Acceptable Ads at scale is possible (look at TikTok)

When we think of social media, the term ‘user experience’ doesn’t automatically resonate. That’s because social media platforms are not generally known for their emphasis on user experience, ad blockers or creating ad formats that benefit both users and advertisers. But that’s about to change. 


During TikTok World, an online conference held by TikTok on September 28, the video sharing focused social network discussed their upcoming features and the reasons behind their rollout––and it’s something to pay close attention to. Several of the panelists touched on the importance of user engagement and user experience, including big plans to bring into play nonintrusive, native ad types that honor both their user base and brands. 


User experience at the forefront

It’s not a secret that TikTok rose to popularity in 2020 during the period of (multiple) lockdowns around the world. TikTok brought into play a completely new immersive experience for users to get lost in; their ability to skillfully tap into the current climate by taking away people’s boredom and longing for normalcy in the midst of isolation propelled their success further. And most importantly, user experience was at the core from the very beginning for TikTok, and they were the first to do this at scale. 


We’ve all seen the dance challenges, food hacks and compelling trends (most of which doesn’t make sense if you’re not on TikTok). Songs that are usually recognized from Spotify, Apple Music or the radio are now often referred to as “that song from TikTok”. And yet, all these experiences have one thing in common: the users are central to it all, and they’re in control of creating content that could go viral or spur others to participate in.


Native ads platform

With over a billion users globally, TikTok announced it’s ready to take the platform a step further by building up a native ads platform, that frankly we can get on board with –– because its philosophy is fairly similar to ours at Acceptable Ads. TikTok states that everything on their app has to be native and nonintrusive to user experience. There were also mentions of design being important and ads needing to integrate well into the existing experience.


TikTok is setting standards that other major social media networks don’t, and they’re doing something that others have failed to do so far: publicly accept and acknowledge that most advertising isn’t ideal, and actually doing something to change it. 


As they build out their advertiser platform for the first time, they are doing so in a way that is not just a quick cash grab, but by respecting user experience and the essence of the platform itself. Prior to this, TikTok already gave users the option of switching off personalized or regular ads –– the same can’t be said for other platforms.

Don’t make ads, make TikTok

Part of having ads adhere to the look and feel of TikTok means that brands are being told not to create ads –– at least not in the traditional sense. The standard TikTok content formula is simple: a short video clip, some audio and text overlay. So when advertising first started, it also naturally took the same form –– and without a clear distinction between ordinary content and ads, most users are naturally more receptive to TikTok ads, which works in the advertisers’ favor.


All in all, they’re creating an equal experience for users and brands, one that is as “fast and frictionless for brands as it is for users.” For anyone who has ever been immersed in other social media ad platforms, this may be music to your ears. And a step in the right direction.


While much of the advertising content will continue to be in the original TikTok style, there are new ad formats being released with a strong emphasis on in-app shopping that will even include ads that can be created automatically. TikTok is also encouraging creative collaborations versus passive appearances or promotions on other channels. They want creators to keep creating quality content, even if it involves a guest star or a brand promotion. 


Is nonintrusive advertising the way forward?

When talking about new forms of advertising, it’s notable that TikTok brought up the topic of ad blockers. With an entirely unique experience for both users and advertisers that’s so native, so immersive and so unobtrusive, TikTok is going all in, betting that users won’t feel the need to block their ads. 


Here’s where the similarities with Acceptable Ads come in. TikTok is showing the world that advertising that focuses on user experience and user demands is possible at a large scale –– ads can be informative and engaging without being intrusive. We’ve been saying the same for a decade now. 


During an interesting session on the “Evolution of Sound”, TikTok discussed the over-saturation of digital content and advertising, and the problems it’s posed in trying to reach audiences – including ad-blocking software. And their solution to that? Sound marketing. They have created a full-screen, full-sound, fully immersive experience that 90% of users say they won’t consume without sound on. 

Staying in tune with the user

What’s truly notable is how aligned TikTok is with users’ demands for less intrusive ads and more control. They’re focused on brand experience and user experience, deep enough to know that users today are frustrated with most ad formats and are asking more from brands. After all, 31% of users find social media ads ‘excessive’, 27% ‘intrusive’ and 26% ‘distracting’. Only 13% find social media ads helpful, and yet, users are generally responsive and open to the types of advertisements on TikTok.


The big question – is this all lip service? As more and more brands start to allocate ad dollars to TikTok with even broader audiences joining the platform (especially with both advertisers and users being displeased with another large social giant), will TikTok remain true to this or succumb to the money grab?


Only time will tell how users react to these new ad formats and if TikTok can hold fast to valuing user experience over everything else. But no one else has done as much as TikTok has, and it’s encouraging to see a huge social media network meeting users in the middle, taking steps to ensure that large-scale, nonintrusive advertising is not only possible but also sustainable.

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