Right side up logo


TikTok Ads: A Guide for Growth Marketers


March 11, 2021


December 16, 2022

Right Side Up recently hosted a webinar about the best practices for TikTok ads in 2022. Pop over to our recap to see what our experts are recommending for finding success on the platform today.

It’s no secret that advertisers are seeing increasing CPMs and dwindling returns on Facebook. Rising costs in conjunction with the new cluster of IDFA changes on the platform are more than enough for companies to pivot more heavily into channel diversification. This is where experimental channels like Snapchat and TikTok are coming into play.

While many growth marketers have started seeing success with Snapchat ads, TikTok’s ad product still has an untapped market share. That’s why we're updating this guide: to share everything we’ve learned from early success we’re finding with TikTok ads. We’ll update this article as the TikTok ad platform matures and as we uncover more of the secret sauce for optimization.

The Emergence of TikTok and TikTok Advertising

TikTok took 2020 by storm with an endless scroll of creative, viral dances, and humorous content. The platform grew an impressive user base of both highly influential creators and engaged content consumers alike. It surpassed 1 billion monthly active users in September 2021, and App Annie's 2022 Mobile Forecast report predicted that it would surpass 1.5 billion monthly active users in 2022. Plus, TikTok power users who open the app at least once a day spend a staggering average of 95 minutes a day within the app—higher than any other social media platform. For reference, the average time spent by power users on Instagram is about 51 minutes. Due to TikTok’s high engagement rate, we’ve seen many videos go viral in a big way. With the right combination of moves, your video conversion efficacy can also see explosive growth. 💃

TikTok platform growth

Should I Advertise on TikTok?

When deciding whether or not it’s time to test TikTok as a performance marketing channel, here are the most important considerations.


  • Age Demo. TikTok has aged a bit since our initial post, and so has its user base. While the channel was originally proliferated by Gen Z and younger millennials, we’ve seen the platform age up in a big way. While 60% of the audience are still Gen Zers, roughly 39% of TikTok’s global active user base is above 30 years old. So if you’ve held off on testing the channel thinking that TikTok’s audience skewed too young for your brand, it’s time to think again.
  • KPIs. The platform continues to be a strong investment toward brand awareness. This is great for traffic and app-install focused partners, but may be an issue for ecommerce brands gunning for purchase conversions and high ROAS; these lower-funnel events are harder to optimize. Pro-tip: Rake in those top-funnel metrics through TikTok, then retarget on other platforms.
  • Attribution. Most lower-funnel metrics fall into a single session attribution window on TikTok, making it extremely difficult to optimize. We recommend you have detailed UTMs in place, as well as a sophisticated internal or third-party attribution tool before testing into this channel to avoid issues with measuring campaign efficacy.

2. BUDGET. Can you commit the budget needed to gather statistically significant data? Like other platforms, TikTok remains in the learning phase until the ad set has achieved 50 conversions in a seven-day window. Some advertisers may find they need an even higher daily budget to move out of the learning phase. Pro-tip: Aim for a daily budget of 20x your CPA target. So if your CPA is the purchase and your target cost is $10, you should aim to have a target daily budget of at least $200 to start. 

3. CREATIVE BANDWIDTH. Assume TikTok is where your brand guidelines go to die. Like Snapchat, you’ll need to allocate resources to create highly bespoke creative assets that feel native to the platform. To do this, you’ll need a large stockpile of PG-friendly user-generated content (UGC), custom music, and a lot of patience to withstand repetitive ad rejections. Don’t have the creative resources to execute your own ads? Lean on creators. We've included pro tips to avoid these rejections in our creative best practices section below.

How to Advertise on TikTok: Campaign setup and management in the TikTok Ads Manager

If you already have experience with Facebook Ads Manager, you’ll find yourself with a much shorter learning curve when getting started with the TikTok Ads Manager; its user interface looks and functions much like Facebook’s. Here’s everything you need to know to get up and running with TikTok ads.

Selecting the right TikTok advertising objectives

TikTok optimizes for App Installs, Video Views, Conversions, and Traffic campaign optimizations. Ecommerce advertisers should note that while TikTok allows you to optimize toward highly specific, lower-funnel events like “Checkouts” and “Payment Processed,” the platform has not yet graduated to optimize efficiently for purchase conversion. It's recommended that ecommerce advertisers stick to traffic and view campaigns and use this data for retargeting on other channels.

For measurement, it’s also important to note that web Conversion campaigns are subject to a single session attribution window, whereas Facebook and Instagram optimize on a seven-day click one-day view. For App Install campaigns, which have higher efficiency overall, this attribution window is in line with other platforms.

TikTok advertising objectives

Selecting the right TikTok ad placements

Ad placement optimization is NOT automated on TikTok as it is on Facebook. TikTok’s ad set creation interface defaults to “Automatic Placement,” and many advertisers unknowingly leave this unchanged.

