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Viral Video App TikTok Helps Brands Court Gen Z

Move over, Instagram. Gen Z sensation TikTok could be the new platform for product discovery in 2020.

On Thursday, the viral video app that has puzzled older generations formally announced the launch of TikTok for Business, a program that provides brands with a suite of social commerce tools to help market products to a captive audience of young consumers.

The company is jockeying for ad revenue dollars with both Snapchat and Instagram, and is hoping that features like in-feed video ads, hashtags and AR features that incorporate products into user videos can reel in brands looking for a way to tap into popular culture. Snapchat debuted similar features on its during a partership with Levi’s for Pride Month in 2019.

“The pace with which TikTok is catching up with the ad format offering from the other social platforms, while introducing its own proprietary ones, is very impressive and exactly what brands need,” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers, an AI-powered social media marketing firm.

“This pace of innovation combined with its proven velocity to acquire new users and grow revenue, means TikTok has all the ingredients to win big,” he added.

The platform’s ability to compete with established apps will depend on its ability to attract big ad spend without compromising its authentic appeal to users, Ben-Itzhak said. “Today there’s no shortage of interest in TikTok in marketing circles, but whether that interest will translate into revenue remains to be seen.”

TikTok’s viability as a marketing platform has already been tested—and proven—by Skechers earlier this year.

The “Skechers Challenge,” in which a song about the brand by artist DripReport was remixed on the platform, garnered tens of millions views on the app, and boosted the brand’s sales by 400 percent in April.

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In recent years, social media has morphed from a mere marketing tool into a bona fide sales channel. Instagram added new shopping features, like product tagging and in-app checkout, to its platform in 2019, with considerable success. In the fall, the company added to its cache of selling tools, allowing brands to apply stickers to their temporary Instagram Stories, or insert a tag in their feed to put followers on to upcoming product launches.

Instagram’s popularity as a venue for browsing products has also spurred a tech boom around dedicated social shopping platforms. Storr, a peer-to-peer selling platform that allows users to curate their own selections of new product, launched in spring of 2019. And in June, popular U.K. startup Depop made its foray into the U.S. market, allowing young shoppers to browse and bid on items on a highly aesthetic platform made to look like an Instagram feed.