TikTok Is Running Ads Targeting Potential Facebook Advertisers

Multiple campaigns across Google search point to possible attempt to sway marketers

The companies have been butting heads for roughly a year. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Getty Images, Facebook, TikTok

TikTok recently began running ad campaigns across Google targeting people curious about Facebook’s advertising and influencer business.

Using the mar-tech intelligence tool Similarweb, Adweek found five separate campaigns running across the search engine targeting users searching terms like “Facebook ad network” or “Facebook influencer ads.” When looking up those terms, marketers interested in Facebook’s platform might see an ad for TikTok’s platform at the top or bottom of the search results and take a chance on that instead.

A TikTok spokesperson acknowledged the campaigns running across Google, saying they were “small tests” being run to assess the value of the search engine for catching the eye of potential agencies.

“Almost all of our advertisers that are currently running on Facebook and Instagram are asking us, ‘How do I get on TikTok? Should I be on TikTok. What’s the role of TikTok? Is there a place for my brand on TikTok?’ The overlap in interest is very, very high,” said John Terrana, general manager at the digital marketing agency SocialCode. “In terms of brands that are actually supporting strategies on TikTok, the overlap is much lower.”

Terrana estimated that out of his roster of roughly 50 media clients, 10 to 15 of them had a presence TikTok—and even then, they’re not spending as much as they would elsewhere, he said. While Terrana couldn’t comment on specific dollar amounts, a recent analysis from ad-tech company Adstage found Facebook’s cost per thousand impressions, or CPM, totaling roughly $7.77 for marketers on the platform. Meanwhile, a recent academic paper pulling TikTok’s own numbers reported CPMs of less than a quarter at 24 cents.

These are examples of some of the keywords leading users to TiKTok's ad platform.

While TikTok may be facing a dearth of ad dollars in its early U.S. presence, it’s far from insolvent. Recent estimates have pegged the short-form video company as drawing roughly $75 million from the more than 1 billion TikTokers globally who spend real money to buy in-app tokens to bestow on creators during their livestreams. Coins are available in bundles, with prices ranging from 99 cents to $99.99.

Typically, the costs associated with running Google search ads depend on a few things, like an advertiser’s “quality score”—how relevant they’ll be to an end user Googling a term—and the number of other advertisers battling over the same keywords. That’s why while some estimates peg the cost of Google search ads at roughly $1 or $2 per click (CPC), it’s likely TikTok is paying a bit more due to the number of tech platforms vying for a piece of Facebook’s multibillion-dollar ad budget via Google.

When Adweek attempted to run Google search ads targeting the same keywords TikTok was targeting, campaigns that cost between $13 and $100 daily and $395 to $3,040 for a month’s worth of ads showed up in the results. The exact cost depends on how many people a marketer wants to reach—upwards of 3,700 on the cheaper end or 28,800 if they spend more.

A big reason for the meager spend comes down to one thing: maturity. Adweek previously revealed that the company is toying with everything from a native ad network to biddable ad placements and playable options. Right now, American advertisers are limited to running standard, in-feed video ads, brand takeover ads, hashtag challenges and branded lenses that TikTok users can use in their own videos.

Other platforms, including Pinterest, are running ads that similarly target Facebook in Google search.

When it comes to targeting ads, TikTok offers age, gender and basic geotargeting on a state-by-state level, and though it’s promising more granular demographic-based targeting in the future, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Instagram or Facebook offer, according to Terrana.

On Facebook and Instagram, for example, users can be targeted by recent purchases or buying behavior. They can also be targeted by specific life events like being in a new relationship, moving homes or graduating from college.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s mounting privacy issues from federal regulators and concerned parents alike have some brands wondering if the meager rewards are worth the associated risks. In February, the company was fined $5.7 million by the FTC for “disturbing practices, including collecting and exposing the location” of children—particularly those that were under 13. This month, The New York Times revealed that the U.S. government opened a national security review of TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance over its acquisition roughly two years ago of Musical.ly.

Federal investigations aside, “it’s just like any other early platform that we’ve ever worked on,” Terrana said. “It’s young and basic in terms of the ad units you’re able to run, the optimization levers you’re able to pull and the targeting options, so the signals through ad campaigns that the platforms return as easy to take action off of as you’d have with a fully scaled platform like an Instagram.”

Other marketers voiced similar gripes. “It takes five minutes to set up your first ad on Instagram, versus five working days to open an ad account on TikTok,” said Eliott Maidenberg, managing director and partner digital agency JIN. Still, he added, “It’s only a matter of time before TikTok catches up.”

"It's only a matter of time before TikTok catches up."
Eliott Maidenberg, managing director and partner, JIN

According to reported internal meetings between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and high ranking execs within the company, Facebook sees TikTok as a threat. A leaked audio transcript from one such meeting obtained by The Verge features Zuckerberg calling the app out by name, saying that “[TikTok]’s starting to do well in the U.S., especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India—I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale.”

As a result, Facebook has rolled out some of its own offerings to compete with the short-form video giant. Last year, it introduced Lasso, a stand-alone platform that, much like TikTok, allows users to upload short clips accompanied by music from Facebook’s own library.

Meanwhile, according to the transcript, Zuckerberg mentioned that the company is in talks to tweak Instagram’s layouts, focusing more on the short-form videos associated with Instagram Stories.

“There’s interest in [TikTok] because it’s growing incredibly fast, and marketers don’t want to miss that opportunity,” Terrana said. “There’s fear of missing the next big social platform.”

@swodinsky shoshana.wodinsky@adweek.com Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.