It’s also important to be mindful of the TikTok ad placements selected based on the product market. For example, “Helo” placements are only available in India and “Pangle” placements are only available in select regions. US- and Canadian-based products should stick to TikTok and News Feed App only placements. To further segment, a split test between both of these placements is most appropriate.

TikTok ads placement options

Audience targeting recommendations for TikTok ads

TikTok provides a number of targeting options: 

  • Lookalikes of your seed audience.
  • Interests. Examples include sports, cooking, etc.
  • Demographics. Examples include gender, country, language, and age.
  • Behavioral. Users who took an action within a specific category of videos, for example, ‘liked’ a cooking video, watched a cooking video in its entirety, etc.

When it comes to TikTok ad targeting, it’s recommended you start with lookalikes, and then move onto behavioral, interest, and finally broad targeting:

  • Lookalike of your purchasers or other high valuable cohort(s). If budget is an issue, it’s recommended you start with a lookalike campaign of your purchasers. This should provide the best performance given the high intent of the audience.
  • Behavioral. Since you can define the time period in which an individual took a specific action, this is a bit more of a granular targeting strategy than an interest-based one.
  • Interest. This could uncover additional segments of users you may not have previously considered.
  • Broad. This is no predefined targeting within the campaign. This allows you to reach individuals that you might not have reached with the targeting options above.

Understanding TikTok’s Optimization Process

You’re able to select from two billing options when setting up a TikTok advertising campaign. 

  • CPC: Cost per click
  • CPM: Cost per 1,000 impressions  
  • oCPM and oCPC: These are reserved for when you optimize towards an action you want a user to complete, such as purchase, install, account creation, first booking, etc. These options are the same as above, but use a target cost per click or target cost per 1,000 impressions to align with your target cost per action.

For the optimization process, you’ll need to start with CPC or CPM to determine which users are most likely to click your ad before you’re able to move on to optimized billing models. After you’ve generated 50 events in a seven-day period in any given ad set, you’ll be able to access oCPM or oCPC.

For example, if you’re focused on app installs and want to optimize toward users downloading your app, you’ll first need to drive enough clicks via a CPC or CPM billing model to complete 50 installs before moving the billing event to focus on oCPM or oCPC.

A few more pro tips

Remember, you’ll need your ad sets to generate a minimum of 50 events within a 7-day period before you can start to see optimized results.

  • If you find your ad sets aren’t receiving impressions after a while, it might be helpful to duplicate existing campaigns every few weeks to kickstart impressions.
  • Avoid making bid changes greater than 20%, as this will reset ad set learnings.
  • Allow changes at least two days to materialize before analyzing the impact on performance.
  • Set budgets at the ad set level rather than the campaign level. This will give you levers to control spend and delivery by top-performing audiences and assets.

TikTok Ad Creative that Converts

TikTok’s creative requirements are unique in that they only support video ads, and all ads must include music. If you build a video asset within their platform, you can select from a royalty free library. Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase rights or create your own branded tracks to avoid ad rejection.

Influencers, the value of user-generated content in TikTok ads, and Spark Ads

UGC continues to perform best on TikTok, as it looks more organic to the platform. Unlike Instagram where top influencers are sourced by number of followers and engagement rate, TikTok is a no man's land of content creators. Videos can go viral for a myriad of reasons completely unrelated to follower count or recent engagement. It’s not uncommon to see users who have zero followers with viral videos landing on the For You page. It’s therefore recommended that you choose creators based on content quality rather than follower count or even product fit. If sourcing UGC is out of your bandwidth, using the TikTok Creator Marketplace could be a great option for sourcing talent to produce your TikTok content. 

Within this marketplace, you can source individual content creators or you can create a public campaign and have interested parties reach out to you. Everything from setting campaign expectations to negotiating with influencers happens via the TikTok Creator Marketplace platform.

TikTok Creator Marketplace

Pro tip: Branch out of your industry to save on advertising costs. While content categorization used to make sense, the creator landscape continues to evolve and TikTok’s For You pages are a hodgepodge of personalized interests. Advertisers should not feel inclined to filter for content creators who specialize in content that aligns with their vertical. Fashion ecommerce brands might find higher performance (and lower costs) by leveraging creators in the mental health space, and mental health brands might find the same success partnering with food influencers.

If content creation is your primary goal, other metrics like follower count and average views are not as important. However, since you’ll be negotiating rates with these creators, keep in mind that a creator with a substantial following typically requests a much larger fee than a creator with a smaller following. Per Meltwater, male influencers and fashion influencers sit in the highest price tiers of the creator space, so consider your budget and plan creative tests accordingly.

As with most video content, aim to capture the viewer's attention within the first few seconds before they skip your ad. Be concise with your messaging; TikTok recommends short-form content of up to 15 seconds. Again, assume TikTok is where brand guidelines go to die. Provide the influencer with a few value props, a PNG logo file, and a CTA, and let them do the rest. Don’t micromanage—a high quality video with your brand mentioned once is far more valuable than a video that feels scripted to hit all the key points in your original brief.

