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Triller is pitching its wares to brands. Can it grow into a TikTok killer?

Triller is on the attack.

Triller, the short-form video app created in the US that hopes to take on TikTok, is on the offensive. To attract marketers, the app is prepping a content creation ‘brand lab’ to sit alongside its ‘crosshype’ influencer offering. Will it be enough to slow the TikTok juggernaut?

Whether it’s masterminding Mike Tyson’s comeback bout, throwing a star-studded Rock the Vote concert with Pepsi or promoting McDonald’s partnership with reggaeton singer J Balvin, Triller has begun billing itself as a cultural nexus.

“We are the MTV of this generation. We are a music-first platform where culture comes to break,” says Triller chief growth officer Bonin Bough.

The social video app, has been making noises about competing with established rival TikTok all summer, prising big-name influencers such as the Sway Boys and Charli D‘Amelio and, infamously, president Donald Trump away from the ByteDance platform. And after positioning itself as a free-speech bastion (in comparison to TikTok's relatively strict content moderation), it‘s worked to distance itself from QAnon conspiracy theorists and emphasized its brand safety credentials.

To attract brands, it has launched Crosshype, a feature which allows brands to tap into influencers on the platform, and is prepping a ‘Brand lab‘ which will help clients create authentic content.

This is opportunistic, given TikTok’s cloudy future in the US and its roadblock in India, where it was banned because of data privacy concerns. The Wall Street Journal labeled it “a fall back option to TikTok” should friction with president Trump and the US government continue.

“There is plenty of room for another challenger app,” says Jen Kohl, senior vice-president, executive director integrated media, VMLY&R. “Especially with the future of TikTok unknown in the US. Triller is a contender because of its easy-to-use editing, and its celebrity and major influencer involvement.”

Game on

No matter TikTok’s fate, Triller is on the offensive. It already has deep roots in music. It counts Cardi B, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and others as investors. It has the rights to 97% of licensed music out there, according to Bough, which means its short videos can travel far without the danger of being taken down. “Plus, the stream makes money for the artists. We’ve created a platform where the entire ecosystem can monetize itself.”

Bough, who teamed with LeBron James to create the CNBC show Cleveland Hustles, says sport is next. A precedent has already been set with the three-hour Tyson v Jones event on 28 November. Now, Triller is set to announce partnerships with a number of sports leagues. “We’re looking at monetizing sports a new way. I don’t want to tip the hand too much right now until we finalize but it’s just a new way to look at delivery of content and revenue monetization around it. So, you can imagine that we have a unique opportunity to match content and music and also just help sports monetize differently given the challenging trends that they have.”

Triller also has its eyes on other key areas. Bough says there is “huge growth in gaming. In fashion, we’re about to be explosive. When travel comes back on, you’re going to see us tackle the lifestyle stuff that sits around culture and fits well with music.”

Triller is hoping all of these areas will help ratchet up its user base which is estimated to be around 250 million downloads, although this number has come under some scrutiny, compared to TikTok’s reported two billion downloads.

One thing is for certain, there is a lot of opportunity within this emerging space. “Short video apps are the next generation of social media,” says Jasmine Enberg, senior analyst, global trends at Insider Intelligence. ”TikTok has been a pioneer in redefining the space; it’s part of a new type of ‘social entertainment’ that is more about entertaining an audience, rather than interacting with a network of contacts—a core characteristic of traditional social networking.

Recent moves by legacy social networks also show that they consider short-form video an important part of social media communication; the launch of Instagram Reels and Sounds on Snapchat cases in point, says Enberg. “Whether those new services, as well as standalone rival platforms like Triller, offer an alternative to TikTok is still an open question, but creators have at least shown interest. Many of them are looking for a place to continue creating content should TikTok become banned. Whether or not their followers will ‘follow’ them there remains to be seen.”

Selling influence to brands

Triller is eager to bridge the gap between influencers and brands with its new Crosshype offering. Crosshype allows brands to purchase influence much like they would media. “Never before has an app been able to guarantee views on their platform while also allowing influencers to post across multiple other platforms, transforming the way influence can be purchased and planned,” reads the press release.

“We will guarantee impressions so this way, a media company or a brand can buy influence, as if they're buying any other type of media format, because they now have the predictability of paid media,” says Bough.

