Tik Tok Becomes New Way to Advertise

20 October 2021

Inside a candy store in New York City, a collection of items are grouped together. Besides being candy, these items have something else in common: They went viral on TikTok.

Take for example, a soft, fruit-flavored candy. Last year, a flood of TikTok videos showed people biting into the candy. So, store workers at It'Sugar urged the company to buy a lot more of the candy to sell.

It's a good thing they did.

The candy sold so well that It'Sugar decided to make TikTok part of its overall sales plan. The chain now has signs advertising the video app in its many stores. Goods from TikTok make up five percent to 10 percent of weekly sales.

A person holds a smartphone as Tik Tok logo is displayed behind in this picture illustration taken November 7, 2019.
A person holds a smartphone as Tik Tok logo is displayed behind in this picture illustration taken November 7, 2019.

Chris Lindstedt is the assistant vice president of merchandising at the nearly 100 stores of the It'Sugar chain. When talking to The Associated Press recently, he said those weekly sales numbers are crazy.

With 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok is an app best known for dancing videos. But it has also become amazingly good at selling things. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has gotten more than 5 billion views on TikTok.

In the United States, national chains are setting up TikTok areas. Their goal is to get TikTok's mostly young users into stores.

At the bookstore Barnes & Noble, #BookTok signs advertise certain books. The book suggestions on TikTok have pushed some books up the bestseller list. Amazon has an area on its site called "Internet Famous." There, buyers can find products that are popular on TikTok.

It is hard to know what will becomes the next TikTok viral video. Also how TikTok decides who gets to see certain videos remains a mystery. Companies are often completely surprised when their product becomes popular.

Take for example, the Kate Spade company. Jenny Campbell is the chief marketing officer. She told the AP that earlier this year, she was confused. Why did searches for "heart" increase on the company's website?

The cause was a 60-second video on TikTok posted by 22-year-old Nathalie Covarrubias.

In the video, the young woman from Salinas, California, talked about how much she loved a pink, heart-shaped Kate Spade bag. Then, others did the same. Soon, the $300 heart-shaped purse sold out.

"I couldn't believe it," said Covarrubias, "because I wasn't trying to advertise the bag."

The Kate Spade Valentine's Day purse was supposed to be sold for a limited time only. But, because of TikTok, it is now sold throughout the year in different colors and materials.

Covarrubias was not paid to post the video. But the company sent her free items in exchange for posting another TikTok video when the purse was back in stores. That video was marked as an advertisement. Besides free stuff, sometimes the companies pay TikTok creators to appear in advertisements. Or the company buys ads on TikTok.

Hana Ben-Shabat is the founder of Gen Z Planet, an advisory company. It looks at the habits and behaviors of the generation born between the late 1990s and 2016.

She says that TikTok is a powerful purchasing tool for Gen Z because TikTok creators seem real. She compared this to Instagram, where the goal is to post the most perfect-looking image. Users trust the recommendations on TikTok, Ben-Shabat said: "This is a real person, telling me a real story."

TikTok, along with other tech companies like Snapchat, is preparing to challenge Facebook as a social-shopping powerhouse.

Shopping on social media sites is known as social commerce. It is a $37-billion -a-year market in the United States. That mostly comes from Instagram and its parent company Facebook, reports the research firm eMarketer. By the end of 2025, that number is expected to more than double, to $80 billion.

Last month, TikTok began testing a way for sellers to set up a store within the app. This will allow users to buy products directly on the app.

TikTok has said that more is coming. It may operate more like Douyin, TikTok's sister app in China. Douyin permits users to find and buy products without leaving the app — just like you can on Facebook and Instagram.

TikTok's general manager is Sandie Hawkins. She works with companies to help them increase sales. Hawkins told the AP that over the past year we have seen "a new kind of shopping experience come to life that's been driven by the TikTok community,"

"We're excited to continue listening to our community," she said, building ways to help them find and buy "the products they love."

I'm Anna Matteo.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

candy -n. a sweet food made with sugar or chocolate

chain -n. a group of businesses that have the same name and sell the same products or services

merchandising -n. the activity of trying to sell goods or services by advertising them or displaying them attractively

purse -n. a usually leather or cloth bag used by women for carrying money and personal things

habit -n. a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way

recommendation -n. the act of saying that someone or something is good and deserves to be chosen : a suggestion about what should be done

powerhouse -n. one or something having great power