If you’ve already tested UGC to no avail, upgrade your creator partnerships to include whitelisting permissions for Spark Ads, which are ads that are whitelisted from the creator’s account, for a less intrusive way to advertise effectively.

Additional TikTok ads creative best practices

Video orientation. Utilizing the correct video orientation is key to success on the platform. This TikTok study reports that vertical content outperforms horizontal content by a large margin in both viewing completion rate as well as purchase intent.

TikTok ads creative best practices

Ad creative approvals. When it comes to paid media approvals, TikTok errs on the extremely conservative side. Showing ‘excessive skin’ of a female wearing a tank top or shorts might lead to the rejection of your ad, even though this same piece of content is allowed organically where there is no approval process. A full list of TikTok’s Advertising Creative Policies can be found here.

Ad text copy. In addition to the creative asset, you’ll need to provide ad text copy, which should be up to 48 characters in length. Anything longer will be truncated and changed from a static string of text into a looped scroll of text. Pro tip: Leverage this space for promo code tracking, a brand mention, and CTA. Don’t overdo it.

TikTok ads creative guidelines

Approval times. Once you’re ready to launch a campaign with your newly created assets, keep in mind that one of the issues that has plagued the platform is an extremely slow ad creative approval process. Approval turnaround times are inconsistent, but average 2-5 days. We recommend uploading a substantial stockpile of creative assets prior to launching your first campaign, and leaving them all paused. This way, you’ll have several approved assets ready to go.

Creative testing. A TikTok creative testing best practice is to create a live test campaign with only new assets to gather data for those assets. Then, you can extract the top performing assets to add to your business-as-usual campaign, since the algorithm is quite aggressive in continuing to deliver the most impressions to the best performers in that campaign. 

Creative refresh frequency. Creative efficacy is similar to what you’ll see on a Facebook or Snapchat; you should expect to be rotating in new assets every 10 days, but this could be sooner or later depending on your spend level. In 2022, most advertisers are seeing fatigue within the 7-10 day window.

TikTok Ads Library. TikTok launched "Top Ads," which looks like Facebook's Ad Library. It allows you to search for the best performing TikTok ad campaigns, by vertical and region, in order to find inspiration from other brands. Note that the library still seems to be a work in progress, but we'll be keeping an eye on it in the coming months.

Recommendations for Top-Performing TikTok Ads by Industry

Ecommerce brands:

  • Influencer/UGC is the way to go (here’s an example)
  • Model the product
  • Add 2-3 creative text elements
  • Brand name should be on screen or mentioned within the first 3-5 seconds

Mobile apps:

  • Show real-time usage of the application, e.g. game play, onboarding, user progression
  • Have at least one value prop as early in the video as possible
  • The app logo should show in the first five seconds
  • Include a repetitive text overlay of app name 

How TikTok Can Better Support Growth Marketers

As a relatively young advertising platform, TikTok lacks the advanced targeting, reporting, and attribution capabilities of more mature ad platforms like Facebook. This means it remains a challenge for growth marketers to find and measure success in the channel.

In order to become a more frequently used tool in the performance marketer’s tool belt, we hope TikTok will address a number of challenges:

  • With consistent ad rejections, TikTok should provide better creative guidelines or offer a more efficient, sophisticated approval process.
  • Prospecting campaigns need to accumulate up to 1,000 events before a pixel exclusion list can populate. Even then, the list needs to be refreshed manually month over month. This differs from Facebook and Snapchat, where the refresh is automatic.
  • A cumbersome ad set creation process.
  • Lackluster audience insights.
  • Asset fatigue happens rapidly on TikTok. To assist marketers, it would be helpful for TikTok to produce bi-weekly creative trend reporting that businesses can use to curate fresh, virality-driven content.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the TikTok ads platform and creator marketplace evolve in the coming months as we continue to test and learn.

Interested in exploring TikTok ads or another channel in an effort to diversify your marketing channel mix? Right Side Up can help. Drop us a line at hello@rightsideup.co and we’ll be in touch.

Diane is a Growth Marketing Consultant, focusing on user acquisition strategy and operations for clients in verticals spanning from mobile gaming to fashion e-commerce. She has spent over 6 years in the digital marketing space managing multi-million dollar advertising campaigns and leading paid social acquisition initiatives at companies including Naver, Condè Nast and Poshmark. When she's not learning new ways to scale emerging social channels like Snapchat and TikTok, she spends her time listening to podcasts and shopping Instagram ads.

Kevin is a marketing consultant with Right Side Up and he has been helping brands grow their mobile app presence since 2014 as the mobile app ecosystem was starting to take off. He’s spearheaded the acquisition strategy and execution for small organizations as well as publicly traded entities across multiple verticals and overseen over $50 million in media spend during the process.

Let's talk growth

Get in touch

Let's talk growth

Get in touch

Let's talk growth

Get in touch