Known as TikTok abroad and Douyin in China, startup ByteDance’s musical short video app has become a global sensation with 500 million downloads of both versions worldwide. In the US, TikTok recently inspired a media review stating that part of its growing appeal is the fact that it’s “a throwback to a time before the commercialization of internet influence.” But that’s certainly not true for its Chinese version Douyin, which has already gone full-speed ahead with monetization efforts.
Douyin offers a range of promotional opportunities for brands, including ads, open official accounts, links to commerce, Douyin pop-up shops, and a sponsored version of one of the app’s signature challenges like viral dance crazes. Douyin’s most popular form of promotion is currently an official brand account, according to Gartner L2’s China: Mobile Disruptors report. The app now features official accounts for 43% of CPG brands analyzed in the report, while 19% have hosted challenges. Although Douyin’s links to commerce are limited, they’re likely to increase in the future given the partnership the company launched with Alibaba last spring.
More than half of Douyin’s users now come from Tier 3 and 4 cities, surpassing the portion of those from wealthier places like Beijing or Shanghai. As a result, the app is used more by affordable sectors like CPG and beauty, while only 15% of luxury brands have an official account.
Douyin is also a direct line to China’s Gen Z consumers, as 52% of its users are younger than 25, meaning that marketing campaigns geared toward younger users can do especially well. One example of this was a recent Douyin challenged launched by cosmetics brand Carslan, which tapped into China’s obsession with pop-star idol-making shows. The brand created a challenge with members of the boy band NEX7 from the hit iQiyi show Idol Producer, asking users to create a video of themselves using NEX7 music and Carslan’s branded AR filters. The top video would receive the chance to meet the boy band members, prompting over 240,000 eager fans to create videos for the challenge, which was viewed over two billion times.
Many prominent multinational brands with official Douyin accounts have yet to launch on its international counterpart TikTok. These include Estée Lauder, Dior, adidas, and Tommy Hilfiger, while Nike has official accounts on both versions and Guess has launched a “fashion takeover” challenge on TikTok. If Douyin’s business model in China is any indication, it’s likely TikTok won’t feel like a “pre-commercialization era” for long.