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Creative StrategiesThe Power of Creative Elements in TikTok ads

The Power of Creative Elements in TikTok ads

Nov 28,2022
Michelle Lim
Creative Effectiveness

Think of an ad that's stuck with you over time. Maybe you saw it years ago on TV, flashed on your screen in between your favorite show, but you still remember how it goes. You can still sing that catchy jingle, and can visualize that entertaining mascot and how the phone number popped up in big letters at the end. Whether you bought the product or not, you probably remember the brand and what they were trying to promote.

While a lot has evolved in the advertising space, those impactful elements that make up a good ad are still important to consider. TikTok has pioneered a new world of creative possibilities, where all content strives to live cohesively, to create a close alignment to the entertainment that people already love to watch. TikTok ads, however, are still comprised of a thoughtful combination of creative elements and treatments, that make up an effective video that's designed to appeal to and drive interest from a certain audience. Much like that memorable TV ad, we can break down the creative elements of TikTok ads. Every element - piece of branding, visual or audio effect - carries weight, and is there for a reason.

Let's dive into what exactly are these elements, and what TikTok ads look like today. As part of a 2021 creative analysis project with Kantar2, TikTok's Marketing Science team coded roughly 4,000 ads from campaigns across the US, Canada, and the UK, spanning all major verticals. Their analysis reveals the most popular creative elements below:

  • Sound: 93% of TikTok users spend time on the platform with sound on9, which makes sound a powerful tool for capturing attention. Music is the most widely-used audio in TikTok ads, with 3 in 5 ads (63%) including at least one music element. Voiceovers are less common, featured in only 39% of ads. Text-to-speech is used, but even less common, seen in 20% of analyzed ads9.

  • Text/Captions: Text is a prominent way to emphasize key messages. Text boxes are used in 86%9 of all ads. Most ads include text overlays (71%) and branding in the caption (76%)9.

  • Calls to Action: CTAs are likely to appear as a CTA button or written copy - the addition of CTAs aim to drive viewers to take action, such as to a landing page to purchase or to "Download Now."

  • Creator/Talent: Creators add a human element to the creative, often interacting with audiences in a direct way - addressing them as if it's a 1:1 conversation, like "Hey you!" or "Stop scrolling!" This approach is seen in 41% of ads9.

Now that you have a grasp on the common creative elements that are unique to TikTok, let's dive deeper and see how they contribute to creative performance on the platform, and what makes them commercially valuable. Depending on campaign objectives, there's nuance to what works best, and no "one size fits all" formula for success. Research suggests that keeping the content simple and authentic, without overusing treatments, is the best way to keep the viewers' focus throughout the video, aiding comprehension and memorability.

Based on our analysis of TikTok content, here are some suggestions:

Keep the beat going all the way through

Wow, 15% of users are more likely to skip a Sound-Off ad on TikTok15. Clearly, sound is a crucial element to hooking viewers and ensuring engagement, so keep that sound on and don't miss out! In terms of which sound sub-category to go for, however, there's flexibility across music and non-music alternatives (voiceover, ASMR), depending on what you're trying to achieve.

Recognizable music is popular for a reason, with studies showing its strong preference among users. Let's be real, you love what you can sing to! Music that's close to your heart makes brands feel more familiar and relatable. Plus, it can also drive lower funnel metrics. A Meta analysis found that 80% of creatives from top-performing awareness & intent campaigns featured promoted music20. Research in the EU shows that recognizable songs were more likeable (44%) compared to instrumentals and custom music made my brands15.

Oppositely, when it comes to building awareness and recall, some evidence suggests that custom-made music may actually be more successful. One US study concluded that unrecognizable, custom music saw +34% higher brand recognition and +78% higher aided recall, compared to recognizable music26. The positive trait of unrecognizable music is that it will stand out as your own, and will be associated to your brand. Furthermore, in the US & EU, custom promoted music was integral to most of the top recall campaigns. A VidMob study revealed that TikTok content featuring original audio led to a +52% lift in awareness compared to registered tracks17.

Again, there's no "right answer" for whether to use recognizable or unrecognizable music. Firstly, think about your KPIs and whether you want to drive lower funnel conversions, or build awareness and recall.

The strongest alternative to music is the use of voiceover. Voiceovers show stronger recall and recognition compared to other non-music methods. For example, research shows that ads with voice-over audio drove 71% higher recognition than ads with ASMR audio26. Voice effects can also be used as a tool to amplify the impact of voice-overs, which can result in a +1.7x stronger lift in consideration, compared to using a plain, natural voiceover.

