TikTok has sustained huge growth over the past year. It was the most popular app in 2020, with over 850m global downloads. This is why brands are venturing into these unknown lands and quickly learning how to work with TikTok creators.
The Drum spoke to Sandra Kwon, aka JeenieWeenie, whose channel has 6.1 million followers and focuses on comedy sketches about her life experiences. Like many creators, she is working with brands to create original ads.
At the start of the pandemic, Kwon took to the video app because she was bored and wanted to find a way to cope with the situation. What she didn’t expect was the rapid growth in followers from what began as stories of her time as a flight attendant. From there, brands started to take notice and offer partnerships, which ultimately led to Kwon shutting down her restaurant businesses in Vancouver, Canada.
“I was just honestly having fun messing around,” she explains. “And then suddenly all these brands started offering money and it started getting higher and higher. I had to rethink my life choices, and just last month I ended up shutting all my restaurants and now I’m doing this full time. It’s my business.”
Kwon shares her top tips for brands who want strong relationships with content creators.
Get to the point
Brands contact Kwon either through an agency or direct by email. The latter is her main avenue, but if you’re going to take this route Kwon suggests laying all your cards on the table from the get-go.
“I get a lot of emails. The ones that are super vague I don’t even respond to because I don’t have the time. Take the time to clearly lay it out; this is the campaign, this is the company, this is our budget, here’s the creative brief. I look through it and I’m like, I can kill this one for sure. And if the price is right and it fits into my budget, I accept.”
When it comes to the message you want from the ad, keep it brief. Kwon has had creative briefs running pages long, and for a short-form platform it’s hard to get so much information in under a minute.
“Of course, in a campaign they’re paying a lot of money for an influencer, so they want to maximize the message. But when you’re given a 10-page brief, there’s 10 features and they want it to be natural and in 15 seconds, I would just laugh. Please be realistic. What you just listed here in these 10 pages, I can’t even read that in 15 seconds. So how do you expect me to deliver that message?”
By choosing one or two key messages that you want the viewer to get out of the campaign, you’re maximizing your awareness effectively.
“I feel like brands have to understand not to put so many points in that you want them to answer. And the reason why TikTok works is because it’s simple. It’s tough, but it can get to the point in 15 seconds.”
It might come as a surprise to some, but allowing the influencer to have a main role in how the content should look and feel is only beneficial. Kwon knows her audience. She interacts with them daily and knows what works and what doesn’t.
“Ultimately, they are the client,” she adds. “Sometimes we have a video call to go through the campaign. I give them my ideas and I’ll tell them what works and whatnot. I feel like this is what’s best for my account. But if they don’t want it, that’s still up to them. But whether it goes viral or not, that’s a totally different thing.”
Lenovo is one brand that allowed Kwon that freedom. “They told me to do whatever I want. People know about Lenovo, it’s a huge brand, and they just wanted me to hold their laptop and go with it. ‘Have fun, do your thing, just show our laptop.’ That’s it. Which is why I had so much fun with it. They just asked me to make sure I didn’t do anything too violent as I sometimes comedically throw people off the plane. So they said I can throw the laptop off the plane and it’s been successful. That did really well for their campaign.”
The Canadian coffee franchise Tim Hortons is one of Kwon’s favorites to work with. On her account, she has various characters that feature throughout her videos such as Korean Mom, Mini Jeenie and the flight attendant. These characters resonate with her audience. Tim Hortons wanted Korean Mom, who Kwon made perfectly clear would be speaking the native language. “I got a lot of praise from the Asian community. To speak Korean in a national ad is huge. People were shocked that I was speaking Korean but Tim Hortons wanted her. I told them if it’s Korean mom she’s not fluent in English, so she must speak Korean with subtitles. They were OK with that. “If they had wanted a different character, sure, I could do that, but nobody knows who that is. So they’re not going to watch my video. People are in love with Korean Mom because a lot of people can relate to it. And if you want Korean Mom to be in a Tim Hortons setting buying a doughnut, it has to be a realistic scenario.”
@jeenie.weenie Roll Up to Win is until Apr 4! Download the free app, buy a valid item, scan the app and start winning!@@timhortons #partner #RollUpToWin ♬ original sound - Sandra Jeenie Kwon
Know your influencer
An influencer’s entire feed is their resume. What you see is what you can expect if you partner up.
“If you don’t like that, don’t partner with them,” says Kwon. “You can see what they’re capable of. They have a following because of that. So if you’re going to change that, deviate and try to make them do something else, it won’t work as well.”
Kwon has had many brands do just that.
“I’ve had some contact me wanting me to do a dance trend. I’m like, did you look at my feed? Do you see me as a dancer? Are you sure you want to partner up with me? Giving creators that freedom is the best. And the ones that have done well, for me, are the ones that have done that.”
Many TikTokers have characters they portray on their accounts, and much of the time Kwon will give brands options to choose from. She will try to match which one is best for their product and the message they’re trying to relate to the viewers.
“That’s how I feel like it’s worked for me. Because people follow me for the relatability of these characters. When I’ve incorporated the product into the video, it seems more natural. If I’m using a product with Korean Mom, she’s yelling at something and she’s just using the product, it’s naturally in the skit, and people are prone to watch it.”
Viewers don’t want intrusive ads. They don’t want them shoved in their face 24/7. That’s why TikTok has had success in this area. Kwon explains that the majority don’t even notice when her content is an ad.
“Those are the ones that gave me the most creative freedom. There are certain brands where they do the pitchy ads and I have done that, because that’s what they want.”
However, her viewers do understand that this is her business. This is her income and they’re happy she got a partnership.
When you have an ad that’s really pitchy, make sure it’s a real testimonial. Kwon recently released an ad about the clear brace product Invisalign because it’s something she’s actually used. “They didn’t even pay for it. I got that on my own. They reached out to me because I had it. And I paid for it on my own. It’s a real testimonial. And that’s what they loved. And they wanted to partner up with me because I love their product.”
One video is all it takes
The power of one influencer, be they small or large, is crazy, Kwon states. When she first started out, she bought a middle finger figurine for your finger as a fun prop for her skits. One of her videos went viral and the product sold out on Amazon.
“The owners who patented that contacted me asking what the hell just happened? Do you want to partner up? They told me I sold out Amazon. You couldn’t buy it anywhere. This was when I didn’t have many followers. One video is that powerful.”
The opportunity here for brands is that you don’t always need the big-time influencers. The algorithm on TikTok is unique in a way that both large and small creators have equal opportunity to go viral.
“TikTok do test batches,” Kwon states. “So you post the video, they’ll release it to a bunch of people. If they like it, then they’ll release it to more and so on. They don’t even care if you have a million followers. Having a million followers doesn’t mean my video gets viewed by a million of my followers – it just goes into the following tab.
“Any videos that are viral, people are going to see. Some of these people have 1,000 followers, and it doesn’t matter. That’s a huge advantage. And the power of one person who may not even be a huge influencer is crazy.”
TikTok is a different breed of ads. It’s not the place for the over-pitched segments where people are less likely to believe you because it doesn’t appear genuine. People want trust on TikTok. You are coming to them on their personal devices where they spend a lot of their free time.
If you want a successful ad with a creator, get to know them and their work. Take the time to understand them and their audience. If you allow them that creative freedom, it’s only going to help you get the most out of your campaigns.