Although trending on TikTok might seem like the holy grail of marketing right now, brands should be careful how hard they chase a trend. We’ve seen brands jump on TikTok trends weeks late, attempt to “get in on the joke” and end up being tone-deaf, or have their viral failure become the basis for a trend.
On April 4th of 2017, Pepsi released an ad with Kendall Jenner. In this ad, we see Kendall Jenner in a big blond wig and a silver dress posing for a shoot as a protest passes by. We see a musician playing music to entertain the protesters. We see large amounts of imagery related to diversity with a headscarf-wearing photographer and an Asian millennial musician. The protests are filled with signs saying “Join the conversation.” The ad culminates with a now black-haired and makeup-smeared Kendall Jenner coming out of the crowd to give an officer a Pepsi.
Certainly, Pepsi thought to themselves, this message is positive in most respects and would garner attention from the younger demographics. Pepsi was right in one sense, the ad garnered a lot of attention. Attention that would tank their brand image as well as Kendall Jenner’s.
With that, we can see that Pepsi was trying to jump onto the “trend” of social justice. However, their ad fails in that it does not take into account the complexities of the situation and the context of the protests. The protests were in response to the numerous killings of unarmed people of color and the rampant use of excessive force. In this context, the ad appears to co-opt an important movement in the name of profit and brand awareness. This ad inevitably led to a 27-24% decrease in Pepsi’s Purchase Consideration score with millennials.
The lesson: it is not always prudent to jump onto trends for the sake of sales and awareness. We will look at this lesson and see how it works with TikTok trends
What is TikTok Trendhopping?
Trendhopping is a strategy used by established and smaller brands to gain views and awareness. It is the act of joining in on popular trending hashtags, memes, challenges, and/or events. This strategy is primarily used as a means to create content easily and quickly, while also interacting with the general population in a more relaxed way.
This strategy is utilized to create awareness, not so much action.
TikTok sounds are the basis for many trends on the app. Click here to learn more about choosing the right sound.
Bad TikTok Trendhopping
As the Jonny Depp and Amber Heard trial went on, TikTok buzzed with clips and reactions. You could find people cracking jokes at the incompetence of Amber’s lawyer or other parts of the trial.
However, when NBC posted this clip, Duolingo went into the comments and said this:
On what planet does a brand – even @duolingo – think it’s cool to crack jokes about an alleged victim of domestic violence? The Depp fandom bubble on TikTok is very real but no brand should get anywhere near it. pic.twitter.com/HvvtrKDoRg
— Chris Harihar (@ChrisHarihar) May 18, 2022
As a marketer, we should glean that this usage of trendhopping only served to hurt Duolingo’s brand image in the eyes of many potential users. Brands need to differentiate between instances where it is appropriate to joke and use humor and instances where it is best to stay clear. This televised court trial was not an opportunity to gain high-fives, it was a private matter made very public.
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Good TikTok Trendhopping
To demonstrate a good usage of TikTok trend hopping, I am going to use Duolingo again as an example. Global Media Publication Ad Age named Duolingo the Social Marketer of the Year. The reason Duolingo is so successful is that it uses humor that closely mirrors that of the TikTok community at large. They understand modern terms and lingo and utilize popular song choices to boost views.
In their most popular TikTok, they jump on the trend where people ask “ew who peed,” show a celebrity, and proceed to become a fish. Another time, the Duolingo owl spells out the word “cap”, a term meaning “you’re lying.” Or watch Duolingo kidnap someone their celeb crush.
These TikToks might seem immature and a bit too edgy for a professional company, but to the younger demographic, Duolingo actually makes content that is entertaining and doesn’t come off as a brand placement. Instead of blindly trying to join a trend, you really need to understand the TikTok demographic, their humor, their aesthetic styles, and their lingo.
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Good trend hopping requires all of these:
1. Being up to date on internet culture: As a marketer in a space like TikTok, not understanding what is current will hurt you. You don’t want to put out old “Forever alone” memes. To the younger demographic, this is a sign that your brand lacks modernity.
- Lesson: The Good thing is that TikTok makes it very easy to keep up to date with the modern TikTok trends. Just go to your For You page, which incorporates outside sources, and look through the trending page.
2. Make sure you understand the context of TikTok trends: Let’s look at the example of the Pepsi ad. This ad caused more harm than good because Pepsi didn’t understand the movement and the people within the movement. They should’ve done their research and seen that it is not appropriate to capitalize on such a tragic event. While this was an ad on TV, the same insensitive mistake can be made on TikTok.
- Lesson: If you are going to make an ad or content about something controversial, do your due diligence and understand what people think and why people think that way, then make a genuine attempt to connect to them beyond selling them your product.
3. Choosing a relevant trend: Arguably the most important aspect of trendhopping is hopping on TikTok trends that are relevant to your brand. For instance, you might not want to make content in the vegan hashtag if you sell burgers. While you might get views and interactions, you are peddling your product in areas where you will not get any customers.
- Lesson: Do your research and find out where your audience is. Not only should you understand the broad categories that your audience lies, but do some research on micro-niches that your product can permeate.
4. Putting your signature: If you are a brand jumping in on the latest dancing trend, but add nothing special or unique, you are wasting your time. Trendhopping is good for brands if they can put their touch on the trend and change it in a way that attracts attention. Remember this, brands have a marketing budget, but the average TikTok dancer does not.
- Lesson: put your signature, whether that be better cameras, setup, dancers, iconography, or video effects, and put something into trends so that people notice your content.
This article was written by Benjamin Byun