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Boomers stay away: TikTok’s young audience is fundamental to its success

TikTok is the talk of the town at the moment within the social media sphere, but will it go the same way as Snapchat and lose some of its relevance within popular culture? It’s primary user base seems to be young teenagers, hoping their video will cause the next viral dance craze or challenge, or that they’ll be immortalised forever as a popular meme. Particularly as becoming a meme may now also present an opportunity for brand partnerships as evidenced by TikTok star Charli D’Amelio being featured in a Super Bowl ad.

It wouldn’t be outrageous to predict that companies would seek to capitalise on its popularity by enlisting the app’s top users as ambassadors or spokespeople for their brands. The app’s appeal lies in the opportunity for users to use their 15 second videos to gain 15 seconds of fame. It also happens that in our current attention-deficit suffering society, 15 seconds may be the optimum time to engage the app’s audience. Is the app a continuation of what Vine started? Absolutely. Does that mean it will render Vine’s latest offering, Byte, obsolete? Not necessarily. 

Vine’s popularity was largely due to its short, “byte”-sized, snippets of random content, which came across as outrageously fun, but somewhat meaningless. Meanwhile, TikTok seems to offer the ability to tell a story, albeit a 15 second one. Plenty of time to be outrageous, but also time enough to showcase your ‘star quality’, or rather to become an icon.

Meanwhile Instagram allows its users to portray themselves as living the life of a star or celebrity by providing snapshots of an idealised version of reality. The right lighting, filter and picturesque background can go a long way in suggesting you are leading the perfect life. Thus you could argue, TikTok is real and gritty. It’s not being used to make you ‘look good’ but rather the opposite. Zany, wacky TikTok users gain the most social media clout. TikTok is about not taking yourself too seriously. It is the epitome of being cool by pretending not to be cool. In summary, it is the ideal platform for preteens. Who needs to be popular IRL when you have 2 million followers and 5 million likes?

It’s no surprise that brands have cottoned on to TikTok’s popularity, even though you could argue their target customer base aren’t necessarily the ones using the app. Snapchat faced a similar problem. Once advertisers start using apps intended for a younger audience to promote their products or services, the app was no longer ‘cool’. This comes across to its users as ‘boomers’ trying to be ‘down with the kids’ by using their lingo, their apps, and trying to infiltrate millennial or Gen Z culture.

Therefore, if advertisers want to use TikTok effectively, they should go down a similar route as Instagram by enlisting ‘ambassadors’ to subtly promote their products. The keyword there being ‘subtle’. Or even by creating a humorous ad that pokes fun at itself, not unlike the Rick and Morty Pringles advert during the Super Bowl this year.

Ultimately TikTok isn’t for brands, or CEOs. It’s not LinkedIn through which they can grow their professional network, it’s not Twitter through which they can share their think pieces and divisive opinions to stimulate a powerful or important socio-political and cultural debate, it’s not even Instagram through which they can showcase their ‘success’ through photos and videos of their lavish lifestyle and the exclusive events they attend. TikTok is for teens, if not preteens, and once CEOs start using it, it will no longer be the talk of the town. That’s not to say it can’t be used as a promotional tool, as all social media platforms can be, it just needs to be used by the demographic it was intended for.

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