Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Neil Boorman

TikTok: “It’s almost always authentic, joyful, and creative”

One thing that has boomed over the course of the pandemic is the video-sharing app TikTok. Prior to COVID-19 being introduced to our lives, the app was already experiencing rapid growth, but this was kicked into another gear as people strived to find ways to keep themselves entertained through a series of lockdowns.

This growth, as you’d expect, has caught the eye of advertisers. For instance, across the course of 2020, the number of advertisers on TikTok is said to have grown by 500% in the US, while its overall revenue is believed to have grown 457% to $1.9 billion.

“TikTok is the best opportunity to be pure in the way that brands want to talk about themselves, in terms of why they exist and the way the products actually impact people’s lives,” says Neil Boorman, Head of Creative Lab Europe at TikTok. “At the same time, that can be combined with all the ambition that you would have with your creative agency, in terms of putting together a TVC, a great billiboard campaign, or a cinema campaign. I honestly think it’s the first-best opportunity where you don’t have to compromise on any of that, because the whole culture of the channel runs on creativity and joy.”

Joy through adversity

Boorman admits that despite how challenging the past 18 months have been for everybody, TikTok has been “supercharged” by the pandemic, because people were in desperate need of an outlet to express themselves and distract them from the “unparalleled change in our culture”.

“On TikTok, people very quickly found that place, because there’s no circular firing squads or echo chambers on there. It’s not about presenting a perfect self; it’s literally just about turning up and having fun. A big part of that is that it’s authentic. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to turn up and laugh at yourself,” explains Boorman.

“We just needed to find somewhere and something that cuts away that curated perfect-self stuff, and the shouting and screaming at each other, and cuts it down to somewhere where we could just express a bit of common humanity, because God knows we needed that the last couple of years.”

An example of this that Boorman keeps “coming back to” is the doctors and nurses getting together on their breaks or after their long shifts and creating dance videos as a release during the pandemic.

“It’s just a pure expression of escapism when we just need anything to take us away from that,” he says.

Always evolving

Over the past 18 months in particular, TikTok has evolved beyond the lip syncing and dancing videos that made it famous, and found “people expressing themselves in ways that even my very experienced creators and I wouldn’t come close to brainstorming,” according to Boorman.

“The ingenuity and creativity, the way that people express themselves in new ways, is completely fascinating,” he adds.

“The thing that’s most exciting for me is that very little of it uses any of the tropes of linear content, which has been spoon-fed down to us for decades. Yes, people still reference radio, TV, print, and cinema advertising but, almost every day, new tropes and new forms of communicating are popping off on TikTok,” Boorman continues. “You can take any one of the trends, take it aside, deconstruct it, and see that it’s a completely new way of expressing ourselves.

“If there’s one positive that’s come out of this really challenging time, for us, it’s that a lot of people have suddenly found the confidence and the wherewithal to express themselves in a completely new way. And it’s almost always authentic, joyful, and creative.”

Keeping it real

Authenticity is the one thing that Boorman believes is important for brands on the platform to get right. Brands not being true to themselves, and their audience, will not have the impact they desire on the app.

“A lot of the brands that come to us find their feet very quickly. Others are like, ‘we know this is amazing, tell us what the secret sauce is?’. And, actually, the secret sauce is very simple. It resides in a brand’s DNA,” Boorman says.

“The way your product makes people feel, and the role it performs, is very much the starting block for how you talk, what you’re talking about, and how you behave. And you sell that through that lens of creativity and joy – the building blocks of TikTok – and you’ve basically got yourself a strategy.

“We wouldn’t advise being anything less than authentic,” he continues. “You exist for a reason, and people love you for that reason. Don’t apologise for it. Come on TikTok and talk about it. The more authentic and truthful you are, the more people will love you.”

Some may argue that, if authenticity is the most important thing for a brand on TikTok, then how important is the role of creativity really? For Boorman, it’s about how you define ‘creativity’.

“The language of advertising and creativity has been about gloss and perfection. So, if you define creativity in that lens, it’s not as important as being joyful. But it’s different if you define creativity in terms of an idea, as we do at Lab and when we talk to brands,” explains Boorman.

“The strength of a creative idea doesn’t necessarily require thousands of dollars thrown at it. It lives and dies on the humanity of the people that are executing it, and the core creativity of the idea.”