You have a 15-second slot for your ad, and you’re competing in an environment of 500 million monthly users, of whom 82% are seeking funny content some four or five times a day. The videos on either side of yours are as likely to show a person playing a trick on their mother as a toddler demonstrating how to give a poodle French plaits. How to stand out?
This is, of course, the weird and wonderfully idiosyncratic world of TikTok, the highly addictive short video streaming site launched as ‘Douyin’ in China by the Chinese internet company ByteDance in September 2016. At Cannes Lions 2019, Adidas and TBWA Shanghai won the first ever Cannes Lion for a campaign on the platform, a Bronze in the Social & Influencer category.
The platform started including e-commerce functionality for brands, such as a one-click shopping button, early last year, and it is no stranger to strategic partnerships in China: Michael Kors, restaurant chain Haidilao and Pizza Hut have all advertised within the Douyin ecosystem. Tiktok advertising was prominent at Cannes, too, with one of the largest displays on the main Palais exterior featuring one of their spots, an indication that the platform wants to attract further advertisers.
What put the Adidas Douyin campaign into a metal-winning stratosphere was the exact right mix of ingredients for the medium, says Joanne Lao, chief executive officer of TBWA Greater China, in an interview in Cannes, where she had just emerged from five days judging the Creative Effectiveness Cannes Lions awards.
The campaign included an easy-to-sell product, an Adidas hoodie called Z.N.E; a highly visual feature, the hoodie’s ‘quick release’ zip, which when ‘ripped’ off mimics an action played out in many TikTok videos where users appear to instantly change clothes; and a well-observed consumer insight: that sports players who arrive pitch- or court-side or at the start of the running track want to be ready to “do athletic battle”, as Lao puts it, as quickly as possible. No more fumbling about in the dark with a half-removed hoodie stuck over your head.
Throw in five high-calibre sporting influencers (including every marketer’s golden goose, David Beckham), and some nifty in-video graphics that show them transforming into an animal when they deploy the hoodie’s ‘rip’ before heading into action, and you’re set; since the campaign's release on Douyin, 267,000 users have made their own videos ripping off their Z.N.E hoodies, says Lao.
“We created that campaign with the idea of TikTok in mind,” explained the CEO, who has been with TBWA for over 20 years. “We always want to understand where our audiences are and how we can engage them and obviously this is a growing platform, but I haven’t seen a great campaign on it before.”
It’s also refreshing to be able to run a campaign outside the “walled gardens” of Chinese platforms owned by Alibaba and Tencent, she said, which aren’t necessarily the best platforms for a brand but which offer such an enticing forum that it’s difficult not to play there.
Lao is also “proud” of the win for China because the way the digital ecosystem works there remains largely opaque to many of the US and Europe-centric industry people at Cannes. One of Lao’s colleagues recently attempted to address this, she said. “Basically they set up a WeChat account and made them go on a journey within the city of Shanghai with only their phone and nothing else. From renting a Mobike [one of China’s bike-sharing brands] to getting a coffee, everything all on the phone. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve really experienced it and then you go ‘wow’. From that perspective, certainly, China has adopted convenience technologies very, very quickly.”
Lao says she’d like to see more work from China get awarded; only two of the 237 entries to the Creative Effectiveness panel were from Chinese agencies.
Overall, however, she believes the Festival had a very different and “more positive” mood this year; hardly surprising since the last time Lao came was in 2016, when many European delegates were thrown by the unexpected result of the UK’s Brexit vote.
As well as “more creative, bigger ideas” coming through, Lao says she noticed genuine brand efforts to make change for good. “In previous years, often the goodness of what brands were trying to do was often at a more superficial level...an add-on to a political, social, environmental or wellness problem but not really being accountable, or owning it.”
A good example was the campaign to which Lao’s jury awarded the Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix, Carrefour’s Black Supermarket by Marcel Paris. The campaign established a space labelled “illegal” inside 400 of the supermarket chain’s stores, highlighting the facts that 97% of seeds that exist in France, mostly grown by small and organic farmers, are illegal; the 3% that are approved for sale are from the agrochemical companies who are engineering seeds to be pesticide resistant.
“They are actually changing their business,” said Lao, “and they got the government to change the law.” This fit exactly with the criteria’s Lao’s jury was looking for: that a campaign’s narrative and impact were really clear upfront, and the results were clearly attributable to the actual work.