TikTok Marketing Case Studies: How Brands are Seeing Massive Success
Updated: Apr 15
1 billion is a big number.
1 billion people is a lot of people.
TikTok’s global audience is, at the time of writing, just north of 1.5 billion humans.
That’s roughly a 5th of all people on earth.
And that’s not to mention the activity of its user base - some 800m+ active monthly users.
Stats like this are the reason marketers are taking notice of this previously exclusively Chinese lip-synching app. For all the privacy and trade war concerns of dealing with an app beholden to the CCP, the sheer magnitude of the audience is enough to make any marketing team consider the bountiful opportunities at hand.
And some of the early-adopter brands are seeing some fairly remarkable results.
We did a deep-dive into some of the most successful brand TikTok campaigns to date and what enabled them to achieve such exceptional results.
Chipotle - GuacDance Challenge
Arguably the world’s most successful TikTok brand so far has been Chipotle, the Mexican restaurant chain from the USA.
With almost half their customer base sitting in the GenZ and Millennial bracket, Chipotle decided to take a chance on the relatively new app before most other brands tested the waters.
60% of TikTok’s users are under 30, so it was a calculated risk that has paid dividends since Chipotle began creating TikTok videos. Chipotle’s CMO Chris Brandt said of the decision, “There are so many people, especially younger people here, that we knew we had to try it”.
Their most successful campaign was the ‘#GuacDance challenge’. Leveraging the combined powers of iconic memes, questionable dancing, and free guacamole, the challenge was almost guaranteed to be a success.
By tapping into meme culture and inviting TikTok users to get involved by creating their own #GuacDance videos, Chipotle were able to let their audience know they were offering guacamole sides free on National Avocado Day, while letting their audience further disseminate the message by boosting the hashtag with their own videos.
And that’s one of the big reasons behind the success of TikTok as a platform - younger audiences aren’t content with just being served content - they want to participate in it themselves. Interaction and being able to display their own creativity is what appeals to the under 30s that make the core user base of TikTok.
Marketers should seek to create the foundations upon which their younger audiences can make their own content on the brand’s behalf. It’s effectively about giving young people a framework within which to disseminate the brand’s message via their own creativity and original ideas.
As Chris Brandt recommends, “Make sure you have a good idea, start on a small scale and see what happens... If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it was a failure, because you learned something.”
And if it does work, you may get something like this:
ELF Cosmetics - Eyes Lips Face Challenge
Possibly the single most successful branded campaign on TikTok to date is the makeup brand ELF Cosmetics’ #EyesLipsFace challenge. It’s believed to be the first example of an original song being commissioned specifically for a branded TikTok campaign.
The concept itself is simple enough - the brand had a catchy track recorded with the lyrics, “Do that thing with your eyes, Let me see them lips, Attitude and gimme face!” - referring to their ‘ELF’ acronym.
They initially worked with a few influencers to get the challenge off the ground, encouraging followers to do their own poses to the track.
Because the challenge was not only original and easy to participate in, but also gave make-up fans an excuse to show off their skills, it took off in a big way. On top of this was a giveaway of $250 worth of products to the winning dance, which added an extra incentive to get involved in the challenge.
The campaign was so effective that, at the time of writing, it has amassed a respectable 4.5 billion views.
Gymshark - 6 Days | Change Your Life Challenge
The UK fitness brand Gymshark is a shining example of how to produce regular, consistently high-quality content on TikTok. The brand has used social media and influencer marketing as its core pillar of growing its annual sales from £5.8m to £200m in just 5 years.
Gymshark were early in the influencer marketing game, and so it’s no surprise that they were early adopters of TikTok. Their understanding of the platform and its users (and what they want) has allowed the brand to connect with a huge number of potential and existing customers to drive awareness and boost sales internationally.
Their ‘6 Days | Change Your Life’ challenge leveraged the audiences of 6 specially-chosen influencers in the health, fitness, lifestyle, and dance categories to encourage followers to choose a personal fitness goal to achieve.
They were challenged to upload a photo of themselves on the first day of the challenge, and then another on day 66 to show their progress for a chance to win a year’s supply of Gymshark goods.
The campaign was a success, with an overall engagement rate of 11.11% (Hearts: 1,916,400, and comments: 12,576), and a hashtag usage of 45.5 million views.
This individual campaign aside, what is particularly impressive is Gymshark’s continued focus on consistently creating original, platform-specific content to serve and grow their audience of under 30s. This paired with a smart influencer partnership strategy has helped secure Gymshark as one of the world’s fastest growing sportswear brands.
Washington Post - General
The Washington Post is not, perhaps, the first brand you would imagine making its way into an article on exemplary TikTok marketing. However, they have been extremely savvy with the platform.
Understanding that they’re not traditionally a brand for young people, and through a healthy combination of self-awareness and self-deprecation, they have managed to authentically connect with an audience that would otherwise be extremely difficult to reach.
As with the other examples, understanding TikTok as a platform and what its users want from it has been key to their success. This isn’t the traditional audience who would expect long-read investigative stories from the newspaper, so the content must be in-line with the expectations of TikTokers.
In the Washington Post’s case, that involves a delicate balance of light-hearted, edgy, yet still on-brand videos which position it as a fun, self-effacing brand.
The genius of The Washington Post creating regular high-quality TikTok content is that they are positioning themselves as a trusted place for journalism in a time when more young people are steering away from traditional news outlets and towards social media.
This approach taken by The Washington Post helps young people to see them as relatable, and a news outlet for them, not just ‘olds’.
NBA - General
The NBA is another good example of how to use TikTok based on what the users want and expect from the platform.
Their approach to TikTok videos differs from that of their Instagram, where they stick mainly to posting in-game clips. However, TikTok is used to share more light-hearted, behind-the-scenes content, as well as inspirational posts.
It’s by using the features unique to TikTok, like the music tracks and dancing elements, that NBA manage to maintain relevance on the platform, rather than just focusing on games and statistics. It also allows them to show the human sides to players often portrayed as unrelatable demi-gods on other platforms and channels.
This personalised element of an otherwise quite out-of-reach industry allows everyday NBA fans to feel an increased connection to the players, the teams, and the organisation itself. This is a lesson which can be implemented by any brand wishing to create a deeper, more real connection to its audience regardless of industry.
TikTok is a platform particularly well-placed to offer audiences a raw, real, human, ‘behind-the-scenes’ brand experience. Users don’t necessarily care about the production quality, meaning it can be an exceptionally cheap way to reach huge numbers of potential customers. In fact, shooting footage on a phone can offer a feeling of authenticity which high-quality production can’t.
If your brand is sitting on the sidelines still waiting to jump into the fray, take the advice of Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s CMO and come up with a few ideas, pick the best one, and give it a go.
If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it was a failure, because you learned something. You can use what you learn to improve and iterate until you start gaining serious TikTok traction.
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