LONDON — TikTok started off as Gen Z’s virtual playground. No one above the age of 18 could figure out how to create those snappy 15-second videos that featured users magically changing outfits in seconds, performing complicated dance routines or doing hilarious voiceovers.
But now in the midst of isolation and a constant search for new content — and a good laugh — the parents of the original users — and the broader Millennial demographic — are wanting in on the action.
In the last few month, some of the biggest names in the fashion and beauty arenas — from designer Olivier Rousteing to influencers Negin Mirsalehi, Brittany Xavier, Camila Coelho, Tina Leung and Chiara Ferragni — have all joined the platform, which has become the most downloaded video app in the world, according to data platform Sensor Tower.
Rousteing, who initially raised eyebrows when he started showing a more personal version of himself on Instagram over six years ago, is now one of the first luxury designers to turn TikTok-er, showing as many videos of himself dancing and working out as he does of behind-the-scenes fittings.
“On Instagram, you can show how you’re a good designer, you can show editorial work, because its aesthetic [is centered around] beauty. But TikTok is offering a new aesthetic which is more about acting and human interaction. Fashion encourages us to have this kind of seriousness but TikTok is teaching us to show our funnier sides,” said the designer over the phone from Paris. “It feels more fresh because not everyone is on there. Instagram was much more spontaneous years ago, but now everyone is on it and trying to get more followers, more celebrities [to grow their accounts].”
The influencers joining echoed his thoughts about wanting to explore a more spontaneous, less filtered version of themselves on the up-and-coming platform.
“When I first started exploring the app, I found myself scrolling through it a lot, sometimes even more than through Instagram,” said Mirsalehi, who now counts 459,000 TikTok followers. “What struck me is the variety of content, it also has a sense of realness, it’s much more unfiltered compared to other platforms. To put it simply, I just find it really fun; it makes me happy.
This lighthearted approach to content, could fill in the relatability gap the influx of staged imagery and sponsored or gifted products created on Instagram.
But does the platform also have potential to influence the way we consume fashion, in the same way Instagram does? Or is this Vine 2.0, bound to go boom then bust when isolation measures lift and users have less time on their hands?
According to Rousteing, current cravings for authenticity mean that TikTok is bound to change the way we consume. And since brands are now more well versed with the impact of social media marketing, they will likely be less resistant to jumping on the bandwagon.
“The moment that TikTok becomes bigger you know that your front row won’t be filled with Insta-girls but with TikTok-ers. In a way it’s a repetition of something that existed years ago. But I do believe that it will happen,” said the designer, adding that there’s also an opportunity to bring a more diverse set of talents to the forefront.
“I’m sure fashion might first dismiss it as silly, but I don’t think it is. It’s a lot of work to make [a video] work on TikTok. On Instagram, you can just take a picture looking pretty and add a filter. TikTok is 20 or 60 seconds of action, you need to create something out of nothing and it requires an element of talent that you didn’t explore before. Can you sing or dance, or do you have any other talents other than just looking pretty? I think it will create a whole new generation [of social media talent],” he added.
There might be a particularly high demand now that the world is in isolation, but TikTok isn’t going anywhere post-quarantine and it’s only a matter of time until monetization tools become more widely accessible, agreed creators and influencer marketing experts.
“I believe TikTok will always be a high-consumption app with many users simply scrolling without creating content. Post-quarantine life will not affect that,” said Brittany Xavier, one of the platform’s earliest adopters. She joined after seeing how much her 13-year-old daughter was using it and is now among the most followed fashion personalities on the platform, with 1.6 million followers.
The platform’s age demographic has also been widening significantly and the content diversifying to include more beauty tips, fashion outfit ideas and personal stories.
“The TikTok audience is definitely younger but with every app I notice that the age range gets older over time,” explained Mirsalehi.
Does this mean that it’s only a matter of time before shoppable content and digital campaigns by brands start showing up on the platform?
According to a TikTok representative, there are already a number of ad formats in place, including ‘Top View,’ which allows a brand’s video to be at the top of a user’s feed, and ‘Hashtag Challenge,’ which offers brand-sponsored viral movements, encouraging users to generate content with a branded theme. The likes of Converse, Calvin Klein, Balenciaga and Nike have already made use of the current formats, according to TikTok.
“TikTok already has an influence on the way we shop and consume content. This week alone, I purchased three items I saw on the platform. With video content, consumers can experience how an item is worn and styled much more easily than a static photo,” added Xavier, who has already forged brand partnerships with the likes of Asos, Michael Kors and Amazon on the platform. “Brands and creators alike should approach each social media platform with a strategic point of view that understands the audience.”
Mirsalehi added that while the frequency and type of content posted is bound to change over time, she sees the same potential for new types of brand partnerships: “It’s all constantly evolving, different streams of content and audiences are emerging day by day. It will take some time for brands to get used to it, but Instagram wasn’t built for partnerships either,” she said.
Many companies currently joining are primarily seeing the platform as a brand-awareness tool and an opportunity to talk to their Gen-Z audience directly, but partnerships are slowly arising, too.
Glow Recipe, a fast-growing brand based on Korean beauty skin-care trends, is a new joiner and has amassed 12,300 followers and 416,000 views in a matter of a few weeks, with its videos on self-care routines or skin-care hacks.
Founders Sarah Lee and Christine Chang said the quick-fire growth also presented an opportunity to connect with emerging musical artists and commission original music tracks for their videos.
For those who are diversifying their content to TikTok videos, there’s also an opportunity for new cross-platform promotions and to engage their existing Instagram audiences in different ways.
“My growth and engagement on Instagram has increased since starting my TikTok, which means my TikTok videos are reaching a new audience discovering me on Instagram. Video content performs so well on Instagram — more than regular photos,” said Xavier, pointing to a TikTok video gone viral she posted on April 4. It reached 22 million views on TikTok and helped her gain 12,000 Instagram followers the following day.
Influencer marketing experts are also seeing the opportunity and broadening their portfolios to native TikTok talent, as well as expanding existing talent contracts to include TikTok.
“Influencers are monetizing through brand partnerships that now include TikTok videos,” said Reesa Lake, partner and executive vice president of brand partnerships at the influencer management company Digital Brand Architects.
“Sometimes the campaigns are stand-alone programs that live on TikTok. Others include YouTube and Instagram, with TikTok now being added onto existing contracts. In terms of on-site monetization, not all creators have access to the tools but it is only a matter of time.”
DBA has already started working with native TikTok influencers like Riley Hubatka, Seth Obrien, Sterling Monett and Amelie Zilber and is also seeing its existing fashion and beauty talent achieve quick growth given the spike in screen time during this period of global isolation.
“While COVID-19 may be fueling the growth, it will be up to the talent to maintain and continue to engage with their audience after. People will spend less time on their phones but will remember who they connected with and continue to follow as long as the content applies to them,” added Lake.