Advertisers have been searching for the digital equivalent of home shopping channels since young Americans began abandoning commercial television for streaming services and social media.
They think they are close to finding the holy grail of marketing, and it doesn't look like a store like QVC.
Retailers are present like never before on TikTok, with their authentic-seeming advertisements dropped in between dances, confessionals, comedy routines and makeovers.
The young men and women are wearing American Eagle tops and playing music in videos that look like they were filmed in the 1990s. A woman in a onesie retrieves a specific brand of cookies at Target. A home chef mixes and bakes cinnamon apple cakes from Walmart in 30 seconds, displaying a blue bag from the retailer.
This kind of advertising presence would have been out of place for retailers last year when President Donald J. Trump threatened to ban TikTok because of its Chinese parent company. In June, the executive order was revoked by President Biden, and in September, TikTok crossed one billion users. A regular stream of products, from leggings to carpet cleaners, have gone viral on the platform this year, often accompanied by the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which has been viewed more than seven billion times.
TikTok is trying to make the platform more lucrative for marketers and creators. The appeal of TikTok to retailers is due to the fact that it is an entertainment destination and not a social network.
The founder of the firm that works with TikTok said that the growth of the company is insane. The brands have moved from just testing out TikTok to making it a budget line item or creating dedicated campaigns for TikTok specifically.
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A post about buying black on TikTok was written by Safai Kelly.
At least 18 public retail brands, in apparel, footwear, makeup and accessories, have referred to their efforts on TikTok on calls with analysts and investors. Competitors have taken notice. A TikTok-like feature called Reels has been developed by the social network.
According to reports shared with advertisers and obtained by The New York Times, Gen Z users watched an average of more than 233 TikToks a day and spent 14 percent more time on the app than Gen Xers. According to one agency, 48 percent of mothers of the generation of baby boomers are on the platform, and that women ages 25 to 34 spend an average of 60 minutes on the app a day.
The numbers it provided to advertisers could not be independently verified.
Christine White, senior director of media and content strategy at Ulta Beauty, said that TikTok is about a mind-set more than anything. People are going there for a lot of different reasons, from looking to connect, to laughing, to finding feel-good stories, to shopping.
The retailer posed a challenge to regular TikTok users to show off their favorite skin care products, and used the creators of TikTok to introduce the addition of beauty sections to Target stores. The sales of certain products have gone up after videos of them were uploaded.
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The sales of certain products have gone up after videos of them were uploaded.
Ms. White said they see a lot of impulse shopping.
Retailers are increasingly using popular TikTok creators to model or demonstrate their wares. They are trying out live shopping events, where people can interact with hosts and shop through videos in real time, and other new tools in the app. The #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt concept has been used by brands with sponsored giveaways.
The Chinese company ByteDance owns TikTok, and marketers are talking about their spending on the platform in a similar way to how they talk about more established advertising platforms.
Mae Karwowski, chief executive of Obviously, an influencer firm that has worked on TikTok campaigns with retailers, said that last holiday was when Trump tried to mess with the toy. A lot of brands said they were going to do a lot on TikTok, and then they got really worried. Over 60 percent of our campaigns have a TikTok component.
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Maddison Peel, who has more than 300,000 followers, makes between $5,000 and $10,000 a month working with brands.
Maddison Peel is a 22-year-old in Kentucky who has more than 300,000 followers on her account and posts cooking videos to her account. She gained a large following this year after making a video featuring a roasted chicken and a song.
She has worked for brands and retailers such as Walmart and Kroger, earning up to $10,000 a month. She quit her job at McDonald's because of the payments.
Retailers will often send her gift cards to purchase products used in her cooking videos. Most of the time, the videos are filmed at home. She tries to go later in the day and take a friend because she feels a little awkward bringing a tripod in.
She makes videos for brands that are between 45 and 60 seconds long.
She said that Gen Z and the younger generation don't see the ads on TV but when they scroll on TikTok, they see them.
The effectiveness of TikTok's algorithm distinguishes it from other popular platforms, and Ms. White pointed to the fact that it was still at a stage where anyone can go viral, like Ms. Peel and her roasted chicken. TikTok asks users to pick a few interests when they first join the platform and then uses video watch times, likes and comments, and tags on videos to tailor its recommendations.
A steady stream of short videos showcasing life hacks, dances, cute animals or comedy routines is served up by the app. Users can follow their favorite creators on the Discover page. It is possible for marketers to pay to increase their sponsored content.
On TikTok, you can spend hours scrolling through people you don't know, but you don't get lost.
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The New York Times reported that at the beginning of the epidemic, the follower count for Abbie Herbert was just over 10 million.
The creator of TikTok, a game with over 10 million followers, joined the platform at the beginning of the epidemic. She struck more than 100 brand deals with retailers this year.
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Ms. Herbert has struck more than 100 brand deals.
The audience for her silly skits and reaction videos was mostly made up of teenagers. She opened up a new demographic of people in their 20s and 30s after she became pregnant. In a recent ad for Fabletics, she modeled clothing on her baby daughter, joking about her drooling, and then showcased her own outfit with a touch of self-deprecation.
Ms. Herbert is a former model. TikTok is a whole other ballgame because you're making a commercial and trying to make it true to your followers and audience.
American Eagle had a teen audience. The Aerie brand experienced a viral moment after a nonsponsored review of its leggings spread.
American Eagle sells what certain TikTok creators wear.
He said that TikTok has emerged as aunny place compared with other social platforms, because of the top concern for young people about mental health.
Mr. Brommers said that TikTok is their happy place to express their true selves, and that they think that it is toocurated and perfect.
He said that there was a unique type of expression on TikTok and Snapchat that wasn't about likes, but that still drove a lot of business for the retailer.
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Ms. Layza posted an ad in which she wore a onesie and went to Target to get a box of cookies.
Anna Layza, 31, of Melbourne, Fla., has more than one million followers on TikTok and recently posted an ad that involved wearing a onesie and retrieving a box of cookies from Target. She said that she had started getting paid for views on many videos on Reels recently.
TikTok doesn't pay you to post unless you have a brand that wants to be in the video. When you reach a certain amount of views, you will get a bonus.
A spokeswoman for Meta confirmed in an email that the company was testing a range of bonus programs in the US as part of a $1 billion investment in creators.
Retailers are experimenting with TikTok because they see the app as appealing to older users. If they go viral, brands want to be ready.
Ms. Karwowski of Obviously said that there are some things that will catch on. The TikTok algorithm will amplify things in a way that can move the culture.