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TikTok Pitches Hard to Brands, YouTube Focuses on TV Screens

Kali Hays and Kathryn Hopkins

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Brand new TikTok chief executive officer and former head of streaming at Walt Disney Kevin Mayer was absent from the social media platform’s first NewFronts pitch on Thursday — understandably since he’s only a few weeks into the job.

Instead of Mayer, some of TikTok’s top executives helmed the pitch to advertisers, with their main message being that the site, which has exploded in popularity over the past year, is getting serious about business opportunities for brands.

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“Tiktok has become such a meaningful place for people and also for marketers,” said Katie Puris, managing director of global business marketing.

She unveiled two new features for brands — the TikTok for business platform, home to all current and future marketing solutions for brands, and Brand Scan, an augmented reality (AR) ad tool. Among other effects, the latter’s AR technology can activate visual effects such as a brand logo or brand product in user’s videos.

As for hard numbers on how successful TikTok can be for brands, Blake Chandlee, vice president for business solutions, stressed that this is something they’re working on.

“We recognize that for every minute and every dollar you spend with us it could be spent somewhere else and we have to deliver business impact,” he said. “We’re in the early stage of that. We’re a young company and we’re getting there. We’re doing a lot of beta testing. We’re working with your research departments.”

He did reveal some early research, though, that was carried out by Kantar in the first quarter. It looked at 24 brand campaigns on TikTok and found that they performed above their global norms for awareness, consideration, favorability and intent.

“It’s been really humbling to see how brands have embraced [TikTok] and come on board this new platform,” he added. “Our audience has gotten very large….There were big numbers pre-COVID-19 and there are bigger numbers now.”

Puris later chimed in with some tips for brands, with the top line, “don’t make ads, make TikToks.” This is also the tag line for its new business platform.

“We created a completely natural way for brands to show up on our platform that’s fully integrated to the experience people have on TikTok,” she said. “You’re not ground to a halt when an ad shows up because it looks very similar to user content and that’s so important on TikTok because everyones’s on equal ground.”

She also highlighted one of the most successful brand campaigns on the platform, which was by beauty brand E.l.f. It created a song and asked users to build their own campaigns to go with it as part of a TikTok hashtag challenge. The result was 4 billion video views and more than 3 million users creating their own TikToks, which Puris called “profound.”

According to TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, it has 500 million monthly active users.

Meanwhile, YouTube, now a seasoned NewFronts presenter with four pitches under its belt, used its presentation Thursday as a space for a public apology of sorts, this time to the Black community.

In a unique video presentation that YouTube personalized for each viewer, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic barring large gatherings, ceo Susan Wojcicki opened it up as usual with brief remarks. This time in the context of current events, like the pandemic and the ongoing marches protesting police violence against Black people — sparked by the recent police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — Wojcicki admitted that YouTube needs to do more for its community of Black creators.

“At YouTube, we believe that Black Lives Matter,” she said, “but we recognize that we need to do more.” The video stated that YouTube, owned by Google, has started a $100 million fund to “amplify” work by Black creators. The fund was unveiled two weeks ago on the platform’s public blog. The company has recently been sued by a group of four Black YouTubers claiming their videos were discriminated against, denied monetization and had access to them restricted, because of their race.

After Wojcicki’s short and staid clip, the video platform moved on to the typical advertising pitch and parade of high-profile creators that it’s meant to be. But this year, YouTube repeatedly mentioned its strides with people watching videos on TV screens. Such viewing has increased by 80 percent over the last year, to 100 million sessions a month, making it number one in ad-supported watch time on TV screens.

Videos that have been popular this year may not be surprising given the stay-at-home orders most of the U.S. was under for months, and local officials still urging people to stay home when they can, even as economies in all 50 states begin to reopen more fully. Views of videos under the search term “work out at home” are up 200 percent. 

“As quarantine set in, we saw a rise in ‘with me’ videos, meditation, chicken farming, baking and self care,” Kevin Alloca, head of culture and trends, said in his portion of the video. “People have been turning to video to help themselves, and others, get by.”

But YouTube’s active user base still sits at 2 billion active users a month, flat from last year.

YouTuber’s like model Karlie Kloss showed up, ostensibly to talk trends in fashion and lifestyle content, but she didn’t. Instead she called on another YouTuber, Emma Chamberlain, to talk briefly about a video they made driving in Paris. YouTuber and makeup artist Patrick Starr had a section in the program, as did Joe Wicks, whose workout videos have become popular during the pandemic. 

Derek Blasberg, the platform’s head of fashion for the last two years, did not make an appearance.

But other YouTube executives did, like Lyor Cohen, a former music industry executive who is now its global head of music, and Allan Thygessun, head of Americas for Google.

Cohen (who appeared to be in shorts, with a more formal blazer and a tie) took a few minutes to explain how “explosive” the growth of music has been on YouTube in recent months, as artists have taken to the platform to stream performances live or post previously unavailable ones. He didn’t provide any specifics on that growth.

Thygessun took on what he said have been advertisers’ main concerns in recent month, namely reaching consumers where they are, “even on the couch,” capturing demand when it shows up and driving sales. He highlighted YouTube’s ability on all fronts.

First, YouTube has combined and re-branded the Google Preferred program to YouTube Selects as a new advertising initiative for videos, as well as Brand Lift aimed at live streaming videos.

“More and more people are coming to YouTube to decide what to purchase,” Thygessun said. He added that the platform has seen 950 million “conversions,” so someone who clicked on an ad and bought something, over the last 12 months.