Brand Lessons in Irreverent Marketing & Tiktok

In recent years, social media has proven itself again and again to be the top channel for brand amplification. Lately, we’ve seen a rise in brands (such as Wendy’s) throwing out the rulebook and turning to more irreverent marketing tactics on social to build audience engagement, particularly on Twitter and TikTok. This isn’t a complete surprise—our research with The Harris Poll showed marketers believed investment in social media would enhance their company’s marketing strategy more than any other tactic.

TikTok, which started out as a platform for young creators to showcase their talents—from dancing and singing to comedic shorts and skits—continues to see massive growth in brand and influencer marketing. More companies are joining the platform, hoping to engage with new audiences; in some cases, these brands are going to extremes to create over-the-top content to get consumers’ attention. While brands as diverse as Duolingo, Sour Patch Kids, The Empire State Building, and even The Washington Post have all jumped on the irreverent marketing train to create content audiences are intrigued by and interested in, there have also been those (perhaps most notably Pabst Blue Ribbon) whose attempts at cheeky social content creation have backfired.

So, what is it that makes irreverent marketing successful for some brands, but not others? We sat down with our social media experts to talk about the growth of brand marketing on TikTok, and the lessons brands can take away — from both their successes and their failures.

Define (or redefine) your brand’s voice so it aligns with your brand’s core values and mission

All brands need to have a purpose and be able to clearly communicate what they offer, how they offer it, and why they are relevant to their customers. In some instances, this voice takes the form of a brand mascot. For example, one of the reasons Duolingo has been so successful on TikTok is because the brand already had a quirky persona, and their reputation of being consumers’ “pushy motivational friend” aligns with their brand goal of getting users to download the app and complete lessons. “Along with having this type of content, Duolingo has brand personification and a mascot, which really feeds into the creator culture that’s on TikTok,” explains Social Media & PR Strategist, Bella DiPasquale. “Having a mascot makes it easier to develop content and jump on trends more quickly, because that mascot may be a brand extension, but it’s viewed more as an entity rather than just the brand itself.” Not every brand needs to create a mascot, but the overarching goal should be to develop a clear voice—one that aligns with the brand’s values and goals, and can strike a balance between professionalism and personality on social media.

Streamline social content creation and community engagement

When jumping in on trends, timing is everything. Brands need to evolve and have ongoing discussions with their social media teams about best practices and future possibilities to determine what role trends will play and what social media strategy will be most effective for your company. Regardless of the details, there should be a set strategy or template in place for community managers to be able to quickly create content and have it approved in a timely fashion. One outcome of such a strategy could be creating ongoing content, allowing for creativity and room to quickly hop on trends—The Washington Post, for instance, shares its daily headlines on TikTok, but will post it alongside a “sound” or song that’s already trending. If jumping on trends is determined to be essential to your strategy, it will require collaboration and integration among teams, as well as calculated and strategic risk-taking.

Understand quality vs. quantity (and post accordingly)

When brands struggle to find where they can fit into a trend, they often post an overabundance of content, believing more content equals more engagement, which isn’t typically the case. In fact, this tactic can result in irrelevant, rather than irreverent, content that leaves consumers feeling completely uninterested. Recently, many brands tried to jump on the “West Elm Caleb” trend, regardless of their actual place in the retail landscape. This was a turnoff of many consumers—the posts didn’t relate to any products these brands were offering, and it seemed as though the brands were trying too hard to be part of the zeitgeist. When consumers feel they’re seeing repetitive, disjointed content, it’s all too easy for them to unfollow a brand without looking back. As Mike Shirdan, Social Strategist & Content Creator at Brownstein explains, “Every trend has a starting point. As brands look to others for inspiration for social content, it’s important to carve their own path forward and expand on trends, ideas, and creativity to make them their own. This is key to generating a following that aligns with your brand and values while creating topical content.” Not every trend is worth chasing, so it’s vital for marketers to ensure a trending topic is relevant to the brand and can gel with the brand’s voice before hopping on a posting bandwagon.

When it comes to social media, consumers don’t want to feel as though they’re being sold to—they want to see relatable content they feel their peers would also post. To engage audiences authentically, brands need to be able to speak in their own voice consistently, and discern which trends are worth capitalizing on and which are not. This may look different for each company, but producing quality content that informs audiences of your brand’s product or service will be better for brand longevity in the long run, regardless of current trends.

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