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Why Franchise Brands Are Starting to Pay Attention to TikTok

Users have been obsessed with the popular video app since it launched, and franchisors are also joining the party, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent months, TikTok has exploded in popularity (in part as a result of coronavirus-related confinement), which is no great surprise, as the platform offers a unique way for people of all generations to come together and connect. At the time of this writing, TikTok is the most-downloaded free social media app. YPulse’s brand tracking data shows that TikTok use has increased during the quarantine, jumping from 55% of 13-to-18-year-olds who used the app in the first week of March to 59% who reported using it in April. 

Just as older generations are slowly joining the TikTok train, so too are brands. While the initial wave of early adopters is already on the platform, more brands will continue to jump on the bandwagon, which will drive more audiences and communities to migrate to TikTok as well. Plus, generating awareness on TikTok doesn’t depend on building an huge audience on the platform, meaning brands can make a splash without having the follower count of “an influencer.”

TikTok’s worth among some franchisors is largely rooted in its hashtag challenge. Unique to the platform, hashtag challenges are branded viral challenges supported by influencers, music and paid ads. Chipotle notably led the way with its #ChipotleLidFlip and #GuacDance challenge last year, but now, many brands are following suit.

Little Caesars is one franchise brand that has utilized TikTok to appeal to new customers. Right before COVID-19, the brand rolled out the #BestThingSince hashtag. In a followup to a Super Bowl ad promoting the brand’s new home delivery platform, four TikTok influencers were chosen to film themselves answering their door to a Little Caesars delivery. Their voices are initially overdubbed in a Valley accent as they say “Little Caesars Delivery? That’s the best thing since…” before they provide their own distinct and humorous spins on the answer. 

Users have since been adopting the hashtag, telling viewers what Little Caesars delivery is the #BestThingSince by cutting to their favorite thing, trend or meme. Since launching, the hashtag has amassed a whopping seven billion views, according to TikTok. 

Hashtags aren’t the only method for advertising on TikTok. Taco Bell partnered with the viral video app on a campaign promoting the chain's new Triplelupa in March. The partnership marked the first time that TikTok officially worked with a brand on a national advertising campaign. For the effort, Taco Bell shot its TV spot in the full-screen, vertical video format, replicating the look of viewing TikTok on a smartphone screen.

The true beauty of TikTok is that brands don’t even need to try to go viral. For example, Chick-fil-A has seen some recent recognition on the app as users share their surprise at learning that the restaurant chain actually operates a luau-themed Hawaiian restaurant in Georgia called Truett's Luau (no, seriously). People have taken videos visiting the location and trying out its food, with videos using the hashtag #truettsluau racking up 1.5 million views. Almost every single video involves people chowing down and saying how worth it it is to give it a try. The restaurant is often referred to simply as "The Hawaiian Chick-fil-A" on the app, but that hasn't stopped the business from making a TikTok of their own and getting in on the fun, participating in viral memes and even hosting scavenger hunts for guests to enjoy in the drive-thru.

Another franchise brand that has thrived on TikTok is Dunkin’. TikTok star Charli D’Amelio gave Dunkin’ 294 million free video impressions in under two months simply because she is a fan. The brand thanked D’Amelio by creating a brand-new cold-brew tap named after the viral dancer.

While major franchise chains have seen success, the vast majority of brands aren’t quite ready to get serious about TikTok advertising yet. They are still testing the waters, running experiments to better understand how TikTok works in comparison to other social media platforms and how it might perform for them. Still, TikTok is looking for several ways to appeal to brands, including the appointing of a new CEO Kevin Mayer (the mastermind behind Disney+), as well as the integration of the customer experience management platform Sprinklr to support in-feed video ads. 

To spread some love during COVID19, TikTok has also rolled out a new collaboration with its brand partnerships, a program titled “Small Gestures.” Small Gestures allows users to connect through the small act of sending a branded gift to someone who may need a simple boost, whether that be providing creative inspiration for a video, providing a resource to learn a new language, sending a flower bouquet or sponsoring an online therapy session to support their mental health.

For franchisors and users alike, there is no doubt that TikTok is the platform to watch in 2020. Since the barrier to entry for brands to start making an impact on TikTok is as low as it will ever be, the clock is Tiking for franchisors wanting to join the club.