Alastair Duncan
3 min readFeb 12, 2021


Tiktok is FUN. It is COOL. It is TAKING OVER.

It also represents how, to paraphrase Danielewski, our comprehension “encounters the boundaries of self as they are about to give way” when it comes to new advertising platforms. In other words it feels like we understand how it fits into a media buy, but do we really?

pic @solenfeyissa on Unsplash

TikTok is a super interesting proposition. Those addictive behaviours that generate instant fame for creators accumulates vast numbers of views attractive to advertisers. And it’s maturing fast. Read this piece from the New York Times just two years ago. Now this announcement by of TikTok’s sponsorship of the UEFA EURO 2020 competition (in 2021, natch).

Here are three factors at play in our obsession with the new.

1. It’s big

TikTok, freshly formed from incubation with a user group of 440 million in China, is a tantalising representation of the new global ‘geotechpolitical’(is that a word?) landscape emerging. For most of the internet’s history, US companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix) were all when it came to global adoption. This is no longer the case. TikTok’s video app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is the fastest growing consumer platform and the most downloaded app in 2020. In the US, the company is quickly learning to adapt to American tastes, behaviours and legislators. As regulators begin to work out how they can knuckle down on big tech, TikTok is playing a delicate game as a less toxic alternative. Its global reach is, undoubtedly, phenomenal.

2. It’s popular

TikTok is all about popular culture. Advertisers LOVE to be associated with popular culture. Of course fame costs, but you can buy it right here. Content is more ‘scrappy normal’ than Instagram’s polished selfie world, and it’s pretty easy to make a TikTok with friendly ‘no code’ creator tools. Memes arise out of nowhere, and content cuts across a whole range of stories and topics of the weird and wonderful. Who would have imagined #seashantytok taking off, Ratatouille The Musical being such huge hit or yet more Bieber dance efforts getting such traction? Even the Travoltas are getting in on the act.

It’s a pretty bad commercial, but you see what I mean.

3. It’s going to make a lot of money

But for who, exactly? TikTok is putting proverbial tanks on the lawn of its Silicon Valley rivals with the latest round of advertiser offers. It’s soon to introduce a tool to let the most popular creators link directly to product pages, and earn a commission, affiliate style. It’s considering a self serve ad sales model (cf Facebook ad manager) to allow it to scale up. Next will come e-commerce livestreams and a partnership with Canadian unicorn Shopify to make it real. It’s even hired Blake Chandlee, ex Yahoo and Facebook who knows how to cut an advertiser deal or two.

Blake Chandlee with some other people at Cannes 2008. Yours truly on the left.

They are serious. And with a $180bn valuation at its last fundraise, they have the cash and the energy to be the one to watch.

For these new social platforms to get ad dollars, they have to, initially at least, describe their advertising product not as ‘ads’ but as a different social and cultural phenomenon that your brand is missing out on.

Algorithmic Valentine’s special. A celeb, a talking product, Boots shopping page. What more could your average Gen X want?

It’s a vast (and 60% 16-24) audience waiting keenly for the next (insert your brand here) hashtag challenge. They’d like you to make tiktoks instead of ads, and you’ll need to learn about their vibrant creator community who will be all too happy to help with that.

In principle, it’s a way of reaching audiences with cultural relevance. In practice, it’s micro celebrity endorsement and a 21st century form of affiliate marketing. Let’s see how 2021 plays out for them.




Alastair Duncan

20+ years helping brands grow. I like Hackney and start ups. Agency of the year founder; Digital Hot 100; Cannes Lion winner etc etc.