Editor’s note: A version of this post first appeared on WalktheChat’s website. WalktheChat specializes in helping foreign organizations access the Chinese market through WeChat, the largest social network on the mainland.

Where did the last hour go? You notice you are scrolling through a feed again, with no memory of opening the app.

A cute puppy on Douyin grabbed your attention, bringing a burst of happiness so brief it’s addictive. Conveniently you swiped up to a bottomless feed of 15-second videos, from people (often attractive young females) eating/making food, doing passionate lip-syncs and comical dances, shopping, and holding some more puppies.


The Chinese mini-music-video social network combines funny and interesting short clips, an immersive full-screen interface and powerful AI for its sticky magic.

Who is watching?

Having grown to about 154 million monthly active users, Douyin was the 6th most downloaded app in the world in the first quarter of 2018, combining iOS and Android app downloads. It was also the most downloaded non-game iOS app in the world, beating such big names as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp in download charts.

Considering that Android users in China have to download the app from third-party stores (as Play is banned), Douyin (named Tik Tok overseas, where the platform has also expanded rapidly) has successfully established a strong international presence, especially in Asian countries like Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

At home, Chinese youth love the fun and quirky content. Data from Jiguang shows that 43% of Douyin users live in first- and second-tier cities, the developed metropolitan areas.

Douyin users are also remarkably young: often below 24 years old. The predominantly young and upscale audience makes Douyin an interesting platform for brands who are curious to tap into China’s Gen Z shopper set.

The predominantly female audience of Douyin is another appeal of the app for advertisers, eager to reach out to young and affluent female users.

How can brands use Douyin for marketing?

Close ties with KOLs (key opinion leaders) contribute hugely to the exponential growth of Douyin’s popularity. In fact, Douyin has contracts with hundreds of KOLs to ensure that their promotional content goes through the official channels with required fees.

Although direct partnerships are much more expensive, it is a way to ensure visibility of the campaign, which would stand a better chance to go viral. Without working with the platform, sponsored content that bypass this official “agency” can get taken down or find it challenging to achieve viral success.

There are several ways to run a campaign on Douyin. Let’s take a look at some examples:

1. Michael Kors – Hashtag challenge

The American fashion label is Douyin’s first partnership with a luxury brand. In addition to hiring 3 fashion influencers (抖音达人) to appear at an event with the brand’s ambassadors, which include Yang Mi and Mark Chao, the Douyin “in-house” KOLs, who have a collective follower base of 4 million, promoted a “City catwalk” hashtag challenge by sharing videos of them doing a catwalk with Michael Kors products.

A challenge, as it suggests, invites users to compete for the most popular video. It is estimated that the trio’s clips were streamed for over 5 million times, with 30,000 users posting their own 15-second catwalk videos using the hashtag.

Buying these campaigns directly from the platform is not strictly necessary. Going directly to the influencers is significantly cheaper, although growth would then rely purely on organic reach.

Douyin campaigns end up costing somewhere in-between a WeChat and Weibo campaign. Spending 100,000 RMB on a WeChat campaign will get you 105,000 impressions on WeChat, 4,400,000 on Weibo and 600,000 on Douyin according to Parklu’s KOL budget calculator.

2. Haidilao hot hot customer-broadcasted in-store activities

One of the most innovative F&B challenges on Douyin, which features innovative call-to-actions.

At a Haidilao restaurant, users can request a DIY Douyin recipe, and the staff would know to let you “style” your hot pot yourselves. allowing users to show off their individual dining shows.

As of April, about 15,000 Douyin users participated and about 2,000 short videos have been posted, some by food and lifestyle KOLs who took a keen interest, with some 50 million video views.

As more users come in to request their Douyin recipe, the campaign turns online engagements into offline customers.

3. Answer Tea: more offline engagement

Answer Tea’s campaign involves a special packaging design. Users can send their orders along with a question. Ask anything (Will I get rich this year? Do you think I am beautiful?) and the answer will be revealed as they open the lid of their cup. It is kind of like a fortune-telling exercise.

“Shopfront -> Question -> Receipt -> Answer” is typically how a post in this campaign goes. Their Douyin channel has accumulated 345,000 followers, and their 30+ clips have garnered 1.1 million likes. Booming sales aside, the Douyin campaign has driven Answer Tea to sign with 250 franchise partners. Mind you, their first shopfront only opened in January this year.

4. Oreo – In-app ads combined with KOL content

Oreo is one of the mass market brands that went the more “traditional” route, combining in-app banner ads and native in-feed ads with KOL-generated posts. The in-feed ads fit seamlessly inside the video feed, capturing attention without breaking the user’s flow. KOLs are featured participating in the brand’s campaign by sending Oreo-branded New Year greetings to friends.

Oreo’s presence on Douyin remains long after the campaign ended. It is worth noting that a user-uploaded video of the making of a strawberry yogurt using Oreo cookie went viral, and has prompted many to post their own dessert making moments, and even to explore more Oreo dessert recipes.

5. Pizza Hut – Custom stickers

Brand-sponsored animated stickers are a great way to engage millions of content-creating users daily. Pizza Hut’s recent campaign features such on-brand motifs as the iconic red hat, sunglasses and their shopfront as stickers for user to accessorise their clips with.

According to Shichangbu, the videos featuring Pizza Hut’s stickers were streamed for over 1 million times.

6. Adidas Neo – Authentic content crafted specifically for the platform

It’s been clear that Douyin isn’t just a social network for musical selfies, but it is also a unique opportunity for a brand to visually present its personality.

Douyin works well for Adidas, who it mainly for its sub-brand AdidasNeo that targets a younger audience.

Its Douyin account localizes the brand through generating original content specifically for the platform with local celebrities that embody their target buyer persona. Most of the fashion brand’s posts feature their products in some way, but more as an accessory in the context of the active, stylish lifestyle.

Compared to more mature platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, Douyin’s short-video formats allows more room for playful creativity to condense a brand’s essence.

Conclusion

Douyin has been quite creative in opening ways for monetization through marketing. The platform is already past the beginning of its hype cycle, so it is not cheap anymore.

But for brands who are targeting young affluents Chinese users, the return on investment might still be high for the months to come. Don’t miss the trend!