On 13 September, online classifieds firm OLX launched its first ever advertising campaign on TikTok, the wildly popular short-video app that has a 200-million strong user-base in India. 

OLX roped in top TikTok influencers like Awez Darbar, Arishfa Khan and Avneet Kaur to perform a 15-second skit encouraging young users to use OLX. The three-day hashtag campaign #OLXDekhaHai amassed over 2 billion views. But what was unique was fans imitating their favourite influencers and creating their own versions of the video. 

Original influencer videos: 10. Number of imitation videos: over 7,000. The campaign garnered over 30 million unique visitors.  

OLX’s campaign was no outlier. 

Within 24 hours of going live on 18 September, e-commerce giant Flipkart’s flagship ‘Big Billion Days’ sale campaign on TikTok was a viral sensation. On the ByteDance-owned platform, #BigBillionStar—which featured exclusive videos from Indian celebrities Amitabh Bachchan, MS Dhoni and Alia Bhatt—had racked up over 300 million views.

TikTok’s pitch to advertisers is simple: A brand-safe environment to get new internet users excited about your brand through video-ads. This is a far cry from the public perception surrounding it just a year ago, when the app courted controversy for reasons ranging from possible pedophilia to soft pornography.

TikTok, though, hasn’t just weathered the criticism. The app, which allows users to make and watch videos scored to music and movie dialogues, has developed a devoted user base in markets like China and the US. In India, the platform claims over 120 million monthly active users.

In a short span of two years, the app has grown to rival companies like Facebook and YouTube, crossing 1 billion downloads on the Apple and Google Play stores. And on the back of this popularity, the app has emerged as a pioneer of short-video advertising, something many before it have failed at.

Facebook's move

Its clout has grown so much that ageing social media giant Facebook cited TikTok as a competitor as it sought to fend-off antitrust action. Facebook also launched Lasso, its own 15-second video app—TikTok’s original format—to win over teens. Its sister firm, Instagram, has replicated various TikTok features such as the option to add music or adjust the length and speed of a clip

The company has made inroads in the Indian market where it has the attention of  tier-2 and -3 users, a unique proposition for brands looking to go beyond the big city bubble. By opening up brands to this demographic, they are squaring off against Facebook and YouTube for ad dollars. And TikTok is more than up for a scrap.

TikTok has doubled down on its ad sales efforts over the past three months.


Nilesh Christopher

Nilesh Christopher is a journalist who reports and writes on technology and startups. In his last assignment, he was a staff writer at FactorDaily, an online technology publication. Over there, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. Prior to that, he was a daily news reporter for the Economic Times. He tweets @nilchristopher and can be reached at nileshchristopher5@gmail.com

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