TikTok Ads: An Agency Guide To Running Paid Media On TikTok

People are spending more time on TikTok than Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Total TikTok installs are up 96% year-over-year. Brands that choose to advertise on TikTok can reach the users of the platform via short, innovative, engaging, and at many times, musically-driven videos.

What separates TikTok ads from other platforms is the ability to collaborate with audiences, as brands can create viral trends to encourage user-generated content (UGC). This in turn can cast the net wider, outside of the brand’s typical targeted demographic, leading to mass brand awareness and familiarity, in addition to potential conversions.

tiktok paid ads campaign

TikTok’s innovative approach to advertising can aid in amplifying a brand’s identity — as early adopters like cosmetic brand Covergirl have run successful campaigns where custom music was integrated into the challenge and billions were reached.

What To Know Before Running TikTok Ads

What are TikTok ads? There are a variety of paid TikTok ads that can be run. The majority of this resource details “paid in-feed ads” however TikTok also offers these other types of paid ads:

  • Brand Takeover Ads – pricing begins upwards of $20K
  • Hashtag Challenge Ads – flat fee of $150K for six days
  • Hashtag Challenge Plus Ads – $160K
  • Discover Banner Ads – $150K per day

Additionally, marketers can partner with popular, trending, and/or niche TikTok influencers to message their audiences in powerful and effective ways.

See below for more information about marketing with TikTok influencers. For more information about the other above TikTok ad formats, please see the end of this resource.

TikTok paid ads

Who can run TikTok ads? Brands and agencies are able to run ads on TikTok. As of now, TikTok influencers are not able to promote their own content (as is possible on Facebook and Instagram).

Who should be running TikTok ads? Brands and agencies should be running TikTok ads and testing whether these relatively new ads are comparable to Instagram, Facebook, and existing social media ads. TikTok makes it easy to collaborate with teams through their Virtual Business Center. This enables advertisers to manage campaigns by creating different profiles, roles and permissions.

TikTok Ad Alternatives: Marketing With TikTok Influencers

While influencers aren’t able to boost their own content via TikTok ads, brands and advertisers are marketing with TikTok influencers to great success.

Marketing with TikTok influencers (also known as ‘TikTok Influencer Marketing’) involves a brand or advertiser partnering with a TikTok influencer or creator to create original, custom sponsored content promoting the brand/product/service on the influencers’ own TikTok channel to their fans, followers and audiences.

To learn more about marketing with TikTok influencers, check out our comprehensive guide here, see high-performing TikTok case studies, or visit our TikTok influencer marketing service page.

Understanding The 3 Tiers Of TikTok Ads Manager [CHART]

TikTok Ad structure

Ads that run on TikTok Ads Manager have three tiers associated with an Account: 1) Campaign, 2) Ad Groups, and 3) Ads.

Campaigns: this is the initial step where brands and advertisers determine their campaign objective (see more on aligning client KPIs with objectives below) which can be under three umbrella objectives:

  • Awareness – reach
  • Consideration – traffic, app installs, video views
  • Conversions – conversions or catalog sales

Ad Groups: In the second tier, Ad Groups, advertisers define the following details of the ad including where the ads will appear, when ads will run, who will be served the ads, etc.:

TikTok paid ads
  • Ad Placements – where the TikTok ads will appear. At present, TikTok ads can be run on 1) the TikTok app (in-feed ads on the “For You” page), 2) News Feed Apps – TopBuzz, BuzzVideo, News Republic, Babe, etc. ) and 3) Pangle – TikTok’s Audience Network
  • Ad Details – these are details related to the brand, product or service you are seeking to promote including Promotion Type, Display Name, Profile Image, User Comment, and Video Download
  • Target Audience – TikTok Ads Manager allows you to target audiences by creating a Lookalike or Custom Audience and through various Demographics (Gender, Age, Location, Language, Interest) and Device (Connection Type, Operation System and.or Version, Device Price, Carrier) specifications
  • Budget – either set a “Daily” or “Lifetime” budget (no less than $20)
  • Schedule – schedule your ads to run by start and end dates. Additionally, ads can be run continuously or at certain parts of the day “Dayparting” for selected time periods (half an hour up to 24 hours)
  • Bidding & Optimization – strategies and optimizations that can be set depending on goals (e.g. Conversion, Click, or Reach)
  • Delivery Type – either Standard (even spend of budget) or Accelerate delivery (fastest spend of budget)
  • Third-Party Tracking – Advertisers can input third-party tracking and links; settings and third-party tracking platforms enabling advertisers to track ad performance and attribution

Ads: On the third and last tier of TikTok’s Auction Campaign Structure, advertisers can see the actual ad presented to the target audience (what the intended audience will see on their mobile TikTok app).

What Are Your TikTok Ads Goals? Aligning KPIs with Objectives

For TikTok ads goals, there are three basic objectives that then tie to KPIs (key performance indicators – what metrics or benchmarks used to measure success) — 1) Awareness, 2) Consideration, and 3) Conversion.

Advertisers will need to choose which objective best fits their campaign goals.

Awareness is measured by Reach — if chosen, TikTok will show your ad to the largest number of people (within your target audience) at the most efficient price.

For Consideration, marketers need to choose between 1) Traffic — sending potential customers to a specific page on your website or app, 2) App Installs — driving downloads with links directly to your app store page, or 3) Video Views — serving your video ad to audiences most likely to watch and therefore boost views.

Finally for Conversions, TikTok ads are optimized to drive a specific action (e.g. drive valuable actions on your website, encourage users to set up an account, opt into your offer, and/or make a purchase on your website).

