Are TikTok ads any good for public sector comms campaigns?

This is what we learnt when we trialled the platform to promote Covid-19 vaccine positivity to teens, says CAN’s Matt Kilpatrick.

With around 6 million active users in the UK, and a million new downloads of the app each month, it was inevitable that an agency like ours, which specialises in digital advertising, would need to pay attention to TikTok at some point.

And with its youthful user profile – 60% of TikTok users are Generation Z (born 1997-2012) and 26% of UK mobile phone users aged 18-24 use the app – that point came when the Covid-19 vaccination rollout recently rolled down to younger people, now including 12 to 15-year-olds.

We work exclusively with the public sector and have been helping our local authority and NHS clients to promote vaccine take-up with digital advertising since the rollout began.

Many of them had started to mention TikTok over the summer, after we’d already generated millions of impressions and more than 300,000 click-throughs using a variety of vaccine-positive ads on other social media channels and news and lifestyle websites.

So, a readymade younger audience was available on TikTok, but:

  • How well is the platform geared up for targeted advertising?
  • Do younger people respond to advertising on there?
  • What sort of creatives would work as ads on TikTok?
  • Would people click through for more information – essential for most public sector campaigning?

Our two-week TikTok test

Some 14 local authority councils from different parts of the UK agreed to take part in trialling TikTok advertising. We set up four different video clips, each addressing vaccine hesitancy, to run on the platform for two weeks – from 27 August to 10 September – to an audience of 13- to 24-year-olds.

The videos were not created specifically for TikTok but had performed well on other social media channels. They were a bit of a departure from the usual council content!

“Look at these pricks…” was one message, ahead of a rapid montage of jabs in arms (not for the needle-phobic) to a high-octane blast of synth sounds, with the pay-off “…saving lives with a short, sharp, selfless scratch”.

The “Two shots please” video shows a young guy taking control of his life with the freedom to hug all his family but also enjoy getting away from home (“Got it done, now I’m out on the run”).

“Don’t be the one to miss out” shows young people getting back to a range of things they love – sport, clubbing, gigs – while their unvaccinated friend is left at home.

The “Best jab” video features famous boxers – current and former – discussing right hooks and the right thing to do when it comes to the vaccine.

As some people might have felt at least some of this content inappropriate coming from a local authority, we didn’t use council TikTok accounts (if they had them) but launched the videos from our own CAN account. This may help when targeting younger people anyway, as a council logo might have put them off before they even clicked on the content to see what it was all about.

TikTok ad trial results

The videos performed incredibly well over the two-week trial with:

  • More than 11 million impressions (unsurprisingly, only 5% on a device that wasn’t a mobile phone).
  • Over 890,000 interactions (clicks, swipes, likes, shares, video views).
  • Almost 76,500 clicks through to the NHS website for information on booking a jab.
  • The most popular video was “Two shots please” (a combined total with an edited version “One shot please” for those only getting a single jab).

The most satisfying stat is the one for clicks. The videos got a lot of young people to the official NHS website to find out more about Covid vaccines.

What do we think?

We didn’t trial advertising on the platform with a typical, rapidly edited TikTok video – of the kind that will be familiar to even oldies now thanks to the Ant and Dec TV ads. But they still generated nearly 1 million views in 2 weeks. So, the potential for using something bespoke in an advertising campaign in the future is exciting.

However, geotargeting users on TikTok is still limited. It is improving all the time, but right now for the UK you can only geotarget by country or certain regions. This is obviously not perfect for individual council evaluations. You need to see the bigger picture (you’re helping the nation’s young people get vaccinated).

Our message is always “don’t think about platforms but about your audience”. In terms of vaccine comms continuing through the autumn and winter, ask yourself which groups of people locally are hesitant and invest your time, effort and budget in reaching out to them on the most appropriate platforms. And TikTok should certainly be in contention for younger residents.

What next?

Join in with the Public Sector Communications Hub we’ve created with Westco Communications. It gives you access to campaigns like the one described here for TikTok, as well as the chance to tap into free insight and creatives and share what’s working and not with comms folk in different organisations.

Take a look at some of the other ways in which we can help with your vaccine hesitancy campaign with advertising on a range of audience-relevant online channels.

Or get in touch with me by email with any questions: