Move over, Millennials: Gen Z is here and ready to spend. Generation Z – or those born between the years 1997 and 2012, for the uninitiated – now represent 40% of consumers worldwide, with a global purchasing power of 200 billion dollars per year, according to a study conducted by Bloomberg. And since many Gen Z still live at home, they also influence their parents’ spending, to the tune of $3 billion a year. No wonder brands are desperate to capture this lucrative new audience.
Each generation is different from the one before it, with new characteristics and spending habits. Gen Zers are arguably the first generation of true digital natives, having been exposed to the internet from the time they were old enough to hold a smartphone. But it’s not just their ease in using digital channels that sets Gen Zers apart from generations past – they’re also unique in where they choose to spend their time online. Showing much less interest in “traditional” social media sites such as Facebook, Gen Zers are much more likely to scroll through 15-second videos on TikTok.
However, all those 15-second clips add up quickly, with 20% of Gen Zers saying they spend more than five hours a day on the app, according to research by Joy Ventures and getWizer. With young consumers investing so much time in TikTok, the app is quickly becoming one of the potentially most lucrative marketing tools brands have, representing a new way to engage with a spending-happy audience.
Gen Z is now spending more than before the pandemic, with many of those purchases fueled by online trends and viral videos. A single TikTok video can rocket a brand to overnight stardom and skyrocket sales – but what’s the secret to achieving that coveted 15 seconds of fame?
The TikTok Effect
Just four years after its international launch, TikTok’s influence is undeniable. Even those unfamiliar with the app itself may have felt its impact in the offline world. If you’ve visited a bookstore recently, you may have seen a stack of books neatly arranged in a section designated “as seen on TikTok.” Or maybe in March of this year you may have suddenly found yourself unable to get your hands on feta cheese at the local supermarket – well, blame TikTok. A viral recipe for ‘feta pasta’ is believed to be responsible for the global shortage of the popular Greek cheese, as TikTok users quickly cleared the dairy aisle in their rush to recreate the dish.
A single TikTok video can rocket a brand to overnight stardom and skyrocket sales
From feta cheese and books to eye cream and cleaning products, TikTok has the power to make everyday products “cool”. While the app is best known as the home of fun comedy skits and viral dance routines, there’s also a strong consumerist element to TikTok.
Clothing transports and in-depth product reviews regularly rack up millions of views and several thousand likes, with all that online engagement translating into actual sales very quickly. Indeed, 49% of TikTok users admitted to buying a product after seeing it reviewed, promoted or advertised on the app, according to a 2021 Adweek consumer behavior survey. This gives TikTok users – around one billion of them, at last count – incredible buying power and the ability to propel a business to record sales. Take the trendy mochi ball company, Little Moons, for example. After going viral on TikTok, the company saw sales increase by 700% in a single week at UK supermarket Tesco, leading its founder, Vivien Wong, to pay tribute to the app for helping the company achieve sales of £26 million in the year to June.
Elsewhere, skincare company Peter Thomas Roth has been forced to ramp up production of its eye cream after a product test video racked up more than 50 million views, prompting a surge in demand worldwide. In the fast-paced world of viral video, views mean sales, and sales mean success. Simply put, brands can’t afford to think of TikTok as just a fad. The video-sharing app is here to stay – even knocking tech giant Facebook off the top of the official list of most downloaded apps for 2020 (see Fig 1). If brands manage to successfully harness the power of TikTok, the rewards are both plentiful and immediate.
Tapping into the Gen Z mindset
Of course, success is by no means guaranteed for brands seeking TikTok fame. For years, companies have poured huge sums of money into social media marketing campaigns, with rather mixed results. As for the social media platforms themselves, some have fared better than others – advertising has made Facebook a trillion-dollar business, for example, while Twitter has struggled with the monetization. It took a lot of trial and error for social media companies to come up with their advertising strategy, and even today, many sites still have a lot to learn. In just four years, however, TikTok has managed to establish itself as the social media marketing tool of the future.
According to research conducted by Kantar, users are less likely to view ads on TikTok negatively compared to other social media platforms, and find ads on the app to be more forward-thinking than those featured on other sites. . Significantly, 72% of respondents said they found ads on TikTok inspiring, while another seven in 10 research participants said they found ads on the platform enjoyable to watch.
But to understand why TikTok ads seem to be so successful, we first need to consider the app’s primary user base: Gen Z.
First, as digital natives, Gen Zers have been familiar with online marketing tools and tactics from a young age. As such, they are unlikely to be attracted to ‘traditional’ social media ads and have a low tolerance for anything that seems banal, derivative or unoriginal. In many ways, Gen Z has seen it all and is drawn to new approaches to advertising, such as the high-energy, informative, and experimental ads often found in TikTok streams.
The second key to success is also tied to Gen Z’s unique position as true digital natives. Coming of age in the internet age, Gen Zers are used to the constant distraction offered by digital devices. It’s no secret that our smartphones have an impact on our attention span and ability to concentrate. In 2015, Microsoft published a study concluding that the average human attention span has shrunk to just eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000, making us more distracted than the famous forgetful goldfish.
Increasingly, social media companies have sought to exploit our desire for distraction, designing their feeds to be deliberately addictive for users – the “pull-to-refresh” feature common to many social media apps. social media has been compared to a casino slot machine, in the way users will metaphorically pull the lever in hopes of a reward. The very nature of TikTok’s platform, which jumps from one shortened video directly to the next, appeals to users who are used to the distraction. By keeping ads both eye-catching and, more importantly, short, brands can use TikTok to successfully tap into the permanent line’s fragmented attention spans.
The third, and perhaps most important, factor in TikTok’s marketing success is how successfully ads on the platform attract Gen Z’s desire for community and connection. As the most connected generation of history, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Gen Z people prioritize their relationships with others – both offline and online. More than any generation before them, Gen Zs are hyper-aware of their identity and eager to find a tribe they belong to.
For Gen Zers, products and brands are another way to express their identity and show their belonging to a particular community, which makes them particularly susceptible to TikTok trends. TikTok’s viral products and famous brands can quickly build up a cult following online – with users quickly buying any item that makes them feel part of the trend. It doesn’t matter if that trend is cooking, cleaning, or reading: what matters is that the purchase brings the user closer to a coveted sense of community.
While brands have ever doubted TikTok’s influence on consumer behavior, the evidence is simply overwhelming: videos with the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt now have over 4.6 billion views. For an app that is still so early in its lifespan, it has completely turned the world of social media marketing upside down. It’s high time brands sat up and paid attention to the TikTok phenomenon — well, for about 15 seconds, at least.