As Elon Musk creates chaos on Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg focuses on the metaverse, TikTok has become the go-to social platform for fmcg brands

The tweet of Pepsi social media managers’ nightmares. Last month, the brand announced to the world that “Coke is better”. It wasn’t the only household name acting strangely. Nestlé tweeted: “We steal your water and sell it back to you lol”.

Despite appearances – correct name and logo, and the all-important blue tick verification mark – the tweets weren’t legitimate. Rather imposter accounts, pouncing on Elon Musk’s first major move since taking ownership of the social media platform to offer blue ticks to anyone stumping up $8, had seized the opportunity to create chaos. They were later removed.

Major ad firms recommended client Twitter spend be paused. But brands were already considering the alternatives. As Musk reaches for any way to make a return on his $44bn investment, Facebook and Instagram chief Mark Zuckerberg is obsessed about making the metaverse a reality. Growth in ad spend on those platforms is slowing, according to eMarketer analysis.

The answer: TikTok. The fastest-growing social app across all age groups, according to GWI. With an engagement rate – the number of times a viewer liked, commented, or shared a video divided by the overall number of views – that blows rivals out of the water.

Median brands are earning an average engagement rate per follower of 4.1% – six times that of Instagram and “way more” than Facebook and Twitter [Rival IQ].

“TikTok is just one area of marketing focus for us, but it has undoubtedly been a key channel this year,” says Ruth Fittock, MD of Simply Roasted Crisps. “It’s exciting because it’s completely different from the more established social channels. It’s unpredictable but you can get amazing reach and engagement organically.”

Copy of Little moons1_ChocHazelnut

In November, the brand launched a pop-up pick ‘n’ mix crisp bar, in central London.

“It was a brand activation designed to work on multiple levels – primarily a press piece, but also we knew it would work brilliantly as a sampling activation and its double-fronted central London location meant it was a brilliant advert regardless,” Fittock said.

But unexpectedly, the store went viral. More stock and staff had to be rustled up to cope with the rush.

Unlike other platforms, the more appealing the concept and creative of a campaign, the better the results. That means challenger brands can become an overnight success, on next to no budget.

Read more:

“Most of those larger platforms prioritise existing, established big accounts, not leaving much room for new, small players like us to gain traction,” explains Mark Wong, founder of alcohol-free beer brand Impossibrew. “Whereas TikTok promotes content based on the quality of the piece alone, almost detached from the account – so even established players can have content with poor reach if people don’t like it. It’s the perfect platform for challenger brands, being itself a challenger platform to bigger players.”

This month, Impossibrew became, it says – based on follower count – “the biggest beer brand on TikTok”.

“I always thought, naively, it only involves 13-year-olds and people dancing… so how does that work for beer?” says Wong. “We posted one video, and got a five-digit following almost overnight. I’d love to say that it was all planned… but it wasn’t!”

But major brands too have been drawn by the opportunity. Little wonder. According to TikTok, 73% of users feel a deeper connection to brands they interact with on its platform than with others.

Tesco in September launched on TikTok a ‘voice of the checkout competition’ – requesting audition clips in return for the chance to voice its store machines. According to Cassandra Russell, head of retail brand partnerships EMEA at TikTok, it was “a huge hit”. The #tescovoiceofcheckout hashtag generated close to 50 million views, and 3,000 entries were received.

“There has been a growing number of grocery retailers turning to TikTok this year, using the platform to be a bit more playful with their brand and engage a new audience,” Russell explains. “Brands will turn to different platforms to achieve different goals, and what TikTok offers is an opportunity to build a deep connection between brands and consumers.”

Other campaigns have resulted in a powerful sales funnel too. Indeed, TikTok users are 1.5 times more willing to purchase something they discover on the platform, its research states. An M&S Valentine’s Dine In meal promotion with a ‘learn more’ link to its website saw a 15% click-through rate that drove thousands of users to the supermarket’s website.

Copy of Pasta Evangelists Box 1

In-app purchasing

Brands are also readying for the rise of social commerce: the ability for consumers to buy in-app, there and then. “How platforms can translate inspiration to in-app purchasing remains unclear for now,” says Chase Buckle, VP of trends at GWI, “but nevertheless this is the direction we’re headed.”

Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest already offer this. But TikTok is where a big boom akin to the “commercial success of superapps in Asia” is expected, Buckle adds.

“Commerce on TikTok is growing and is an important part of our business,” says Russell, “and we’re focused on developing a shopping experience and proposition that will help businesses and brands reach new audiences, drive awareness and increase revenue.”

In August, fresh food became available on TikTok Shop – its commerce option for brands – for the first time with Pasta Evangelists, online fishmonger The Fish Society and The Veg Box Company selling direct to consumer within the app.

“We’ve continued to expand TikTok Shop into new categories such as petcare and fresh food, and we’ll have more to share in 2023,” Russell says.

Buckle adds: “Speed is becoming more important in the buying journey, both in terms of decision and fulfilment. [Gen Z and millennials] act on instinct when a product they like appears, they want easy checkout experience, and a fast delivery. Buy buttons in that context could become more important.”

So, while Musk meddles, the challenger social platform is making a real impact. As Fittoch puts it. “People didn’t just engage with the video, they travelled to see the store. It’s still surprising to me that something online can create real-life behavioural change.”

How ‘unpredictable’ TikTok became essential for fmcg brands