TikTok is testing interest-based ad targeting.

TikTok wants to prove it’s an effective ad platform — quickly.
TikTok’s ad platform, available in beta to a select range of agencies, is testing interest-based targeting, custom audience and pixel tracking, according to four advertising executives. Those options are in addition to targeting by age, gender, location, operating system and network on the device. Sales leaders at the short-form video app have been telling agencies they plan to release this beta version of its self-serve ad platform more widely in July, sources said. (Adweek first reported plans for a biddable option and more targeting in February.)

With these updates to its ad system, TikTok is trying to draw in marketers who have an interest in the app however cautious of its performance. in a March Digiday+ survey of 231 media buying executives, respondents ranked TikTok as the platform with the least effective audience targeting capabilities.

A TikTok spokesperson said the corporate is testing numerous features for brand partners whereas the main focus is on making a good experience for larger TikTok community.
An agency executive, who had a pitch meeting with TikTok last month but has yet to buy ads on the platform, said interest-based targeting would make them more confident of ad buys on TikTok since they could simply be more precise. The move better positions TikTok as an effective buy rather than merely a “shiny object” that marketers are intrigued by due to its young audience with high engagement, the executive said.

Though, another agency executive who has chatted with TikTok said that they had low expectations for the practicality— at least in its infancy. TikTok’s current capabilities won’t be as good as Facebook’s due to the newness of TikTok, the executive said.

“Interest-based targeting can be very effective, depending on how built out the platform’s targeting abilities are. Newer platforms typically provide interest-based targeting but have a troublesome time actually fulfilling on it because their data is still new,” the executive said.

TikTok representatives didn’t elaborate on what specific categories are offered in their meetings with new partners, sources said. One client said they expected the options to be similar to Snapchat’s lifestyle categories.

Snapchat’s lifestyle categories, which were released in September 2016 alongside lookalike audiences and audience match, include 117 segments like “American football Fans,” “Movie Theater Goers” and “Online Shoppers.” These classes are based on a Snapchat user’s activity inside the app, namely what sorts of content they spend the most time on.

TikTok’s content algorithmic rule is presently powered by a similar recommendation system, per sources. The app is able to recognize what content is in a video, like a dog or a coffee cup, which is useful not just for recommendations in the feed however also could power the advertising system. Unlike on Snapchat, users on TikTok can like and comment on videos, which also provide signals for content recommendations similar to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Even with the limited targeting options, some brands are currently buying ads on TikTok. A spokesperson from GrubHub, which was one of the first advertisers on TikTok, told Digiday last month that ad performance has continued to “meet or exceed our expectations.” other marketers like Red Bull and Sony are testing the app with their own accounts. Publishers like ESPN and NBC News also have created their own accounts.