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TikTok reveals new subcultures that marketers and brands can speak to

Published Jun 19, 2022


With over 1 billion people coming to the platform, TikTok has proven its worth as a platform for the masses.

It has tapped into multi-cultural niches, resulting in the development of special interest groups or ‘subcultures,’ which it believes are the new demographics.

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Scott Thwaites, Head of Business Partnerships for New Markets at TikTok in the region, says that the emergence of subcultures that are unique to TikTok, including #MomTok, #FinTok, #GreenTok and #CraftTok present a unique opportunity for brands to convey their messages in a way that is more targeted and authentically engaging.

He says that using TikTok as a marketing platform must go beyond traditional advertising.

“The experience is about human connection, inspiration and co-creation. By engaging with TikTok’s wide range of subcultures, brands now have the chance to hone their resources and talk to the right people, at the right place and at the right time.”

Harnessing the opportunities that exist within TikTok’s subcultures requires a shift in mindset from asking ‘who is the buyer?’ to ‘why are they buying?’

Below is an example of a South African small business which sells clothing in the local market, using a trend on TikTok as a form of marketing:

@theengraveslave @theengraveslave #strangerthings #stranger_things #strangerthings4 #strangerthingsedit #strangerthingscast #strangerthingschallenge #strangerthings? #strangerthings2 #strangerthings3 #willbyers #noahschnapp #finnwolfhard #hellfireclub #fyp ♬ nhạc nền - Mr Chậm

Feeling affiliated to a community of people online who enjoy the same aesthetics and values is a strong indicator of purchasing behaviour – more so than traditional demographics like age, gender and geographical location.

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As a platform, TikTok thrives on creative self-expression. In a study conducted by Nielsen, the sense of community that TikTok fosters provides a space for content creators to be themselves.

Thwaites explains that in a sense, ‘being real’ is the new cultural currency.

“Brands that can leverage the power of connection and the influence that like-minded individuals over their connections, can use TikTok to as a foothold for strategic positioning within the marketplace.

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“Some of the most popular subcultures or communities that have emerged on the platform, include #MomTok – a space where motherhood is showcased and celebrated. The community thrives on humour and moments of playfulness, underpinned by a prevailing sense that family life, in its rawest sense, is something that should be documented and shared.”

Another subculture, #FitTok has gained taction since the onset of the pandemic, when people were challenged to find ways to engage in exercise within their living spaces and immediate surroundings due to lockdown regulations. These new circumstances catalysed the emergence of a subculture dedicated to fitness, eating healthy and living an active lifestyle.

This subculture has a strong affinity with messages around body positivity – a key movement in the realm of social media, particularly amongst women.

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“In subcultures like #FitTok, we see people sharing their passions and idiosyncrasies in a way that is authentic. The brands who have been the most successful in unlocking the potential to expand their reach through TikTok subcultures have done so by welcoming community participation and by echoing the creative ways that TikTok users express themselves through video. TikTok is where brands come to have fun, meet their audience where they are and fulfil their commercial objectives through innovation and having an open mind to new possibilities,” adds Thwaites.

‘So far so good,’ is Thwaites’ assessment of how brands have been using TikTok to reach their audiences. This viewpoint was corroborated by the Nielsen study in which 61% of TikTok users report that they have found advertising on TikTok to be unique from ads on other platforms. The study also showed that 88% of TikTokers discovered new content while using the app and more than half the audience discovered new brands via ads on TikTok.

The submersive worlds are representative of a global community of TikTok users that is particularly diverse. In this new and evolving space, brands should see their audiences not as people they are building a brand for, but as people they are building their brand with. TikTok thrives on collaboration and in its unique digital environment, social listening is as essential as the need to convey a message.

“The magic of TikTok is not just the chance to create, but to discover and be found. Brands need to welcome their audiences in a way that makes them feel heard and understood. By leveraging the innate ‘humanness’ of the platform, brands can find exciting ways to build valuable connections and expand their reach,” Thwaites concludes.

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