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Deciding where to allocate their hard fought budgets is a constant challenge for marketers, who not only need to see results and ROI, but creative new ways to reach audiences, and real overall value.
Inspire Creativity. Bring Joy. Build Brands.
TikTok, first and foremost, is a creative medium. And while most will know it for its organic, offbeat video content spanning everything from viral dances to visual CVs, the power of audio is baked into its DNA. Not only do all its videos play with sound on as standard, but music and audio are central to the joyful creativity at the heart of the TikTok experience. In an earlier iteration, TikTok was known as video social network Musical.ly, which began as a hub for sharing and discovering lip-syncing videos. The platform retains elements of its originator in the form of a popular duet function that allows a user to respond to another’s video by posting their own alongside the original. The addition of a stitch function takes things a step further by allowing users to trim an existing video and record a new ending to it. These features inspire endless chains of irreverent sound-on creative riffs on TikTok content, inviting collaboration between users all over the world.
This focus on sound has helped ensure TikTok's content stands out and resonates with a broad range of audiences, leading to higher levels of emotional engagement: “TikTok is designed to be different. Other platforms are designed to be sound-off and used as a second screen, but TikTok is 100% sound-on,” explains Head of Music Operations, UK, Paul Hourican. “Putting audio and music centre-stage creates a really immersive experience that measures the true meaning of engagement.”
A report by research agency Neuro-Insight found that savvy uses of sound highlight and reinforce parts of a message. A pause in a soundtrack can create tension, which makes the brain more receptive to what follows, while music which rises to a crescendo can increase the brains’ emotional response and build anticipation. Anyone who’s spent just a few minutes on TikTok will know that many of its most popular videos are characterised by distinct transitions – cuts, drops or switches in sound.
TikTok – or rather the ingenuity of its users – has enabled even singular sounds to go viral. From the 2002 Delfino Plaza jingle from Super Mario Sunshine, to obscure Kourtney Kardashian quotes, the eclectic list of sounds that can and do blow up on the app is a kaleidoscopic trip from the past to the future. The catchiest snippets of songs get picked up, chopped up and reproduced with text overlay, lip-syncing and of course, dances. For rapper Roddy Ricch’s ‘The Box,’ TikTokers latched onto the squeaking sound repeated throughout, which became a mirror being wiped, a door creaking and even Spongebob Squarepants’ squeaky chair. It’s safe to say the artist could never have predicted the squeaky wheel would propel his song to stardom, but that’s one of the most exciting aspects of TikTok’s creative potential.
A focus on sound is a vital ingredient in TikTok’s ability to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers and connect so effectively with audiences globally. Provided videos tick the boxes of being simple, entertaining, imitable and rooted in popular culture, the language spoken in them often bears little importance. With no need for geotagging, the app takes a borderless approach and is available in 150 markets and 75 languages. For brands, a huge benefit of getting your message out through TikTok is the fact that many of its users cannot be found elsewhere. Unduplicated on other content platforms, they consume all their video content on TikTok, nowhere else.
Music is a special part of TikTok's creative personality. Over the past year, TikTok has been responsible for the rise of several breakout hits. Take a quick glance at the Billboard Hot 100 over the last year and it’s hard to ignore the role TikTok has played in disseminating music to the masses, and boosting the popularity of recent releases by Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Arizona Zervas, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber.
Emerging artist Ashnikko had a whirlwind 2019 after her track 'Stupid' was featured in TikTok memes and dance videos (including one from Miley Cyrus, announcing her relationship with Cody Simpson, which had over 269 million views.) The song's success on the platform led to a major label deal for Ashnikko and 'Stupid' has since been streamed over 80 million times on Spotify alone.
Now, the biggest artists on the planet are thinking about how to get the TikTok community behind their songs even before their release. In a perfect snapshot of lockdown creativity, Drake reached out to dancer and producer Toosie with the hook and verse of a new track at the end of March. Within 45 minutes, Toosie (who was quarantining with dancers Ayo, Teo and Hiii Key at the time) had choreographed a dance.
Footage of the four of them (all of whom also have huge social media followings) dancing to the snippet was the first the world was to see of the #ToosieSlide and within just two days, the hashtag had racked up one billion views on TikTok, becoming the fastest music trend to hit the 10-figure milestone on the platform. When Drake released ‘Toosie Slide’ the following month, it debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 – a true testament to TikTok’s cultural impact and its creative potential, even within the constraints of social distancing. (For brands, it demonstrates the ability to go viral with comparatively little media spend.)
It’s not just new tracks that are getting a pre-release buzz on TikTok. Due to the fact that videos aren’t time-stamped and a user’s ‘For You’ feed has no chronological order, people see content based on what they like and enjoy, rather than on who they follow, or how recently the content was posted.
The open nature of the TikTok platform allows content to circulate freely; as a result many music tracks are seeing huge acclaim months or even years after their initial release. Brockhampton’s 2019 single ‘Sugar’ blew up on TikTok in January 2020, before being remixed by Dua Lipa, while Ashnikko’s 'Stupid’ took off almost a year after its release.