Pricing: How Much Do TikTok Ads Cost? How Bidding Works

TikTok’s in-feed ads can be up to 60 seconds in length and run with the sound on (these ads are most comparable to Facebook’s Ad Manager).

Advertisers can choose between Automatic Placement or can select placement on ByteDance’s (TikTok’s global parent company) app network including TopBuzz, BuzzVideo, NewsRepublic, and more.

For in-feed TikTok ads, pricing is dependent on:

  1. The ad format (next section)
  2. Length of the ad campaign
  3. How many other advertisers are targeting the same audience

As there is a finite amount of ad space within the app, TikTok has an in-depth bidding process (see below in this section) to determine pricing — bidding too low might cause your ad performance to suffer as they are not served adequately but bidding too high may also be detrimental — start out small, test and further optimize.

Bidding methods are determined previously by the optimization goal (your objectives) and then in turn trigger the billing event (e.g. charged by click, impression, length of video view). These include: CPC (cost-per-click), CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions), CPV (cost-per-view), and oCPC (optimized cost-per-click).

For CPV, TikTok measures this by 2-second video views, 6-second video views, and/or video completion.

Advertisers can set how much they are willing to pay per thousand impressions, per click, or conversion in TikTok’s bidding process. Advertisers can set this depending on whether controlling the daily cost per result is most important or optimizing daily budgets with conversions is the goal, etc.

As far as budgets are concerned, advertisers can either set a Lifetime Budget (the maximum amount to be spent on a campaign or ad group throughout the defined time period) or Daily Budget (the maximum amount to be spent on a campaign or ad group each day). For campaigns, both daily and total budgets must exceed $50 USD. At the ad group level, the minimum daily budget must exceed $20 USD.

Aside from ad creative, strategy, and targeting, the bidding process and rationale behind it is nuanced and can greatly impact success. Consider working with a qualified and experienced agency if you are unfamiliar with these aspects of TikTok ads.

How To Track Your TikTok Ads

To better track the performance of TikTok ads, advertisers can either use the app’s third party tracking and/or install a TikTok pixel.

By adding a TikTok pixel to an advertiser’s site, ad delivery can be optimized based on customer behavior (for example, targeting those who have previously visited and engaged with your site).

Additionally, for app installs, advertisers can add their app to TikTok’s event manager — this allows for tracking specific events on a brand’s site including app installs, add to carts, pop-up events, and more depending on conversion goals.

For some top TikTok influencers, advanced tracking capabilities may be possible. Presently, this tracking can only be enabled for sponsored content created by the influencers themselves (but there is an option that brands can submit themselves for approval for this feature). Work with an influencer agency with expertise in TikTok influencers to best measure and track performance with sponsored influencer ads.

TikTok Ads Targeting Capabilities

TikTok Paid Ads

Similar to other ad managers, TikTok can target audiences based on:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Language
  • Carrier
  • Operating System
  • Custom Audience
  • Network Type
  • Interest: Apps, Food & Beverage, Apparel, Pet Travel, Automobiles, etc.
  • Behavior: watched, liked, commented or shared a video of specific interest in the past 7 or 15 days
  • Device Price

For Custom Audience targeting, TikTok Ads Manager allows advertisers to specifically target audiences based on:

  • Customer Files — provide your own list of device IDs for targeting or lookalike audiences
  • Engagement Audiences — targets users who have previously clicked on your ads (clicks) or users who previously had an ad delivered to them (impressions)
  • App Activity — creates a custom audience from users who have completed certain events within your app (e.g. activate, register, purchase, second day retention, checkout, add to cart, view content)
  • Website Traffic — creates a custom audience from users who have visited or taken specific actions on your website (e.g. view content, button click, purchase, form submission, consult, start trial, contact)

Additional Considerations For Running TikTok Ads & Other TikTok Paid Media


TikTok represents the newest and innovative advertising medium for brands — as the most downloaded app of 2020 and with users spending an average of 45 minutes each day, TikTok gives advertisers the opportunity to reach and test new audiences previously unavailable on more established platforms (e.g. Facebook and Instagram).

As mentioned at the start of this resource, TikTok offers the following different types of paid ads: 1) In-Feed ads, 2) Brand Takeover ads, 3) Hashtag Challenge ads, 4) Hashtag Challenge Plus ads, and 5) Discover Banner ads.

For brands seeking to maximize direct-response (click-throughs, app downloads, purchases), paid in-feed ads and brand takeovers are the best options — results can be measured by the number of clicks, impressions, CTR (click-through-rate), video views, play duration (length watched), and video interactions (e.g. likes, shares and comments).

Beyond in-feed ads, higher spend ad formats on TikTok (such as the Hashtag Challenge) have the opportunity for unprecedented virality with viewership soaring into the billions.

With these higher spend ad formats, brands have the ability to demonstrate a video concept (e.g. dance moves, duets, meme format, and more) which audiences can then replicate leading to greater awareness and conversions as these ads are amplified by TikTok.

Additionally, with these higher spend ad formats, audiences often create hundreds or thousands of individual branded videos (UGC — user-generated content). It is important to note that brands will not have any creative control over the UGC resulting from these ads.

Brands should consider partnering with an influencer agency to ensure TikTok ad content is not only engaging, strategic and optimized, but that the campaign is protected from liability (i.e. music licensing, copyright infringement and platform policies). It is important to note that the main TikTok music library is no longer available for brands to use however TikTok does have a smaller licensed music library specifically for brand usage.