Has TikTok solved influencer marketing's biggest problem?

Has TikTok solved influencer marketing's biggest problem? 

Authenticity has always been influencer marketing's biggest challenge. Spark Ads, TikTok's newly announced feature, brings an ingenious solution to the problem.

In the digital age of advertising, brands are familiar with the tools they usually have to reach users on online social media platforms.

In most cases, new content is designed in-house, based on primary or secondary audience data. In some cases, brands turn to influencers for collab deals and sponsorships to help reach audiences in a more organic manner, but these posts still come off as an advertisement at the end of the day, no different from a Cristiano Ronaldo brand deal in concept.  

How can brands maximize the organic appeal of sponsored posts, then, attaining that highly sought after authenticity factor which eludes most advertisers?

Today, influencers on most social media platforms are required to disclose when a certain piece of content is sponsored, for full disclosure and transparency purposes. This happened as a result of many brands making under-the-table deals with content creators to try and pass sponsored content as organic, making it seem like an influencer is genuinely a fan of a certain product or service. This mostly occurred during the early days of influencer marketing. Users did not appreciate being manipulated this way, and social media platforms quickly cracked down on this behaviour. 

Last month, TikTok announced a new feature that might have finally cracked the sponsored post conundrum: Spark Ads. 

Basically, advertisers could now browse TikTok, identifying trending videos on the platform that align with their brand objectives and cater to their target audience, and effectively sponsor those posts without a prior deal between the influencer and brand having taken place. This means that with Spark Ads, brands can coast on the clout of existing influencers, while not needing to spend any capital or time creating their own content and then wondering if it’ll stick or not. This also means that a post's authenticity is not jeopardized with a deal having been struck between the influencer and brand, like it would with a regular sponsored post.

TikTok’s new feature essentially takes the two contrasting concepts of organic and sponsored posts and hybridizes them in a new way that could lead to shockwaves in the industry. 

Hoping to learn more about Spark Ads and TikTok’s overall presence in the region, the Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with Shant Oknayan, General Manager, Global Business Solutions, Middle East Africa Turkey, and Pakistan, TikTok.

You recently introduced Spark Ads, a unique new way for advertisers to push community content that aligns with their brand objectives. The concept of pushing existing community content as opposed to only creating and pushing in-house brand content is quite unique. Can you explain some of the logistics of this new feature for both advertisers and creators?

With Spark Ads, we wanted to expand the ways in which brands can build long-lasting connections with their audience in an authentic way that is rooted in the community. We believe that the new format provides multi-faceted content opportunities for ad managers, whilst also delivering sustainable and impactful business value.  

Standing in between organic content and advertising, Spark Ads make up a hybrid format that delivers unique value to both businesses and users. For brands looking to build a robust content strategy, they can amplify original creative videos seamlessly through Spark Ads.

What has the response to Spark Ads been like from advertisers?

The response from advertisers has been incredible. Not only does Spark Ads provide them with opportunities to drive deeper engagement and connection for brands, it also allows them to foster stronger relationships with creators by supporting their content. 

As Spark Ads provide more avenues for audiences to click-through to the creators' pages, brands are able to put their weight behind the discovery of content and talent, meaning that the entire community benefits from the native format. 

tiktok mena spark ads interview shant oknayan

As one of the newest media giants to enter the MENA region, what are your most notable takeaways about the digital advertising landscape here, especially in regard to the role of content platforms like yours?

It is fair to say that we are a region that loves being online - whether that is consuming content or creating it, online consumption and digital media adoption in MENA is at an all-time high. More specifically, short-form video platforms such as TikTok have very quickly won the hearts of audiences, making up 15% of total time spent by users on media platforms across the region, according to a recent report from RedSeer, with users spending an average 90 minutes daily.

This in turn has meant that short-form video platforms have become one of the preferred channels for advertisers to invest in. According to RedSeer, digital media platforms account for a whopping 70% of advertising spend in MENA today, with social media tipped to bag 32% of the $7.5bn projected ad spend in 2021.

Part of the success and draw for digital advertisers is the content. Nowhere else will you see such a convergence of diverse, feel-good, and creative native content, meaning advertisers can connect with their audiences in new and meaningful ways. 

That being said, it is extremely important for brands and businesses to think creatively and carve content that speaks to their audience in their language to truly drive engagement. 

At TikTok, our focus has always been to stay true to our mission of inspiring creativity and joy by guiding and nurturing brands to maximize the business tools available to them such as Spark Ads and our new e-commerce function, Shopify. 

Many SMEs still struggle to utilize TikTok to maximum effect, especially given the novelty of the short video format your company has innovated. Are there any do's and don'ts you would advise these companies about?

Every business is unique and in need of a channel where they can let their individuality shine in a way that drives awareness, engagement and ultimately, revenue. This is exactly what TikTok provides them with; a one-stop-shop for discovery, engagement, and interactivity. TikTok gives SMEs a space to let their voices be heard.

It’s no secret that our community is ‘always on’, interactive, and cohort, therefore SMEs can use this to their advantage. We are built on creativity and participation, therefore the TikTok community is hungry for inspiration and to discover new things. Brands that can understand this and provide entertainment that contributes to the TikTok experience, are enjoying huge reach and engagement on the platform, leading to more sales and greater return on investment. 

Our advice to brands would be to not overcomplicate their content; to do their research on the latest trends, what engages their target audience on the platform, and to use our community as a source for inspiration. With cutting-edge ad tools available to you on the TikTok For Business platform, you can rest assured your campaign will reach new heights on the platform. 

Another new partnership you’ve recently introduced is the one with Shopify. What are some ways advertisers can capitalize on this?

This partnership is a milestone for our e-commerce offering and will help connect users with brands in the Middle East, making it easier for Shopify merchants to run campaigns directly geared towards the TikTok community. 

In fact, Shopify merchants are able to benefit from the core functions of the TikTok For Business Ads Manager without leaving the Shopify dashboard. TikTok's suite of ad products empowers businesses to unleash their creativity and tell their stories with spontaneity and authenticity, growing their audiences and ultimately generating higher results with less costs.

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