TikTok Mid-Year Analysis: How Brands Have Used TikTok in 2021 and What Advertisers Should Learn

A mid-year analysis on the most popular advertising trends seen so far in 2021, and a few tips advertisers can learn from them.

An insightful analysis of advertising trends on TikTok from Markerly, an influencer marketing technology partner and agency. 

Austin, United States
See Profile
Justin Kline
CEO & Founder Markerly

In March of 2020, with millions of Americans confined to their homes, TikTok exploded in popularity providing users with hours of content to watch, and since then the platform has only grown. While it’s been available in the United States since 2018, following almost a year and a half of widespread use, TikTok recently surpassed YouTube in time spent on the app per month.

Over the past 17 months, we’ve seen users and companies alike collaborate to create memorable advertisements on the platform. As more brands capitalize on the TikTok phenomenon, here is a mid-year analysis on the most popular advertising trends seen so far in 2021, and a few tips advertisers can learn from them.

Older millennials love TikTok and brands are capitalizing on that

If anything has become abundantly clear over the last year, it’s that TikTok isn’t a platform targeted just to Gen Z. The popular Pepperidge Farm snack Goldfish came to this realization when they used TikTok to prove their “snack that smiles back” isn’t just for kids. In their  #GoForTheHandful campaign, the company collaborated with NBA star, Boban Marjanović from the Dallas Mavericks to see how many Goldfish crackers users could hold in their hands. With over 12.2 billion views for the #GoForTheHandful campaign, only a handful of users actually took a stab at beating Boban’s 301 Goldfish-in-a-hand record. A majority of users simply used the hashtag for their videos, which had nothing to do with Goldfish or the challenge, simply because they saw it was trending on TikTok.


Earlier that same month, Hasbro’s company Nerf hired their Chief TikTok Officer, an influencer on TikTok named Sophie Lightning, through a pleading video job advertisement incentivizing $10,000 payments per month for user generated content. With over 109.4 million views for #NerfApplication and news of TikTok recently pushing users to utilize the platform for video job applications, this trend will likely only continue.

What once was old can still be trendy

While advertisers typically use the “out with the old, in with the new” approach with creating ads, TikTok defied this rule and the results proved effective. In May, “old” messaging became trendy again when Old Spice brought back one of their most popular marketing campaigns. The original “​​The Man Your Man Can Smell Like” ad aired in 2010 and won 37 Cannes Lions that year. After 11 years, and this time with a British twist, the ad featured comedian and TV presenter Munya Chawawan riding a germ-free carriage on the tube in London, going so far as to nod to COVID with a “diamond encrusted” face mask. With over 104.3K likes and 1,796 shares, users clearly approved of the modernized advertisement made for TikTok.


Dominos hopped on this trend when they questionably brought back their famous “The Noid” ad, repurposed for TikTok. The ad, which originally aired from 1986 to 1995 featured a fictional character with buck teeth in a red bunny suit, whose mission was to disrupt pizza delivery. This year, the Noid reemerged on TikTok, jumping on one of the app’s most popular trends - a dance challenge where users were encouraged to join in a duet to “Avoid the Noid.” Many TikTokers may have missed the original Noid campaign entirely – or they may have been too young to remember it – so this is a great example of how a brand can target an entirely new audience with a revamped idea. Dominos was engaging a new generation while also driving nostalgia and maintaining consistency in their branding – a triple win!

Key takeaways advertisers should take note of

As seen through Nerf, Goldfish, and Old Spice, recruiting athletes, celebrities and influencers with an existing following is a great way to draw attention to posts for advertising efforts. Since users are drawn to videos of creators they follow, brands should select spokespeople wisely. TikTok, in particular, is a platform built on authenticity. With new rules enforcing clear disclosure on sponsored posts, brands must come up with creative ways to feature a product without having their videos come off as too salesy. Creating challenges for users to participate in is a great way for brands to recruit users to interact with ads.

As Goldfish learned, it’s also important to develop creative campaigns users will want to engage with. Though #GoForTheHandful was trending on TikTok, only a small number of users actually participated in the campaign as the brand intended. Be mindful of calls to action that require product placement – if users don’t have the product readily available, they can’t participate in the challenge. Trends also come and go quickly on TikTok. In order to maximize your campaign, collaborate with your creative team to incorporate your brand into a TikTok challenge that anyone can jump into – whether they own the product or not.

As with all creative efforts, it’s important to keep a pulse on industry trends your brand can capitalize on. Consult with your creative team and the influencers you work with to ensure brand messages are perceived favorably and aren’t construed as distasteful or ‘lazy’ for repurposing content. As seen through Dominos and Old Spice, it’s best to keep the same theme and elements from older advertisements while incorporating a more modern spin to appeal to younger audiences.