As seen on TikTok: how product placement is becoming interactive


In 2020 a new world of entertainment emerged: the world of TikTok. TikTok is a destination for short-form video creation and discovery, and there is something for everyone. Things that will make people laugh, things that will make people think, and things that may even teach people something they never thought they would be interested in learning in the first place.

In this world, the lines are blurred between actor and audience - in fact that's what makes this place so special, that anyone can take part - and it's their creativity which is redefining the way that products and brands show up. That's because there’s never been a place quite like this, where brands can appear organically, become part of a cultural moment, and vibe on a global scale.

Arguably one of the biggest cultural moments of the year on TikTok took place when Nathan Apodaca, a long time TikTok creator using the handle @420doggface208, uploaded a video of himself skateboarding down a highway swigging a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice after his car broke down. Paired with the iconic Fleetwood Mac song Dreams, the video blew up.

Not only did it receive millions of views and tributes across TikTok, social media platforms, and even TV, it also saw Ocean Spray’s products fly off supermarket shelves and brought Fleetwood Mac icons Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks onto TikTok. Both Fleetwood and Nicks made their own renditions of the video, each with a bottle of Ocean Spray.

This vibe created by Apodaca became a catalyst to bring Dreams back into the charts after 43 years, while simultaneously highlighting the power of TikTok for brands. Ocean Spray has gladly ridden the wave of publicity, reaching out to Apodaca and generously purchasing him a new truck to replace his car that broke down.

Entertainment without the fourth wall
TikTok has become the entertainment destination of choice for its ever-growing community.

Think of it like a TV broadcast but in short-form. Much like people have turned to television for entertainment and to discover content they love, they now turn to TikTok for the same joy.

Discovery is at the heart of the TikTok platform, with users “surfing the feed” like they would channel surf on television.

Many channels and genres make up TikTok - it's like a grassroots answer to specialty TV channels like the Food Network. From FoodTok to BeautyTok and ParentTok, there's something for everyone.

The biggest difference between the two media channels is the engagement and participation factor. TikTok is essentially what TV would be like if the fourth wall was broken down and viewers were invited to participate.

A prime example of this is musical theatre making its way off stage and onto the platform. While the pandemic may have closed theatres, the TikTok community have been finding ways to keep musicals alive across the platform in new ways.

Ratatouille: The Musical (or Ratousical, as it is becoming known) found itself taking form as a socially distanced, crowdsourced performance across TikTok instead of on stage.

Composers, singers, actors, musicians, dancers, and set designers have joined forces to write and perform original songs as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Disney movie, potentially one of the biggest collaborative performances the theatre community has seen to date.

It is content like this that showcases how fans can become both your buyers and sales people all at once. The lines between ads and content begin to blur across TikTok so seamlessly that for brands, it can feel like product placement in an always-on, personalized TV channel.

Audiences are more engaged when content flows as one seamless experience, rather than being interrupted by ad breaks where they are likely to tune out. All of this reinforces the mantra: Don't make ads, make TikToks.

Reimagining product placement
In the world of TikTok, brands have the opportunity to get products out into the real world - or make stories of them already being out there. The platform turns placement into consumption as consumers participate - or play - with the products.

Product placement on the platform could come from just giving products out to creators, or partnering with them, as is done on other platforms. However, it could also come from amplifying organic content or trends that are already happening with a brand’s products, like Apodaca’s video with Ocean Spray and Dreams.

In the case of Martinelli’s juices, the brand landed in the TikTok spotlight recently when users noticed that biting into the brand’s apple juice bottle produced a sound just like a real apple. The resulting #applejuicechallenge has amassed over 200 million views on the platform, with countless users rushing out to buy the product to take part, and each in turn getting it in front of more eyeballs.

This spontaneous, organic take on product placement could just as easily be set in motion by a campaign. Branded Hashtag Challenges have the potential to offer up thousands of creative iterations. The output then becomes product placement within popular culture.

One brand leveraging this format down under is NIVEA. The personal care brand took to TikTok for #NIVEASPLASH, which asked users to recreate their own take on the iconic face splash seen in Nivea TV commercials. To date, the hashtag has amassed over 110 million views on TikTok.

Nissan Australia used a Branded Hashtag Challenge to bring to life the launch of the all new JUKE. Official TikTok creators kicked off the campaign and inspired audiences to post their own unique videos using the #improvisewithJUKE hashtag and music. The campaign took the form of a competition, where the best user submissions had a chance to be featured as voiceovers in the JUKE TV commercial. The competition scored over 34,000 video creations and led to a 92.9% lift in brand awareness.

Viewers are the stars
When it comes to distinguishing between viewers and audiences on TikTok, just as with content and ads, the lines are blurred.

In fact, many TikTok users are also creators. For these creators, the feed is their stage and this where the opportunity for sponsorship and placement lies for brands.

There are two modes on TikTok: Creation and Discovery. This means that a brand’s consumers become its advocates and part of its campaign once they've taken part.

But brands need to remember that authenticity is the new consumer expectation. This is the key to success on the platform, which is why working with creators is a great way for brands to connect with the right audiences on TikTok. Creators can help to integrate brands in ways that they know their communities are receptive to.

Product placement may have once been reserved for premium environments like movies and in television shows, but this is no longer the case. Now product placement is something that everyone can interact with and play with. Consumers will go out and buy a product just to take part in a viral trend. These aren't ads - they're something entirely brand new. They're TikToks.

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