Explore the Commercial Music Library for free and accessible commercial music

Pay attention to the balancing act of text overlays

Text is valuable for showing or emphasizing critical information, but be careful to achieve a fine balance between volume and timing. Don't overdo it, and pay attention to how and when it appears.

We've observed that once viewers have read on-screen captions - a title, the brand-name, or CTAs - they tend to be more invested in the rest of the ad. US-based research shows that getting people to read text boosts view time and recall, and makes ads more likeable12. In fact, the sheer presence of captions leads to a +58% uplift in recall, +25% bump in uniqueness, 95% surge in brand affinity, and +31% improvement in likeability. Including a title right at the start of the video is particularly impactful, and yields similarly positive results: +48% brand recall, +24% perceived uniqueness, +45% brand affinity, +9% consideration, and +11 purchase intent. All positive numbers on the scoreboard prove how positive text can be to your creative.

So, how to go about it? When incorporating text in ads, think fewer and sooner. Displaying 5-10 words/sec has proven to be TikTok's sweet spot for introducing text, and has resulted in a +2.1x awareness lift compared to different timings19. In addition, global research has found that people process captions 38% faster in paid ads than organic, digesting the information more comprehensively.

Let's talk about CTAs, which usually come in the form of text. Don't forget to add one, to ensure that your audience knows how to take the next step. Crisp, clear CTAs are persuasive and can help remove friction to conversion. US research shows that ads using the CTA display card see a +45% boost in recall and a +19% uplift in likeability12. Additionally, featuring a CTA in the opening frame leads to a +44% conversion lift compared to when it's displayed later on within the first 2s12. When analyzing creative similarities across high-performing brand lift campaigns, we've found that 80% of top intent campaigns use a Call-to-Action prompt11.

Explore our free online tools on Creative Center to optimize your next ad on TikTok.

Win over hearts by giving a face to your brand

Incorporating a human touch can make an ad feel more personal and elicit an emotional response. However, the best way to feature people in creative varies. A VidMob analysis shows that close-up "talking heads" drive attention19, but it's also important to consider the framing. Framing the talent's face to fill < 20% of the screen has shown a +31% lift in consideration, compared to when their face fills > 20%. In terms of emotion, videos in which the talent shows a range of emotions (4+) resulted in a +3.3x conversion lift, compared to when the talent showed 3 or fewer.

Sounds good, but who do I feature? Various data sets suggest that showing diversity through a wide range of different people is a powerful way to drive action post-exposure. Global TikTok research affirms this idea and suggests that brands should showcase a diversity of interests, beliefs, and mindsets in their content. According to our research conducted by Flamingo, 79% of TikTok users agree brands should experiment with different topics and interests, and 77% agree it's okay for brands to have many different interests7. In this sense, don't feel compelled to stick to a single spokesperson. Feel free to mix it up and show your inclusive and diverse values!

A winning combination is showing people + product, so consider having a creator showcase your product. Creator posts with a product focus are highly impactful because they can communicate validation, demonstration, results, and product feedback all in one. 65% say that they really enjoy it when influencers, verified users, or creators post about a product or brand21. This is especially effective on TikTok. TikTok motivates consumers to notice products in ads 41% faster than on any other platform1.

Don't underestimate special effects

Remember that entertainment is a huge TikTok attribute, making it the platform that it is today. With the undeniable entertainment factor, effects and transitions have a big impact on creative performance. The use of surprising and fun transitions improve perceptions of uniqueness and brand affinity. We've seen a +53% uplift in brand recall which has driven brand consideration up by +19%. More seamless transitions have also proven to boost view time by +14%12. Identify which points in your storyline could open up an opportunity for transitions or effects, and make them come to life!

Show your brand

The most valuable part of a video is the first 2 seconds for ad recall, and the first 2.5 seconds for awareness37. Make the most of this valuable opening space! One of the most crucial components that should be prioritized is early brand exposure, which drives a strong neuro response for ad memorability14. Brands shouldn't forget to show themselves, and ensure that they put their branding out there. However, in the spirit of TikTok, branding should be subtle and incorporated in a creative way that keeps viewers engaged and entertained.

Yes, the first few seconds of an ad are key to maximizing commercial effectiveness, however, it doesn't mean that those two seconds should be packed with CTAs and logos. The goal of a TikTok ad is to hook the users' attention all the way to the end, so that you're given more opportunities to showcase your unique brand elements, products, and USPs, to drive business results.

