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ICYMI: In February, Hilton Hotels & Resorts released a 10-minute TikTok video—yes, you read that correctly—that took viewers on a sprawling journey, spanning dozens of locations and multiple genres, featuring appearances from more than half a dozen beloved TikTok creators.
Not only did the spot earn some 4 million views within its first two days online, but that pace actually accelerated, with the video averaging over 2.2 million views a day in its first two weeks.
Engagement was also sky high, with about 500,000 likes and nearly 30,000 comments in the same timeframe. And most importantly, enthusiasm for the spot has been absolutely unparalleled. To put it simply, the crowd went wild.
How exactly did the 104-year-old chain of brick-and-mortars that started out in the era of newspaper advertising leapfrog the competition, demand 10 minutes of unbroken attention from some of the most distractible viewers on Earth, and quite possibly cement itself as Gen Z’s favorite place to stay for years to come?
The reasons are simple, clear and reproducible—but brands and agencies who think they can replicate the success of this spot without putting in the same amount of legwork will be sorely mistaken. Only those who invest the time and energy to understand and engage with their audience on a deeper level the way Hilton did will be able to replicate their spectacular results.
Instead of opting for a faster and cheaper multi-platform approach—making a generic vertical video and publishing it everywhere—Hilton chose to create a video that was custom-made for the specific social channel where they wanted to make inroads.
From start to finish, Hilton’s spot demonstrates a deep understanding of TikTok trends and culture by making expert use of the unique features that made the app popular in the first place—things like stitches, duets and the constant jump cuts that are a holdover from the platform’s 15-second days. Not to mention common editing techniques like the dramatic punch-in and, of course, the device of having a single influencer perform multiple characters in dialogue with each other.
Just as importantly, all these technical details are backed up by an underlying tone that’s equally native to the TikTok generation—it’s fast-paced, self-referential, self-deprecating and subtly absurd. Put it all together and you get a spot that feels natural and organic to the platform, not an awkwardly placed advertisement.
One of the biggest reasons for the ad’s success was its organic integration of beloved TikTok creators. But they weren’t just shoehorned into preexisting roles like Irate Customer or Employee #1. Hilton brought them into the process early on and gave them a ton of creative freedom so they could do what they do best, how they do it best. In addition to allowing Hilton to borrow the influencers’ creative genius, this ensured their existing followers would flock to the ad in droves to check out what basically counted as bonus content.
As a platform, TikTok thrives on originality and breaking the mold. The idea of a 10-minute ad is already an enormous departure from the norm in and of itself, but the pattern-breaking doesn’t stop there.
If the spot had hung all of its hopes on nothing more than the concept of “an advertisement that’s way too long,” most viewers would have swiped away as soon as they realized that it was exactly that. Instead, the spot continues to defy expectations throughout, throwing curveball after curveball, taking the viewer on an unexpected and unpredictable journey.
By doing so, they kept viewers engaged and intrigued throughout the entire runtime and created a spot that somehow feels no longer than two or three minutes.
While the precise completion rates of the spot haven’t been shared publicly, the comments are chock full of viewers remarking how stunned they were to realize they finished the whole thing. “Y’all got me watching this whole ad,” said one highly upvoted comment, while another said, “Never thought I’d watch a 10 min TikTok but here we are.”
Rewarding viewer attention
As the spot goes on, it gradually heightens in intensity, pacing and the frequency of pattern-breaking. By the end of the spot we’ve had multiple shifts in reality, where we’ve gone from watching the advertisement, to watching people realize they’re in an advertisement, to watching people actually in the process of making the advertisement, to watching the people who made the advertisement debate the advertisement, to watching those people themselves enjoying a stay at Hilton—before culminating in a Gregory Brothers musical remix that samples lines of dialogue from the entire spot.
And for the pièce de résistance, the spot ends by feeding back into itself in a seamless loop that starts back at the beginning of the video.
By treating the audience’s time as something more precious than gold, something that must be rewarded with something of equal or greater value, Hilton kept viewers engaged and entertained for literally 20-80 times longer than your average pre-roll ad.
Tapping into the zeitgeist
The spot does an incredible job leveraging conversational awareness, demonstrating a deep understanding of the cultural zeitgeist and using it to their advantage.
Over the last few months, the internet’s ever-fickle ire has turned toward vacation rental sites like Airbnb. Hundreds of memes, tweets and Reddit posts have circulated, lamenting the endless house rules and chores one has to put up with in order to stay in a vacation rental, all while paying for the privilege to do so. The prevailing opinion expressed in these conversations is that staying at a hotel is far more relaxing than having to deal with all that—but of course, there was no brand attached to this realization.
By tapping into this recent and ongoing frustration, Hilton essentially positioned itself as the beneficiary of that cultural realization, casually proposing its properties as the best option for vacationers and business travelers alike without seeming catty or combative.
This not only helps them stand out from the competition but also positions them prominently in a larger conversation many people are already engaged in—which means they’ll earn loads of free coverage and mindshare as that conversation continues to grow.
All in all, Hilton’s 10-minute TikTok ad is a masterclass in social marketing that not only went mega-viral but generated genuine enthusiasm from viewers who are usually remarkably marketing-resistant. It’s a great reminder that when it comes to social advertising, some rules are meant to be broken—but to break them just right, first you have to know your audience.
It’s the difference between roasting someone you just met and roasting your best friend since high school: The familiarity, the shared history and the deep mutual understanding of each other’s intentions make all the difference in the world. That earned intimacy allows you to communicate in a way a newcomer simply can’t, no matter how hard they try.
By the same token, only brands who are willing to invest the time and energy to develop a genuine relationship with their customer base will be able to reap the kind of rewards Hilton has with this groundbreaking spot.