Apex Motion is a machinery company specializing in bakery automation. They make machines that can stack trays, stack cakes, decorate those cakes (simple designs mostly) and many things in between. Apex Motion blew up on Tik Tok. How did they manage it, where so many other companies fail?
Simple: they don’t lag behind on trends, and they don’t try to create them, either.
Lets look at three companies with ad campaigns on Tik Tok: Apex Motion, McDonalds, and Aquarium of the Pacific.
If you can’t manage funny, manage ignorable, scrollable. Annoying, flashy ads work on TV or Youtube because the user can’t skip them, but on Tik Tok, the user can just scroll right by – they likely won’t even register the brand name unless they’re not used to Tik Tok. If the ad takes a second to register as an advertisement and not another video, then at the very least the advertiser might get the end user to glimpse at their company name.
Anti-ads are also a viable (but dangerous) method of advertising. If your ad is so unfunny that other people are circulating it for free, you’ve gotten yourself some exposure. This is a difficult line to tread, because if the advertiser makes the users angry or annoyed, then they won’t get more advertising for free – they’ll get criticism. Valid criticism is horrible for ads. See Pepsi, using Kylie Jenner to somehow bring an end to judicial inequality by giving a police officer a soda. The ad circulated… but only with negative commentary about how out of touch Pepsi was. Advertisers using anti-ads want people to talk about how the ad was garbage, not the company, and that line is incredibly thin and murky.
If a company (especially one that’s posting on an owned account, and not buying ad space) can’t be funny, it should be inoffensive. So far, all three companies are handling this fine. None of them make ads that reflect on them poorly.
Trends are here, and then gone a second later. Waiting to go through all the steps for an advertising campaign’s approval makes the ad outdated as soon as it’s ready. If you want to be trendy, you simply can’t afford to wait. Being late to a trend without attempting to put some irony into it means that the users of Tik Tok start laughing at you instead of with you.
Where most brands make their first mistake is in trying to recreate another, more successful ad campaign. We all remember Wendy’s Twitter roasting, but who remembers Moon Pie?
Advertisers can’t just recreate a winning formula with their own brand stuffed inside of it. Especially when the content has as much user interaction as Tik Tok. What might have worked for a TV advert won’t work elsewhere. It is critical to use the format of the site to the advertiser’s advantage, but so many of them treat it like TV, and turn off comments to simulate a TV commercial. This is where McDonalds starts to fail.
Creating a trend is also basically impossible on its own, even moreso when there’s money involved. Many of the Americans on Tik Tok dislike branded entertainment unless it’s especially funny, or already well-liked. When an advertiser is trying to create something Tik Tok users will like, they’re often met with discomfort and disgust. What does a big corporation know about Tik Tok dance trends or viral sounds, after all?
McDonalds’ attempt involved instructing users to repeat the phrase “Crispy, Juicy, Tender” for their new chicken sandwich, and they got dunked on almost immediately. This would have been a good idea to build off of, but on Tik Tok, it’s not a complete thought. It was like they’d planned for users to ‘duet’ (Tik Tok allows users to show their video side-by-side with other videos, in ‘duets’) their own video, but they didn’t plan for after that. What happens after? What is the humorous twist that makes users want to put their own spin on it?
Where McDonalds fails, Apex Motion and Aquarium of the Pacific succeed. Interaction makes users more likely to remember the product, so companies should be thrilled to have their hands on Tik Tok, a very interactive site. McDonalds turns off duets, but Apex Motion got fanart of the machines in their catalogue by using a trend correctly. Aquarium of the Pacific, on the other hand, doesn’t use trends so much, but they interact with their comment section and collaborate with other aquariums to show off their cute animals. McDonalds does not have cute animals, and it won’t interact with fanart from users. It won’t allow comments, because McDonalds either can’t or won’t moderate the comment section. McDonalds is on Tik Tok, but it’s not really using it.
Funny, or Funny?
Apex Motion made a video using a fresh trend. The trend was cutting together videos to show characters on the audio’s cue, and instead of video game or anime characters, Apex Motion used their bakery bots. People loved it. It wasn’t overtly interactive, but it didn’t railroad responses like the McDonald’s ad did. Whoever edited the video had a solid grasp of the trend, and whoever was managing the account interacted with fanart (and encouraged it)! They’re still making videos, and they’re still in the good graces of the Tik Tok masses – they don’t try to make trends, but they use them while they’re fresh.
Meanwhile, McDonalds’s attempts to use trends come off as cringy, and trying too hard to appeal to kids. Why? Maybe they don’t want to risk McDonalds becoming a teen brand. Monster is a teen brand. Takis are a teen brand. McDonalds wants to be a family brand, and being annoying will keep you out of most teens’ good graces. But Aquarium of the Pacific is a family brand too. And they’re not using trends either, so why are they liked so much better? Besides the obvious answer that McDonalds is huge and the aquarium is not, Aquarium of the Pacific understands the medium better.
Tik Tok is designed for interaction, duets, stitching, comments, sharing, all of that. Apex Motion made a funny, shareable video that used a fresh trend. Aquarium of the Pacific makes cute videos that allows fans to interact, and coo over the cute animals. McDonalds… McDonalds tried to make a trend, and then shut off all the comments. What hit the front page as a result was people making fun of them by deliberately not saying the catchphrase for the sandwich. Staring at the camera, in obvious disgust, saying something that rhymed, but wasn’t family friendly, speaking over the ad or deliberately speaking off-time to it to create discord – I never saw a video of anyone doing it sincerely for free. Anyone doing it ‘right’ had the little “#official” tag in the caption, so McDonalds was having to pay people to make it happen at all.
To clarify, most paid ad campaigns have official videos. Advertisers will reach out to influencers to make them something for the video, but due to US consumer laws, the end consumer has to know that the person has been paid to do what they’re doing. Dances and such created by brands are usually better liked because they have a major influencer right up front, so they’ll get some people dancing along sincerely, which won’t have the #official tag. A good ad campaign will have a lot of non-official videos doing the trend correctly, and a lot of videos in general. McDonalds did not.
What makes that really sting is that Apex Motion and Aquarium of the Pacific generally don’t pay to promote ads. Tik Tok has paid ads, but you can make videos for your business all day long if you want, for free! They’ll just be playing by the same rules as other unpaid videos. Apex Motion and Aquarium of the Pacific don’t have to pay for interaction because they get so much of it organically.
McDonalds could have made their own brand page without paying for placement ads, but I think they knew deep down they don’t know what Tik Tok is capable of, so they hedge their bets with these weird half-TV half-Tik Tok ads. It wasn’t bad enough to be an anti-ad, it wasn’t funny enough to go on it’s own, and it wasn’t interactive enough to really spawn anything new – it was just… an ad. And it was annoying.