TikTok advertising explained: How to master TikTok for mobile UA


Linda Harnisch
– Communications Lead

Sarah Lünsmann
Former MarTech & Product Lead at Customlytics

The social short-video app TikTok opened for advertising in a beta phase which is currently still limited to listed partner agencies. As one of the few selected listed partners for the launch of TikTok ads in Germany, Customlytics appreciated the opportunity to look into advertising on TikTok. We paid close attention to the value the social media video platform provides to app marketers in order to scale their app’s reach and optimize their growth marketing. 

What makes advertising on TikTok stand out? In this article, we will offer you our perspective on how to gain benefits from this platform to fuel your app marketing strategy and acquire new mobile users.

The history and global rise of TikTok

ByteDance, the eight-year-old Chinese social media giant behind TikTok, launched the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin in 2016. Two years later, ByteDance bought and set to merge the karaoke app Musical.ly with Tik Tok into one global video platform under the Tik Tok brand. Douyin remained a stand-alone app. The merge was another move in ByteDance’s global strategy since Musical.ly had already made its way to US teenagers.TikTok has gained traction in the last years and continues to grow given its popularity with a young target audience. Even though Facebook and Instagram have made conscious efforts to mimic TikTok’s success, TikTok continues to be the most downloaded non-gaming app worldwide. Influencers have gained massive global reach with viral videos. Many people reached influencer status very quickly and gained viral success almost overnight. A prime example is the success story of the teenage twins Lisa and Lena in Germany.

Source: bytedance.com

With the user base doubling within the past year to 10.7 million TikTok users in 2020 in Germany alone, now seems the perfect moment for ByteDance to introduce users to advertisement on the platform and, therefore, getting the payoff.

How does TikTok work?

Creating videos – what performs well on TikTok?

Meanwhile, the former lip-syncing app has evolved to an entertainment video platform. Users still share lip-sync and dancing videos, but have shifted their creative focus to produce entertaining videos and comedy. The length of a TikTok video is 0-60 seconds. If a video is made with the music from TikTok, the video length is restricted to 30 seconds due to the licenses of TikTok with the music providers. The built-in video editor allows to choose from a wide range of fairly easy to use video cut edits, filters, effects and more as well as a sound library of songs and spoken sounds from well known movies and memes. Videos can have a spoken voice over as well.

Source: Customlytics

TikTok Culture

In a short amount of time, a strong subculture evolved around TikTok, including quickly-changing trends, memes and songs. Combining all of these, the hashtag challenges, in which a group of users performs a certain task (any action, dance step or movement) and posts it on TikTok along with the “mentioned” hashtag, became a main trend on the app and now makes up for a large share of the content on the platform.


Why TikTok is different to any other social network

Social media use and our interactions on these networks have become a staple of our daily routine.  We have gotten used to the way these networks function. As marketers we try to unravel the mystery of what makes TikTok unique. In fact, TikTok has entirely rewritten the laws of social networks. Let’s take a closer look:

Any other Social Network

  • Users grow their network of displayed feed content by growing a friend network.
  • Users receive no user generated content by users they are not befriended with (ads are not user generated).
  • Content is restricted to the user location country.
  • Influencers post ads in the name of their own profile.


  • Content is scored based on likes, view time and times a user repeats the video among others.
  • Users don’t have to grow their network to see user generated feed content. A global feed with user generated content, which is scored high by TikTok, is displayed from the very beginning of the user journey.
  • Friends and followers lose relevance.
  • Content is displayed globally, no location restrictions are in place (main language can be chosen and is prioritized though)
  • TikTok Creator Marketplace offers a platform for content creation: brands can reach out directly to creators and negotiate prices individually. The content is added directly into a campaign and posted as an ad from the brand’s profile – instead of posting from an influencer’s profile.
  • It’s up for negotiation whether the creator posts the content from his/her profile or not.

How to master TikTok for mobile user acquisition

There are two ways to buy placements on TikTok:

  • Sales Team: TikTok’s sales team provides fixed rate card prices with a guaranteed number of impressions for their big placements (e.g. the Branded Hashtag Challenge or Top View).
  • Ads Manager: TikTok offers a self-service ads manager which is comparable to the Ads Managers that Facebook or Snapchat have on offer.

For mobile user acquisition, which is often evaluated on a cost per install (CPI), we consider the self-service Ads Manager more relevant than the brand placements.

  1. App Install Ads

TikTok offers app install campaigns linking directly into the App Stores. Further, TikTok is already integrated with the most commonly used Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) – Adjust, AppsFlyer, Kochava and Branch as well as Singular & Tenjin. Optimization is possible not only on installs but also for in-app events.

  1. Targeting

All basic targeting options well known from other social platforms are available for TikTok ads as well: demographics, location (down to country and state/province level in Germany at the moment), behavior (engagement with videos from a specific category), device information and lookalikes are available for targeting already. An interesting new targeting option that TikTok offers over other advertising platforms is targeting based on the price range of the user device.

  1. Creatives

There is no way of trapping users in an ad if they don’t want it. Be aware that TikTok users are not accustomed with ads that they see on their favorite entertainment platform yet. Due to the platform’s demographics users feel more at home with subtle advertising. As long as it’s done well and the ads fit the platform, users usually accept being advertised to. The creative material for ads should therefore mimic organic content in the best possible way. Since your first ad will be highly relevant for TikTok’s algorithm and account learnings, you definitely should put a lot of brainwork into the creative strategy. 

Key points to consider:

  • Film your ad with a mobile phone to embrace the authentic character of the platform and make the ad blend in well with the actual user generated content.
  • Include humans in your ad – even if it’s just a hand holding a phone showing your app.
  • Make it fun to watch your ad, e.g. by including an entertaining factor.
  • If you can’t produce in-house, consider hiring a TikTok creator via the Creator Marketplace and add their content as an ad to your campaign.

TikTok: A path to move forward for your app?

Now that we discussed the rise and unique nature of TikTok, a question worth asking at this point is whether you should include TikTok in your mobile marketing strategy. We consider TikTok can prove immensely beneficial to your app in acquiring new users. Especially when you consider that app install goal campaigns and attribution tracking integrations for in-app optimization are available. 

TikTok advertising is still in beta and is supposed to be rolled out to all advertisers in Q4 in 2020. Marketers want to rise to the occasion now and make use of inexpensive placements and low CPMs. Yet, the question of whether TikTok is worth advertising on, depends on your brand and your ideal audience. If you consider your app relevant for a broad target group including the ages below 25, or you even want to reach users below the age of 25, TikTok is definitely relevant for your brand.

Before launching any advertising campaign in the broader performance marketing plan for your app, you need to study the platform first. In other words, you need to learn how to craft ads that will perform well on TikTok. When you look at the platform’s demographics, you will need to approach connecting with this target group creatively. 

Looking for TikTik advertising advice? Our app marketing experts and designers are ready to tell you more and help you optimize your social advertising strategy for your app. Get in touch with us at [email protected] and let’s get to work!

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