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TikTok: Gen Z, Mary Poppins bags, and cheeky consumer marketing

TikTok logo on a phone held in a hand

By Faye Munson

Junior Account Executive


Among the plethora of social media platforms businesses can leverage, TikTok stands out as a shining star where anyone can succeed. The platform’s ability to sell products out globally and drastically impact brand image has turned TikTok into a valuable marketing tool that benefits both businesses and the platform’s content creators.

When almost two thirds (63%) of Gen Z use TikTok daily, and over half (51%) of Gen Z use it as their primary search engine, businesses that want to appeal to the younger generation have a hard time ignoring its consumer marketing benefits.

TikTok this, TikTok that

So what is TikTok, if you aren’t already familiar?

TikTok allows users to share short-form video or photo content on any topic. Videos can range from three seconds to ten minutes, can be paired with trending sound effects, and often serve to instantly grab the viewer’s attention. It currently has 1.7 billion users worldwide. Fuelling TikTok’s appeal is the algorithm-driven For You Page, a scrollable feed of videos powered by a recommendation system that suggests content after taking user preferences into account. 

And what are the marketing benefits? 

TikTok is great for consumer marketing because it caters to our dwindling attention spans while showing things in motion. 50% of TikTok users say they find videos longer than a minute ‘stressful’, and I’m certainly not alone in enjoying that dopamine-inducing short form content. Historically, consumers have turned to YouTube to learn about a product in greater detail or watch someone test it out. Thanks to the emergence of TikTok and its helpful, accurate search functionality, consumers can find the same key details in a fraction of the time. After having that experience, it can be hard to turn back to longform content.

The latest craze

The marketing model works for consumers and creators alike. For influencers, reviewing trending products is a sure-fire way of staying relevant. Take the Uniqlo cross-body bag for instance–thanks to a TikTok creator who shared a video demonstrating the surprising number of items she could fit inside it, the bag’s popularity skyrocketed globally. Its practicality resonated with consumers, which in turn influenced other creators to share their experiences with this ‘Mary Poppins’ bag. Uniqlo saw the impact of TikTok on its global sales–the product has sold out seven times since last year, and it is now dubbed Uniqlo’s best-selling bag. You still can’t walk around London without seeing everyone wear them–even I own two of them, and yes, they do live up to the hype!  

All kinds of food, cosmetics, homeware, and tech products have the potential to go viral if creators showcase them creatively. If you can find your niche on TikTok, you can market your offering to consumers. 

Playful marketing for the Gen Z’ers

TikTok has unleashed a new wave of irreverent brand marketing that resonates well with Gen Z. The Ryanair account is a good example–it keeps up to date with the latest app trends and addresses its audience informally in the comments by typing in lowercase and using emojis. This brand voice extends across X, formerly known as Twitter. 

It is interesting to weigh the risk versus reward of consciously taking an irreverent approach to social media marketing. Duolingo approaches its marketing strategy playfully, but the approach has placed the brand in jeopardy of legal trouble as a result of its TikTok posts when it comes to copyrighted music and trending sounds. The rules are different for brands and individuals. Clearly, the reward outweighs the risk here, enough for the company to continue with its current strategy. 

The power of the algorithm 

What drives TikTok’s addictiveness? The power of their algorithm. Videos that appear on a user’s For You Page are based on a number of factors, such as user interactions, captions, sounds, and hashtags. These factors are then processed by TikTok’s recommendation system and weighted based on their value to the user. 

TikTok also takes into account watch time. If you watch a video to the end, similar videos will be delivered to your unique For You feed. Aside from psychological reasons like the dopamine hits we get from scrolling and refreshing, this is one of many factors which make it so difficult to close the app once we begin scrolling. And what makes TikTok creator-friendly, is that neither follower count nor whether the creator has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system, so small accounts still have a chance of going viral. 

However, it is worth noting the systemic flaws of the TikTok algorithm that have been called out including racial bias and the promotion of harmful content to children. Whether you’re a social media manager or engage in TikTok for personal use, be mindful of the problems the algorithm poses to marginalized groups.

Overall, TikTok appears to uphold more benefits for a B2C marketing strategy, but B2B businesses can also capitalize on the platform to attract new talent from the younger generation, or increase share of voice and brand awareness. Whether you use the app professionally or enjoy it for personal reasons, you will find yourself curious about new things, engaging with your niche, and feeling part of a community, all of which businesses can benefit from in their marketing and communications strategy.

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