The timing appears to be right for this type of offering. Spending on influencer marketing continues to soar with 73% of marketers looking to increase spending with 10% specifically looking at boosting investment in Triller, according to a new study.

Still, agencies may be hesitant to jump on board. “There is definite value in guaranteeing views and offering tools that help further formalize the influencer economy,” says VMLY&R’s Kohl. “Given that Triller is still an evolving platform, I am in the wait-and-see camp on whether they really can meet those guarantees. For mass brands this may work well since the audience is broad. For a more focused effort with a narrow and distinct target, guarantees may be more difficult to achieve.”

Getting social entertainment right

It’s not just any platform that mobilize massive artists like Demi Lovato, Chance the Rapper and Chloe x Halle to perform, says Bough. But Triller did just that for Pepsi’s ’Unmute Your Voice’ concert. Bough declined to provide statistics other than to say,” we did huge numbers in terms of viewership and streams.”

Other clients include Chipotle, Manscaped and Boost Mobile which created its ’Step up to the mic’talent search. Bough says Triller gives brands a lot guidance on being authentic to the platform and to their brand. They will be launching a more formal ’Brand lab’ soon.

Such guidance is important. The rise of “social entertainment’ platforms” like Triller offer different nuances from legacy social platforms, says Insider Intelligence’s Enberg. “Users also want to be communicated with differently.”

She notes brand sponsorships, influencer partnerships and in-app purchases on TikTok are popular marketing tactics, though the use of paid advertising is also growing.

B2B to battle it out on social video apps

Despite all of the drama surrounding its future in the US, TikTok named PMG as its global lead social strategy agency for TikTok for Business on Monday. “There is massive untapped business potential for marketers within TikTok, which is unlike any other platform available to advertisers today,” said George Popstefanov, chief exec of PMG in a statement. “As the authentic option for those seeking entertainment and unexpected moments of joy, we couldn’t be more excited to partner with them to spread the TikTok effect and deliver a unique value proposition to advertisers globally.”

This follows the B2B campaign Snap for Business launched during the summer. It invited brands to “Meet the Snap Generation.” Snap appears to be making all the right moves as it announced, yesterday, that revenue is up 52%.

Triller is also looking at the B2B crowd but not through the typical lens. “I’m a big fan of treating B2B marketing like you treat consumer marketing,” says Bough. “For some reason we say B2B is basically ’B2boring’. B2B marketing will work on platforms like ours, hands down. But they have to get out of the mindset of ‘here's all the specific details, here’s my spec sheet.’ That doesn’t work in a setting like ours. But, doing something creative and cut through could be huge.”

A Hollywood producer, a public offering… is it all glitz?

Like Snap, Triller is also, allegedly, making eyes at Wall Street. Reuters reported earlier this month that it is exploring a deal to go public. In the meantime, it is aggressively targeting Chinese-owned TikTok. For example, last week it launched a Friday ‘flip day’ stunt where top TikTok influencers posted the first part of a video with a request for fans to follow them on Triller to see the rest of the post.

Globally it has taken advantage of TikTok’s ban in India. It struck a strategic partnership with India’s largest music streaming service, JioSaavn. It also breached the 100 million installs mark on African phone manufacturer Transsion last month.

Then there’s the Hollywood power. Triller’s co-owner is famous producer Ryan Kavanaugh. He has labeled Triller “the adult version of TikTok” in effort to position the platform as a more mature alternative in the social video space. Bough claims its user base sits firmly within the 18-34 demographic and also tends to be more diverse than TikTok.

Given all of this momentum, are brands and agencies lining up? Not necessarily. “It’s interesting that Triller has been around for a bit and has yet to bubble to the top,” says VMLY&R’s Kohl. Triller was founded in 2015, two years before TikTok.

Ashley Cooksley, managing director, The Social Element says: “Triller talk started to gain notoriety when Trump wanted to ban TikTok.” However, the “younger demo on TikTok isn't really looking for an alternative platform.”

That being said, Cooksley concludes: “The most important contrast may be a willingness to work with other partner tech platforms. For example, while ByteDance are looking at building their own streaming platform, Triller already allows users to play songs from Apple Music or Spotify Playlists.

“In the next year or two, it’ll be a massive differential because it incentivizes the platforms to work closer with Triller. Their success is a shared success, while TikTok could potentially emerge as a competitor for other tech platforms as it diversifies its offering.”

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