Fuelled by its passionate community, TikTok’s raw, lo-fi aesthetic levels the playing field for brands of all sizes – and it takes creativity, not budget, to cut through effectively.
“You won’t have success on TikTok if you don’t use it,” says Alex Whitlock, global social media director at Burberry, which has a 1.5 million-strong following on the platform. “That’s rule number one. There’s a TikTok language beyond trends, and that’s the crux of it. Brands that define a creative POV are the ones that succeed.”
“TikTok allows brands to really let their personality shine through, engaging with their audience and putting their own spin on of-the-minute trends and topics,” agrees Anna Cardiff, digital lead at Coty UK, responsible for Rimmel London’s TikTok channel – which has over 55,000 followers.
“It’s about continuously monitoring, exploring, and evolving,” she continues. “What people want to see one month may not be the same the next. Agility is key. Listen to your audience, analyse your performance, have fun – but stay true to the space your brand plays in.”
BE PLAYFUL WITH YOUR BRAND ASSETS
Through its Art of Burberry franchise, Burberry partners with artists to express its brand in unexpected places. “We benefit from an array of instantly recognisable IP,” explains Whitlock. “For instance, we custom-created some content with pasta – leaning into the FoodTok and How-To space.”
Playfully transforming the Burberry Check and Monogram into ravioli, lasagne and tagliatelle, Burberry Pasta is one of Burberry’s most successful TikTok videos to-date. “It led to a wave of new followers for us,” reveals global paid lead Naomi Harris. “Seeing content that was Burberry-branded but not trying to sell anything really resonated with viewers.”
Other Art of Burberry instalments have leveraged other unmistakable brand assets, from moulding the Icon Stripe out of jelly to animating the Birch Brown Check in creative ways. “The Burberry Check, despite iterations, has fundamentally gone unchanged since its creation,” Whitlock points out. “There’s a massive opportunity for us to reinvigorate a 100-year-old design for Gen Z, in a way that makes sense for them.”
ENGAGE THE WIDER CREATOR COMMUNITY
Smart partnerships can expand your brand’s reach, unlocking potential for high-impact creative campaigns that transcend their platform of origin and make a splash IRL too.
For instance, Rimmel London teamed up with TikTok and Storm Models for #DiscoverMe, a search for talented beauty content creators to join Storm’s roster of models, as well as becoming a Rimmel ambassador for a year. “TikTok had the scale of talented users to enter, and the structure of the platform allowed people to participate weekly and drive hype through hashtag challenges,” explains Cardiff.
Meet the winner of the #DiscoverMe challenge! Welcome @caeliya to Rimmel London & Storm family!
Rimmel has also found traction in humorous content, so long as it feels real and unpolished. “Reacting to current funny trends or filters performs well organically for us,” Cardiff continues. “It’s exactly the type of content that TikTok is known for: entertaining, fun, relevant and different to the content experience on other platforms.”
Working hard or hardly working? It’s tough being the two coolest people at Rimmel HQ but someone has to do it ???? #Rimmel #RimmelLondon #LiveTheLondonLook #WorkInSocialMedia #SocialMedia #CareerTok #DayInTheLife
COLLABORATE WITH LIKE-MINDED BRANDS
Burberry has also had plenty of success with longer-form collaborations, such as its Sylvanian Dramas series – which clock in at over a minute apiece, featuring Burberry products as a subtle but integral part of the story.
“Sylvanian Drama is a creator, but also a cultural entity,” says Whitlock. “That meant we were part of the zeitgeist – the holy grail of social media marketing.” But to do that authentically, he continues, communities need enough space to be creative.
“The critical part of any TikTok collaboration is giving the creator an opportunity to interpret the brief,” is Whitlock’s advice. “They know their channel and they know what works, so you need to let go of certain elements. I can’t overstate the importance of giving creatives freedom.”
Another collaboration with popular TikTok creator Are You Happy? provided an outlet to create, in Harris’ words: “Content that was thought-provoking and beautiful – yet filled with Burberry outerwear.” Handing over the creative reins to the channel ensured nothing felt forced or inauthentic.
FIND TRENDS TO BRING YOUR IDEAS TO LIFE
Language-learning app Duolingo has built a TikTok following of over 4.5 million. “We chase ideas rather than trends,” explains global social media manager Zaria Parvez. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have trending content on your page, but we base it on strong ideas that we know our audience will love. We just wait for a trend to match that idea.”
One ongoing series explores Duolingo mascot Duo the Owl’s unrequited love for Dua Lipa, making use of the latest TikTok trends about crushes. “We spend a lot of time on TikTok watching content from a range of other creators and monitoring trending audio, jokes and so on,” Parvez reveals. “We have a great team of TikTok natives, and strong brand values – the mix of the two allow us to have a strong POV in our content.”
“Staying on top of trends comes naturally when you spend your time scrolling,” agrees Harris. “React to what fits your brand. If we were to follow every viral effect, sound, or theme it would naturally feel forced. Instead, we create what works – when it works.”
For instance, a short video of Burberry’s Floating Meadow for the Platinum Jubilee was a neat fit for Cardi B’s viral ‘OMG what is that!’ sound. And the viral ‘Picasso’ sound matched well with Puzzle content for a recent Monogram campaign. “We had content that fit the sound, so we used it,” she says. “We didn’t need to scramble to create something immediately, which makes it feel more natural.”
TAILOR YOUR APPROACH TO THE PLATFORM
One-size-fits-all content recycled from other social platforms simply won’t wash with the TikTok community. “I’ve always seen TikTok as a great leveller,” reflects Whitlock. “Creativity prevails. It underpins the return to authentic, of-the-moment content that social media was founded on. It’s exciting, but also a challenge for us in the luxury space.”
The concept of levelling the playing field resonates with Parvez’s team at Duolingo. “There’s huge potential for smaller brands to get creative on the platform, even if their budgets are limited,” she says. “TikTok is all about creativity and showing your point of view, not big production budgets and large-scale brand campaigns.”
Whitlock adds that many brands focus all their energy on one facet of the TikTok universe, such as transitions, and lose sight of the bigger picture. “TikTok is so much more than that,” he concludes. “It’s about emotive storytelling, authentic collaboration and community. And it’s one of the only places you can land vigour with an almost exclusively Gen Z audience.”