Social Media

Pro Tip: How brands can enter TikTok with a viral challenge

TikTok’s fame among marketers is largely rooted in its hashtag challenge. Almost every week, another brand joins the “TikTok Billionaire’s Club” — achieving over a billion views in a viral campaign. Unique to the platform, hashtag challenges are branded viral challenges supported by influencers, music and paid ads.

Never before have brands been able to create virality on such a massive scale. Top-performing challenges inspire hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of TikTokers to make videos about a brand. Imagine that many people taking 30-60 minutes to make a video celebrating your brand. This can add up to a staggering number of video views. NYX’s #ButterGlossPop garnered a whopping 10 billion, and P&G’s #DistanceDance passed 14 billion.

How can other brands emulate this success? It starts with understanding these challenges and the culture that surrounds them. From a marketing perspective, hashtag challenges are generally top of funnel campaigns. They are designed to create buzz, awareness and of course, affinity.

Part art and part science, creating viral content on TikTok requires a few critical components:

Balancing directions and creativity: Hashtag challenges must start with a clear prompt – what are you asking users to do? That prompt must then balance a clear ask with the invitation for creative interpretation. The opportunity for creativity and self-expression is why people want to participate. Striking this balance between directiveness and openness is key to virality.

Thoughtful brand integration: There is a delicate balance between brand integration and virality. Aggressive brand inclusion can hamper virality, so you want to include just enough to drive your KPIs, while keeping it fun and lighthearted. NYX Cosmetics’ #ButterGlossPop, for example, promoted their best-selling “butter gloss lip gloss” with a song that users could dance to, while swiping on the lip gloss.

Careful music selection: Music is the cornerstone of a successful challenge. On other platforms, music can be an afterthought, but on TikTok, it’s the engine of virality. The music serves many roles, a key one being the “instructions” for the challenge. You want to architect each second of the 15-second track to make it clear what people are supposed to do and inspire creativity. 

A strategic influencer plan: Influencers play a crucial part in a successful hashtag challenge launch. In a viral challenge, influencers’ primary role is to model the challenge and inspire people to join. Their reach is of secondary importance, since you’ll get a lot of exposure with your media buy. Choose a group of influencers that speak to your brand’s different demographic segments, and will capture the energy of the challenge.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Evan Horowitz is CEO and co-founder of Movers+Shakers. He founded the creative studio in order to spread joy. The firm is breaking engagement records with unexpected digital activations and creating deep emotional connections between brands and consumers. After setting the record for most viral TikTok campaign in history, Movers+Shakers became “the go-to agency for brands making moves on TikTok” (Refinery29). They’re creating fast-growing brand channels, influencer and ad campaigns, and of course more viral challenges. Evan is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs, and a holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS Engineering from Stanford.

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