With nostalgic callbacks to cartoons, video games, films and music being staples of TikTok pastiching, there’s no ‘best before date’ on sounds here. 'Break My Stride' - a pop smash hit from the early 1980s - became a huge trend across TikTok in early 2020, after it was used by users to soundtrack everything from cooking to comedy, sport and memes. The 37-year-old track has been used in over a million TikTok videos, and recently broke into Spotify’s top 200, Apple Music’s top 100 and Billboard's Digital Song Sales chart for the first time.
Given the success of 'Break My Stride', what’s to say that a cult brand jingle or catchphrase couldn’t rise again through TikTok? As Budweiser discovered through its re-release of the 1999 ‘Whassup’ ad, tapping into cultural nostalgia with simple audio tweaks can hit the sweet spot with audiences – regardless of whether they were around for the original ‘moment’.
Disrupting the music industry
Alongside its focus on streaming audio and video together, TikTok’s editing tools, Commercial Music Library, audio clips and filters have inspired users and advertisers to play with and enjoy sound in new and dynamic ways. As anyone who has spent time browsing TikTok will know, eliciting emotion in a 15-second clip can take some serious skill, but one of the many joys of TikTok lies in its ease of use and integrated sound editing tools, which are being constantly updated, tweaked and refined to meet users’ creative needs.
TikTok’s Commercial Music Library allows brands to access thousands of pre-cleared, royalty-free tracks sourced from emerging artists and top-tier music houses for their creative purposes – including posting videos, creating or participating in hashtag challenges, and sharing content to other platforms from TikTok.
The platform’s Sounds Page and Sounds Wheel contain thousands of memes, audio clips and songs to help inspire Creators. The Sounds Wheel, a rotating circular icon in the bottom right of the screen, allows users to see all the content created using a given sound or song, while the Sounds Page offers numerous playlists to help users discover the latest songs and trending content.
Along with music, voiceovers are also helping brands, users and Creators bring an extra layer of depth to their content on TikTok. The app's voiceover feature enables users to add their own vocal (or someone else’s) to any video, with many already using it to narrate their story, sing along to their favourite song or create instructional content. The feature also has additional voice modification effects that range from baritone to chipmunk and beyond, which are also proving a rich source of creativity for users.
With its sophisticated editing suite, audio and music library, as well as a selection of full-screen, sound-on commercial brand solutions, TikTok is inspiring a whole new approach to short-form video storytelling - one that places equal emphasis on sound and visuals. The buildable, amorphous nature of the app’s content enables anyone to participate and this, in turn, has disrupted the traditional music cycle – giving old sounds and undiscovered tracks a new lease of life, and inspiring some unexpected and brilliantly playful uses of audio.
A growing number of forward-thinking brands are already embracing TikTok’s fully sound-on offering: from e.l.f cosmetics’ stratospheric Eyes Lips Face campaign to Netflix’s deft use of subtitles and soundbites and Highsnobiety’s sneaker ASMR, many of the platform’s most innovative campaigns feature a creative approach to sound – helping brands to reach new audiences and strengthen their image.
Global behemoth Beats By Dr. Dre recently pushed TikTok’s musical and creative potential to new heights with its groundbreaking #BeatsDaisyChallenge. The brand teamed up with TikTok favourite singer-rapper Ashnikko to collaborate on creating her new music video and launch its new PowerbeatsPro headphone colours: Glacier Blue, Spring Yellow, Cloud Pink and Lava Red. The four-week challenge invited the TikTok community to shoot a video to the beat of Ashnikko’s new track 'Daisy' – with one of the four new colours providing the inspiration each week. The most creative TikTok entries will then feature in the final music video, which will also showcase the new Beats product and colour story.
The campaign is a powerful demonstration of the evolving hybrid creativity possible for brands and the music industry on the platform. TikTok’s fully sound-on environment and its global community of content creators are redefining music and product release forever.
“TikTok is changing the way that people consume music,” says Hourican. "Through TikTok, audiences can find tracks that capture their imagination, their ears and their hearts, with no limits on genre, country of origin or release date. We provide easy-to-use editing tools, music and effects so that anybody can create, and our content graph recommends videos based on what - rather than who - you like. To go viral on TikTok, you don't need a single follower. The possibilities for creativity and creation really are endless for users and brands alike.”
As TikTok points out, sound has been a integral part of its mission to bring joy and inspire creativity - and brands who want to engage with its users should think carefully about music and audio. "When brands want to advertise on TikTok they really need to consider their approach to sound. An entire campaign can originate with a piece of music or audio, rather than being an afterthought [in] the process,” adds the team.
The creative audio toolbox available to brands
Why TikTok’s fully sound-on platform is the next creative frontier
In the latest in our partner content series, produced in partnership with TikTok for Business, we explore how TikTok’s music libraries and audio editing tools are helping take creation to a whole new level, how being fully sound-on can help bring video content to life, and what brands and creatives can learn from the platform’s impact on the world of music. Sound is often overlooked on mobile video platforms, but on TikTok, it’s at the core of the entire experience.