The key here is to be strategic and thoughtful in your use of these elements (logos, sound, products, CTAs), to motivate users to keep watching. On TikTok, this means keeping your audience and their motivations for watching content on TikTok in mind. They're there to be entertained, first and foremost! Give them what they want, while also showing how your product can benefit them.

To wrap it up, let's not forget that ads on TikTok should be joyful and entertaining. By sparking joy and increasing user satisfaction on the platform, you'll also be rewarded with an uptick in commercial value. It's not about the purpose that these various elements serve on their own, it's how they come together in a powerful way that gets people to continue watching, out of pure enjoyment. Essentially, you want to leverage what "sells" from a content perspective on TikTok, to drive interest in what you're selling. Hopefully, the stats around each creative element can help you piece together your memorable masterpiece!

*Neither TikTok Inc. nor any of its affiliates, or its or their respective directors, officers, employees, or agents ("TikTok") make any representation or warranty, express or implied, in relation to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this document, and accepts no responsibility, obligation, or liability in relation to any of such information. TikTok expressly disclaims any and all liability which may be based on this document and any errors therein or omissions therefrom. TikTok undertakes no obligation or responsibility to update any of the information contained in this document. Past performance does not guarantee or predict future performance.
  1. TikTok Marketing Science, "Understanding the impact of Attention on TikTok", 2022
  2. TikTok Marketing Science, Kantar Creative Coding Research, 2021
  3. The ARF, "How Advertising Works", 2017
  4. MMA, "Mobile Marketing Association Reveals Brands Need a “First Second Strategy”", 2019
  5. TikTok Marketing Science, UK Impact of Priming Research 2021 conducted by Neuro-Insight
  6. TikTok Marketing Science, EU The Importance of Native Content and TikTok Creators Proprietary Creative Analysis, 2021
  7. TikTok Marketing Science, Global Community and Self-Expression Study 2021, conducted by Flamingo
  8. TikTok Marketing Science, Global Time Well Spent Research 2021, conducted by Kantar
  9. TikTok Marketing Science, US Music Perceptions Research 2020, conducted by MRC Data
  10. TikTok Creative Insights Report August 2021
  11. TikTok Marketing Science, Brand Lift Creative Meta Analysis, 2020
  12. TikTok Marketing Science, US SMB Creative Effectiveness Study 2021, conducted by Lumen
  13. TikTok Marketing Science, US Cross-Platform Sound On Research 2021, conducted by Kantar
  14. TikTok Marketing Science, Global Information Density Research 2022, conducted by Neuro-Insight
  15. TikTok Marketing Science, EU Music in Ads Research 2021, conducted by Hotspex
  16. Journal of Advertising Research, "Strategies for More Effective Six-Second Video Advertisements", 2020
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  18. TikTok Marketing Science, US Native vs. Polished Ads Research 2021, conducted by Realeyes
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  23. Google internal data based on an aggregate study of median performance of campaign goals for Discovery ads (CTR, CVR), Video action campaigns (VTR), Video discovery ads (VTR), App campaigns for installs (IPM), and App campaigns for engagement (EPM) for Media & Entertainment, Retail, and Finance verticals. Global. January 2020 - June 2021
  24. Kantar, "How can celebrities help to maximise the brand impact of advertising?", 2021
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  26. TikTok Marketing Science, US Sound On Part 2: Audio Effects Research 2021, conducted by MediaScience
  27. TikTok Marketing Science, Impact of Creative Features on Tiktok 5-star User Satisfaction Survey Outcomes, 2021
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  29. Facebook IQ Source: Video ad rating conducted internally by Facebook in Q4 2015
  30. Meta Business Help Center, Best Practices For Optimizing Videos For Mobile
  31. Yahoo Creative Best Practices: Native Ads Research conducted by Nielsen 2015
  32. TikTok Marketing Science, Heterogeneous Treatment Effects of First 2s Logo on 2-second Video Completion Rate (v1.1), 2021
  33. TikTok Marketing Science, Top-Performing BLS Creative Analysis 2020
  34. TikTok Marketing Science Global Organic + Paid Study 2021 conducted by Neurons
  35. Google/Ipsos, U.S., Inclusive Marketing Study, Aug. 2019.
  36. TikTok Marketing Science, “Value of Frequency Planning of TikTok Ads“, 2021
  37. TikTok Marketing Sciences, "Value of a View", 2021
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