All credit (or apologies) to Petey for inspiring my intro video bit above!
When a social platform is named after a 2009 hit from Ke$ha—the great bard of our time—you know it was destined to do big things. Launched in 2016, TikTok has grown to over 1 billion users globally. Chances are you’ve seen, made, or sent a TikTok or two (hundred).
The video-sharing platform gave creators new tools to make pretty much anything. No wonder it’s so popular! But this brings some unique creative and logistical video production considerations for businesses trying to craft content for the platform. After all, not everyone has a robust social team that can shoot and edit opportunistic content on-the-fly (all hail that mischievous Duolingo Owl).
If your business needs a more traditional production approach, how can you make your content feel native to organic video platforms?
This year, our team at Demo Duck got the opportunity to produce a variety of TikTok videos for GEICO. Our challenge was to develop content that extended the brand’s voice—and the well-produced quality of its typical advertising—while also feeling at home on TikTok. Here’s some of the lessons we learned along the way. Hopefully they’ll help you add nimble and engaging TikToks (or similar style Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, etc.) to your social media video production strategy.
Like most social media channels, TikTok content often rockets into the engagement stratosphere by tapping into timely trends—including its unique trending audio feature. But if your staffing or workflow doesn’t allow you to turn around content at a lightning fast pace, that doesn’t mean you can’t join the party.
Another defining feature of TikTok is its niche communities, and the unique styles of camera work and editing they utilize. For example, foodies around the world share delicious recipes using step-by-step shots with helpful text on screen.
When we were developing concepts for our GEICO work, we thought about aligning our video to some of these niche communities and their distinct video styles. This would allow our videos to connect with an audience, even if they didn’t align to a popular daily trend. What popular niche styles of TikToks would connect with GEICO’s audience, and are there opportunities to combine with GEICO’s established universe of characters, humorous brand voice, slogans and more.
Packing with Aunt Paula! Don’t forget the green bean casserole. Happy holidays! #geico #packing
Let’s break down the concept behind the video above. We based one of our initial video series off the popular but niche world of packing videos. TikTok is filled with flat lay style videos where users pack suitcases, packages and more with outfits or other elements showcasing their personality. The world of “oddly satisfying” videos is vast (hello, ASMR!) and there’s certainly something pleasing about seeing suitcases packed in a neat and organized way.
We then thought of different characters we could bring to life using this style, using their possessions to bring their personalities to life. “Aunt Paula” was a natural extension of their “Aunt Infestation” broadcast commercial, and a perfect video to shoot in advance of the holiday season. After all, timely content doesn’t always have to come from an emerging trend.
Thoughts on Trending Audio
Speaking of trends and developing concepts, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Trending Audio is one of the platform’s defining features, allowing users to set their videos to popular songs, snippets of dialogue from movies or TV and more. This lends itself well for users to try out dances, make funny lip sync videos—but also can put brands in a legal gray area. These audio clips are often copyrighted, which creates considerations when a brand hops on the trend.
This is something we considered when crafting concepts for our GEICO series. Since we were putting some extra elbow grease into these videos, we needed to make sure we avoided painting ourselves into a corner with copyright concerns. This of course, doesn’t mean staying away from music. It’s an integral part of the platform and adds energy to any video. The fact that we were editing the videos outside of the platform allowed us to flexibly craft concepts that used multiple licensed music tracks—leading to a fun series where we switched decades with visual and musical styles.
CAUTION: When you save money by switching to GEICO, you literally never stop dancing. #Dance #ThroughTheDecades #Retro #GEICO #insurance
If you’re looking to add a musical track to a video within the platform, you can also consult TikTok’s library of pre-cleared music for businesses. That way it’s worry-free but not groove-free. Or you could officially license the artist’s track if budget allows. As the Hothan sibling that went into the creative industry and not the legal field, I'd always suggest consulting with your internal or client’s legal team to figure out what’s best for you and the project.
Nobody wants to spend budget on props, talent, sets—not to mention time on pre-and post-production—and then be asked to take the post down (or worse) due to improper use of an audio clip.
Producing for the Platform
Ok, so you’ve got some good ideas. But how do you produce work that feels natural to the platform? A video that feels “overly produced” can stick out like a sore thumb and cause viewers to tune out and keep scrolling. This consideration helped influence some of the commercial video production equipment we used.
“We actually shot our very first video on a smartphone as a test,” said Nick Roth, Demo Duck’s Director/Editor. “It looked ok, but ultimately using a handheld camera gave us some additional flexibility. Ultimately we were able to capture footage that was somewhere between a smartphone and the high-quality footage that is associated with GEICO’s commercials”
Nick also thought of ways to capture that hand-held feel of shooting that is synonymous with TikTok. Instead of making the talent hold the camera, Nick would work out “camera choreography” with the talent in advance of shooting. That way, he would be able to follow their movements in a way that made it feel like we were shooting from their perspective, while also allowing them to perform in the moment and get the best takes possible.
“We often have actors practice their dialogue and their actions before we start filming, allowing them to riff and find what actions are natural to the scene,” said Roth. “How would someone actually act in these situations, interact with their surroundings and others, and how can we make the camera follow their behavior instead of limiting it?”
You can get great insurance in practically no time from GEICO. Maybe even set a world record. #fyp #cupstacking #recordbreaking
The right editing style is a big part of making a video feel native to TikTok—especially if you’re editing it outside of the platform. This was necessary for us, as we needed to work through reviews with GEICO. Big surprise, but quick, energetic cuts with a sweet spot of under 30 seconds usually led to the best performing content. Some of our favorite videos, like one starring a talented trick dog named Static, also didn’t have a strict shot list either. We just kept shooting and allowed the footage to dictate the final edit.
Good pups deserve boops and treats. And pet insurance, too. Note: Human assistance may be needed. #GEICO #petinsurance #dogs #bordercollie #dogtricks
Speaking of, let’s talk about re-editing existing content for TikTok. If you have a variety of existing video content, it’s a great idea to try to get as much use of it as possible. But as discussed, just doing a vertical cut of an existing broadcast spot might look out of place on the platform. TikTok creates an opportunity to breathe new life into an existing video. Maybe you do a shorter cut, isolate a favorite scene, utilize text on screen, show behind-the-scenes content, etc. Do you have a slew of vintage ads? Style a living room like the era and just film classic commercials being played on a retro television.
There’s a variety of creative ways to extend existing content into the platform, but it all starts with being open to the unique sensibilities of the platform and its users.
Working on these videos certainly taught me a variety of live action lessons, and about the TikTok platform itself. Immersing yourself, studying the subcultures and learning from cringe (instead of looking away from it) is a great way to develop content that connects with an audience. Every brand and audience is different. Did your followers find something funny? Exciting? Do they want to see more of a certain character? If you’re just a tourist, it’ll seem that way.
TikTok is a party, and your brand is invited. And even if you don’t have a robust team to shoot impromptu content on the fly, there’s still plenty of ways to produce videos that feel native to the platform and connect with your audience.
Hopefully our lessons can be helpful in expanding your social media video production into exciting new territory. Sadly, the mid-2020 video of me dancing the TikTok choreography to “Savage” by Megan thee Stallion just won’t seem to upload to this post. Darn! I’ll try again next time.