I remember when in 2013 all my younger colleagues were in love with Snapchat. In the early 2000s, we had fallen in love with Gmail (it meant we never had to delete anything ever again). The attractions of Snapchat were the funny and quirky filters as well as the fact that the content was ephemeral, lasting only 24 hours. Fast forward to 2019 and a new app was in the news in Pakistan, TikTok.
TikTok was a Chinese app called Douyin - and Bytedance, the company that owns TikTok, still have an app by the name of Douyin in China and which by the way is immensely popular. In 2017, Bytedance bought Musical.ly (an app that had conquered the USA), merged it with TikTok and migrated all their users over to it. This set TikTok up to become one of the most popular social platforms in China and the US – something no other platform has managed to do so far.
Globally, TikTok is a very popular app and has reportedly crossed two billion downloads (obviously, it’s not just Pakistanis who love it). By late 2019 India had 190 million downloads, USA 41 million and Pakistan 19 million. In 2020, according to TikTok India, the app expects a 50% growth.
Young people in Pakistan have taken to the platform both as viewers and as content creators, or musers as they call themselves. The app is seen as a way to make it big, get rich and be recognised, and possibly get validation or even escape the vicious cycle of poverty. While the young love it, the app is not free from controversy. In India, the government banned it for allegedly encouraging pornography and TikTok deleted over six million ‘offensive’ videos before the ban was lifted. In Pakistan, the recent strategy by the Punjab government to use TikTok ‘stars’ to help educate the public about coronavirus was greeted with disdain in some circles, even marketing ones. The app definitely raises mixed emotions, loved by some and hated by others.
Given the tendency in Pakistan to become enamoured by Indian ads and marketing strategies, local marketers would do well to examine Dettol India’s recent campaign on TikTok. The brand created a hand washing challenge on the platform. The mechanics were simple, as reported by Contagious.com. To participate in the #HandWashChallenge, people had to go to the TikTok’s discover page and then wait for Dettol’s ‘hand washing song’ to begin before performing signature dance moves that incorporate Dettol’s hand washing instructions (they appear at the top-right corner of the screen). Audiences were then requested to share the video with their friends. The campaign was simple and kept in mind the main attraction of the platform - performing actions and then sharing them with friends. The campaign is said to have garnered over 48 billion views, although how effectively the message was communicated is not yet quantifiable - but from a brand visibility perspective the campaign can be deemed a success.
Dubai Tourism also partnered with TikTokers for their This is Dubai campaign in the summer of 2019 and as reported by Emirates 24/7: “as part of the partnership, TikTok, created bespoke AR stickers with exclusive Dubai themed music inviting participants to capture striking aspects of the city. The site reports that the campaign received a response of over 30 million video views; 9.8 thousand videos created, with posts showing users enjoying ‘only in Dubai’ experiences across the city.”
Two winners were selected; the first prize was an exclusive holiday package and shopping vouchers and the second prize was shopping vouchers from partner malls and brands.
In Pakistan, apart from slamming the platform’s content as vulgar and its users as not entirely respectable, marketers also believe TikTok is not an accepted advertising medium. Yet, considering that 41% of the platform’s users are aged between 16 and 21, that 56% are women and that users come from both urban and rural areas, are they not missing out – especially given the fact that the majority of FMCG brands have their sales coming from rural and peri-urban areas? Doesn’t it seem that the platform is perfect for experimentation, especially in reaching a large portion of Pakistan’s very young population?
One of the key problems preventing brands and their media agencies from advertising on TikTok is a mindset that prefers to play it safe. As Sohail Ansar, Executive Director, GroupM Pakistan said in his interview with Aurora in 2015: "There is so much wastage in this market, because people spend X amount on a certain medium because everybody else is also spending on that medium.”
As a former media planner, I remember the resistance to using the internet as an advertising medium in 2005 and Facebook in 2007. There was a time when colleagues would scoff at the idea of using radio as an advertising medium, believing only A Class homes could afford it. The reach obsession in our market is very strong. However, the argument for TikTok is equally strong: brands want to target the young and TikTok has captured their interest. The app’s 20 million plus users are also a solid factor to encourage brands that want to target second tier cities.
Of course there is always a risk, but there is also the chance of using an uncluttered medium to communicate a message and speak to diverse ethnic and linguistic audiences without even needing to create specific own content but by simply collaborating with TikTok influencers. For me, these are signs that the time has come for TikTok to be a marketing platform in Pakistan.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org