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The New Marketing: How creativity can thrive in periods of turmoil, by TikTok’s Shant Oknayan

By Shant Oknayan, general manager of global business solutions across the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, TikTok

The Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly been a time for self-reflection for both consumers and brands. Being home-bound has meant that now more than ever we have become more self-aware about what we invest our time and energy in. For many, the past few months have inspired rekindling old loves, exploring new interests or enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

For brands, this has been a time to stand up and play an integral part in consumers’ lives and shape a new vision of the world. Many brands have united to provide crucial support to communities in need and provide real and tangible value – something that I hope will steer brand agendas with purpose for the long run.

On the other hand, it’s also been widely recognised that many brands’ early advertising efforts were received as homogenous or creatively lacking. In the early days of the unfolding pandemic and in a bid to responsively communicate a tone of solidarity, many advertisers found themselves replacing campaigns with ads composed of interchangeable stock footage and voice overs.

While all industries have needed to rapidly change course to find a new groove in this ‘new normal’, what has been incredible to witness is the expanse of creativity emerging online.

Naturally, screen-time and mobile usage increased exponentially during quarantine as more people spent time at home. At TikTok, our mission has always been to inspire creativity and inspire joy. Recently, more than ever before, we’ve seen an eruption of diverse, feel-good content and creativity fuelled through isolation. People have used this time to demonstrate their personalities, spread joy through their artistic talents and raise awareness for humanitarian and charitable causes.

We saw content creators unite to share their appreciation for the country’s frontline heroes in response to the #ThankYouHeroes challenge, launched by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

Throughout Ramadan, people took their love of cooking and dining virtual whilst sharing Iftar and Suhoor together over TikTok when they couldn’t be together physically.

With the #OpenYourEyes challenge, launched in partnership with OSN during Ramadan, we engaged people to see just how long they could keep their eyes open through a branded, interactive filter. Was it long enough for a quick episode of Brooklyn 99 or did they have the staying power for a gripping, 50-minute episode of Game of Thrones? The campaign was a resounding success and it is still performing organically today.

So, off the back of this period of uncertainty, we’ve really seen a shift in how people discover and consume digital content and phenomenal displays of originality. People are signalling with their thumbs, their cameras and their voices that they want positive emotions. To laugh, to be inspired, to be amazed.

For TikTok, our strategy throughout all of this has been to stay true to our mission of inspiring creativity and joy but to be agile and flexible – constantly listening to our users to better nurture their creative expression. Looking ahead, and as we navigate ourselves through the ‘new norm’, our priority remains the same – to create a space that provides a form of positive ‘escapism’ and shares joy.

The big question is: what does this all mean for the marketers of today who recognise the opportunity to tap into TikTok’s rapid growth among a highly engaged and creatively inspiring community?

Recognising the colossal potential, we’ve invited advertisers to ‘make TikToks, not ads’ and unlock the infinite creativity on TikTok via our recently launched TikTok for Business platform.

We’re energised to ramp up our collaboration with brands in the region to help them reach new audiences and connect in dynamic and authentic ways through our suite of creative tools, targeting features and measurement capabilities.

For entrepreneurs who are also looking ahead optimistically to the next chapter of recovery, we’re extending greater flexibility to support the region’s burgeoning SME community.

With limited resources and advertising options, brand building and marketing at scale can be challenging. Our recently launched self-serve advertising platform should alleviate some of that pressure and give businesses the ability to efficiently engage new audiences through an extensive suite of creative tools, intelligent targeting and world-class support. This, coupled with our Back-to-Business programme, which includes $100m in complimentary ad credits to small businesses worldwide, represents powerful assets to help them expedite their journey to rebuilding.

2020 has been tough on everyone, but in times of turmoil I believe creativity is thriving – you just need to know where to look for it and how to tap into it for business success.