an app for “the creative generations” like Millennials and Zillennials. Of the users, 75% are 18 to 35 years old – they are also the most active video creators and the most engaged audience.
What I often underline is that people born after the 1980s (mostly those based in 1st and 2nd-tier cities) are considered to be “the spending force of China” – generally they are only children and therefore know what they want and they want it right away; they earn enough to afford most of the things they desire. It’s also a huge group of people who help China transform from a country of cheap goods to a country of innovation. So, naturally, most brands want to catch their attention.
Videos have been squeezing other types of communication out of the market for a while now; Douyin-style are now considered to be the most direct form of message. China is no exception. Hence, Douyin seems to be a perfect medium to reach out to potential customers by showing off your brand’s creative power and engaging the users.
There are three main ways to get a brand’s ad on Douyin. Additionally, one is creating brand-sponsored tools for video-making. For example: Pizza Hut rolled out themed sunglasses stickers (camera filters) that attracted over 1 million users (source in Chinese).
That’s the full-screen ad displayed before the app itself is opened. It’s usually 3 to 5 seconds long and the max number of ads shown to each user per day is four. It can be a picture, GIF-type micro-advert or video content. It can be only linked to in-app sites, no external links allowed.
A general price is around 850,000 to over one million RMB per day or as high as 50 to 60 RMB/CPM (cost per a thousand impressions) – depending on the chosen option.
The newsfeed in the Douyin app is basically a never-ending scrolling adventure. Videos auto-play instantly when you scroll past them- no need to press “play”. The ads are displayed on the forth position in the user’s newsfeed. It can be an image or, of course, a 15-60 second video. It may include (but doesn’t have to) a message and an external link.
There are two different ways to count the cost. It’s either CPM or CPC (cost per click). The first one is 20-30 RMB/CPM and is more suitable for bigger brands. The minimum one-time purchase is 1,000 CPM.
The second option is 2-5 RMB per click. It’s less risky as you control the ad budget by yourself.
Working with influencers is often the best option – they already have a secured group of fans who like interacting with them and are very likely to take part in a challenge. For example: depending on the number of their fans the prices start with 6,000 RMB (10,000 to 30,000 fans) and go up to 100,000 RMB or more (over 200,000 fans) per post.
How to work with KOLs? Similar to what we talked about before, you can prepare content for the influencer of your choosing, or utilize organic marketing and trust them to know the best way to interact with their fans (recommended). They may post a video challenge that their fans are supposed to copy – works very well as a contest. Or they can post a short video with the product involved – this kind of ad may be more natural.
One of the perks of working with influencers is that they usually post on many platforms and may drive more participants to your challenge from other places, or the other way around – simultaneously promote your brand for consumers that don’t use Douyin.
Note: beware of “overnight sensations”. However, Douyin is now signing up contracts with the most popular KOLs - making sure they control what is promoted on the platform.
As I mentioned, Douyin is a birthplace for many Chinese KOLs. Becoming a 网红 (wanghong, an online celebrity) is a motivation for many users to create catchy or viral-worthy content. So, why not try the same ways to promote a brand? For the lucky ones, one video is enough to become viral.
There are some rules to follow if you want to increase your chances:
There are many companies that already worked with Douyin. Most of them are worldwide well-known brands – I am referring to the ones which have invested in in-app adverts. Among the international ones you can find brands like Michael Kors, Pizza Hut, Sprite, Airbnb, Samsung, Adidas, etc..
Some of them did not manage to surprise me very much. The ads they released are just regular ads that could appear anywhere else. They may look amazing but all they say is: “hey, here’s our new lipstick” or “we have discounts for the 618 shopping festival”. These companies are missing opportunities to engage with their target audiences. For example, more engaging advertising could encourage users to try on all the lipstick colors and post a video. You get what I mean, right? Paying for Douyin ads and using it on dry old-fashioned adverts is a waste of potential.
JD.com rolled out a Fun Festival in February this year. They started with a splash ad saying: “Bored? Come dance!” and posted a dancing challenge on their account. Users were supposed to copy the moves and add a related hashtag (#无聊？来蹦好玩迪#). Results? Their video got over 130 million views, and over 26,000 users accepted the challenge.
As mentioned before, a good idea is to roll out brand-related stickers. Apart from Pizza Hut, another good example is Michael Kors who used stickers to promote their catwalk challenge. The brand also worked with influencers to record and promote the original video. It was streamed over 5 million times and over 30,000 people posted a related video.
Other brands worth-mentioning are Harbin Beer and Chevrolet; both brands used singing challenges to engage and encourage users to post “summer vibe” lip syncs. Vans also executed a notable campaign – having considered Douyin’s user base, they promoted with the “Don’t be afraid of what other people say” video.
One of my favourites is Airbnb who encouraged users to post “Expectations vs. Reality” videos; one of the users recorded pulling up her Barbie-style suitcases with a rope to a dreamy-looking… tree house hotel. Their results are amazing. They not only doubled their brand’s visibility but they also beat their competitors’ ads by 300%.
As the short videos have become the most popular communication medium, many platforms rolled out their own tool to shoot the videos. For social media, like Weibo or Momo (陌陌), the tools work similar to Insta Story or that thing on Facebook no one seems to use. They are easy to share to the native platform, and that’s probably their biggest advantage.
Taobao already implemented short videos into merchants’ product display page, but now they want to launch a separate app, but no details have revealed yet.
However, platforms that are considered a direct competition to Douyin are mostly Meipai (美拍), Huoshan (火山) and Kuaishou (快手). The first one is mostly used for its beautifying filters. The second, Huoshan, is a friendly short-video app with a decentralized user base. There are no KOLs, it’s just a nice app to kill some time and watch other people.
And then, there’s Kuaishou. There’s even a slogan circulating in the Internet that I don’t even dare to translate but for those of you who know Chinese, here it is: “南抖音北快手，中间夹个火山口。南抖音北快手，智障界的两泰斗”. And for those who don’t, let me explain. It’s all about the stereotypical differences between North and South in China (you can read more here or here or watch a pretty exaggerated but funny video here).
So, Kuaishou content is much more natural, I’d even say rough. People shoot their videos of themselves eating or doing martial arts, probably not even caring about the background, somewhere in a village or something. They show more of their real life, while the videos on Douyin are usually carefully planned, more refined, and “elegant”. I’d even say: more professional. The app is generally used more among people living in the bigger cities. Douyin also has a unique style that can be recognized even if the app’s watermark is wiped out. The videos are much more creative and vibrant, users make the best use of all the provided tools, stickers, background music, features, etc.
As Nara summed it up: Kuaishou is more about people “eating garlic”, and Douyin – about people “drinking coffee and being pretty”.