What we mean when we say 'Don't Make Ads'

September 06, 2021

One year on, we revisit what it means to make TikToks.

Cover what-we-mean-when-we-say-dont-make-ads

This time last year, we introduced TikTok For Business globally with a bold call to advertisers to stop making ads. For brands, the mantra 'Don't Make Ads. Make TikToks' was an invitation to be more creative, more authentic, and to create content that truly speaks to people.

While we aren't actually telling brands not to make ads, we are challenging them to embrace the creativity, positivity and realness of TikTok in order to meaningfully connect with the TikTok community.

Please note that while advertisers are encouraged to be as creative as possible, all ads on TikTok must comply with our terms and be labelled as such.

"When we invite brands to make TikToks, we're challenging them to transform the way that they connect with their audiences, because we know that it has the power to transform their business," said Blake Chandlee, President of Global Business Solutions at TikTok.

"Launching this campaign was a bold ask to the industry," said Katie Puris, who leads Global Business Marketing at TikTok. "But we knew it would work for marketers, because what happens on TikTok is completely unique. Every day, people participate in campaigns, build alongside them, and even create their own TikToks for brands and products they love. The work is so good, it fits right in and it's celebrated... just like a TikTok."

So as we look back at one year of 'Don't Make Ads. Make TikToks,' it's a good time to revisit what that means, and hear from some of the brands that have embraced the authenticity and creativity of the platform—and joined us in making TikToks.

Times have changed, but not the ads

Let's get this out of the way: it's hard for an ad to cut through the noise these days. Entertainment and connectivity have evolved, while ad formats have stayed the same for years. We mute them, skip them and tune them out. They were created for a different kind of internet experience, and haven't evolved in line with everything else competing for users' attention.

A new window opens

TikTok's For You feed is like nothing else on the internet. Perfectly full-screen and sound-on, it draws you in with fun and compelling content while encouraging creation and participation. Indeed, many of the platform's creative formats are made for interaction: duet, react, respond, remix. The short-form video format also brings with it an endless cycle of new trends, creating new ways for messages to find traction every day. 

"There is something for everyone," explains creator @klaudiahalejcio. "A wide range of possibilities, topics, and video tricks allow you to create interesting, funny, or educational content... The amazing part is that by creating a video with an idea, you can create a viral piece that will reach millions of people."

For brands, this means a new playing field where anything is possible—if you show up as a member of the community and embrace what makes it unique. As Procter & Gamble's Judith Azoulay-J, Vice President Brand Building & Communication - Global Beauty & Digital, explains. “Fitting to a platform is critical for creative – which also means leveraging the creative expression of the platform."

Being real rules

Hyper-polished, aspirational content has been losing its shine. In its place: authenticity. Over the last year, we have seen countless brands embrace this side of TikTok and actively integrate realness into their marketing strategy.

"For us 'Don't Make Ads. Make TikToks.' fits in perfectly with our strategy for TikTok," said Hugo Lewis, co-founder of small London-based haircare company Only Curls. "We always wanted our feed to be authentic, real, and showcase our products in a way that focuses on how they work so well."

Niambi Cacchioli, founder of Jersey City natural skincare brand Pholk Beauty, agrees: “You can come as your true self. You can be vulnerable, you can be weird, you can be in the process,” she said. “For us, TikTok is helpful in extending and deepening that conversation and deepening that sense of trust." 

Creator @ola_nowak points out that this realness from brands isn't just encouraged; it's what he community expects: "TikTok is a totally different audience that expects authenticity and doesn't like pushy advertising. Brands should not only care about showcasing their products, but should also care about building an engaged audience around their brand."

Making TikToks the TikTok way

Making TikToks means making content that fits the unique style and tone of the platform. In just a few short months on TikTok, Only Curls changed its entire creative approach, including shooting content in a TikTok style and getting customers involved in the action. 

"Everything is 'portrait' only now, and we have a bigger focus on creating content with transitions in mind [when creating video]. Also we try to encourage our actual customers to come up with content - they make the best stuff! Finally, we've found that less polished, but real life and authentic content works best for us," said Lewis.

Image-1 what-we-mean-when-we-say-dont-make-ads

Vladimir Buzovkin, Media Head of leading Russian bank and tech giant Sber, also recognized the value of creating content specifically for TikTok.

"Initially, we approached TikTok as a standard ad instrument," he said. "However, thanks to the joint collaboration with TikTok, we learned how to use different tools to make TikToks more exciting and engaging. Now our approach is fully focused on creating content exclusively for TikTok and not adapting re-sizes for the platform. This approach is really paying off now, as we speak the same language as our target audience."

You don't need a big production to tell a big story

Possibly the most important effect TikTok has had on content is that it gives anyone the tools to create: the barrier to entry is low. This means that brands don't need to spend a ton of money to create impactful content. The TikTok community embraces spontaneity and authenticity, and cares more about how compelling the content is than the production value.

Top Brazilian creator @fefe cites the Green Screen effect as her favorite. "I love the editing tools and the format that TikTok has," she adds. "It's amazing the creativity that TikTok allows me to have... TikTok allows people to be more authentic and create different things."

"I love how lo-fi it is: you don't have to get ready, you don't have to do your makeup, it doesn't need to be filtered," said Marianna Hewitt, co-founder of best-selling skincare brand Summer Fridays. "It's almost like the more unfiltered, and the more real it is, the better it performs. On other platforms you have to really invest in your content and have videographers, photographers, and models; on TikTok, you don't, and I love that about the platform."  

In the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt era, customers are more interested in the real-life benefits of products, and getting information from a trusted, relatable source, than they are about studio-quality effects and high production costs.

"We've found that less polished, but real life and authentic content works best for us," said Lewis. "Which means we can spend less time trying to make everything look beautiful, and instead focus on how the products work. Real-life, authentic photography is the way forward." 

Get discovered

'Don't Make Ads. Make TikToks' is about embracing the authenticity, creativity and joy of the TikTok community. It's about discovery and being discovered. For brands that take this approach, the attention of audiences is there for the taking. Kantar ranked TikTok #1 globally for ad equity—meaning consumer attitudes toward marketing on TikTok are more positive than any of our peers. In the US, Nielsen showed our branded content to be the most genuine and entertaining. That's why it's our mission to make sure brands always have the solutions and tools they need to make TikToks, not ads.

To learn more about TikTok's branded solutions, click here.