And just like that, a new social media app has stormed onto the scene. While we get our heads around the chaos of Threads (we’re on there, are you?), we’re also thinking about the apps that have been around for a while – and how food brands have used them to get their products in front of consumer eyes.
TikTok is well known among brand marketers as the place to connect with younger audiences. What started as a short-form video app has, over time, morphed into a sophisticated marketing opportunity – not just through organic and paid advertising, but also with in-app shopping that can drive rapid conversions for savvy brands.
The American fast food brand Chipotle launched on TikTok in 2018. The goal was to reach Gen Z – because Gen Z now spends almost as much money per takeaway meal as Millennials do; and even before the pandemic, 24% of Gen Z (in the US) ordered takeout three or four times each week. So Gen Z is an increasingly lucrative market for brands that offer digital food ordering.
Chipotle did not, however, arrive on TikTok and wander aimlessly through a sea of dance videos, waiting for inspiration to strike. The brand hit the platform with a strategy: introducing branded challenges that quickly caught the attention of trend-hungry TikTokers.
The first challenge was the #ChipotleLidFlip, based on a Chipotle restaurant employee who was particularly skilled at assembling (the very popular) burrito bowls. The brand asked creators who were already fans of Chipotle – including David Dobrik, who (at time of writing) has 17.9 million subscribers on YouTube – to promote the challenge.
And within the first six days of that particular collaboration with Dobrik, 111,000 Lid Flip videos were submitted – driving a record-breaking digital sales day.
Confident that their strategy was working, Chipotle went on to create more challenges in collaboration with other well known creators – like the #GuacDance, with Loren Gray (who currently has over 54 million followers on TikTok). With the added incentive of free guacamole added to all orders that day, the #GuacDance hashtag reached 1.1 billion views – and 800,000 portions of guacamole served to real customers.
It’s all about interactivity.
Research by Hubspot shows that 55% of Gen Z like to be able to choose the plotline of the TV show or movie they’re streaming. And a commissioned study by Agora, Inc. in 2022 found that over half of the Gen Z sample group were more likely to engage with brands that use live interactive video.
These are just two of many surveys and studies that point to the same thing: Gen Z craves interactive opportunities that immerse them in digital (or hybrid physical-digital) experiences.
So if you want to grow your food brand via TikTok, don’t just exist on TikTok. Engage, interact, and make your audience a part of your world.
A couple of years ago, most of the world outside of Japan hadn’t heard of mochi. They’re little balls of rice dough filled with ice cream – and a brand called Little Moons made mochi known to the world.
But Little Moons didn’t approach TikTok with a predetermined strategy to increase their reach. Instead, they took to TikTok much like any user does; with a willingness to roll with the spontaneous flow of the platform.
The brand’s marketing director, Ross Farquhar, told The Grocer: “The process of creating TikTok content should be the exact opposite of other social media platforms.”
Instead of laying out a content plan and sticking to it rigidly, Little Moons adapts to the trends of the moment, and engages with TikTokers in a spontaneous, authentic way. By behaving like this, the brand comes across like an individual on TikTok, rather than like…a brand. And that creates organic connections between Little Moons and its customers; relationships that feel real and honest.
So it was luck, rather than strategy, that enabled Little Moons to take off on the platform. They noticed that an organic interest in their brand was spiking – and so instead of letting it spike and then drop again, they jumped on it.
They made a simple recreation of a customer video, called going on an adventure to big Tesco to find Little Moons, and put some ad spend behind it.
And that video reached 6 million views, resulting in thousands of other TikTokers also creating their own version.
This boosted sales by 700% in one week.
Organic reach and honesty. Not only did Little Moons observe a positive trend in their direction and make the most of it, they were also very honest about the fact that they didn’t make this happen.
They thanked every user who made a TikTok video about their products. They even offered video creators free products. And that drove more and more TikTok users to create videos – snowballing their success.
What we’ve learnt from TikTok is that there’s no one single way to approach a new social media platform, and there’s no guaranteed strategy for success.
With a new app like Threads, it’s anyone’s guess right now how it’ll develop. Because even the developers don’t know exactly – they’ve launched, and they’re watching and waiting to see how people engage with the app, what they use it for, and the kinds of tools they want (and don’t want).
You, dear food company, should do the same. It’s too early to call a Threads strategy meeting. Now is the time to experiment, to observe, and to listen – and the brands who do that will discover their own route to increasing brand awareness (and sales) on a new platform.
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