Auto industry rides TikTok trends to attract car buyers

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Hyundai Motor America didn’t run a Super Bowl spot this year, but it still grabbed some attention from the sidelines for its Ioniq 5 electric crossover.

The Korean automaker instead opted for an expansive digital strategy by leveraging TikTok, the video-sharing social hub known for its daily frenzy of people dancing to catchy music and using the plethora of editing tools to express themselves.

Automakers including Hyundai and Toyota and numerous dealerships have descended on TikTok to tap into its diverse user base, build up their brand and move some metal.

A March study from consumer-intelligence platform Suzy that found 44 percent of TikTok users are planning to buy or lease a car within the next six months, said Jodi Porter, U.S. vertical director of auto, dining and multicultural for TikTok Global Business Solutions. TikTok released a dealer playbook this month to help retailers tap into that consumer pool.

“We know car buyers are on TikTok, and that’s why we introduced this playbook,” Porter said in a statement. “It’s built specifically for auto dealers as a one-stop shop for education about the platform including best practices, best-in-class examples of marketing campaigns, creative tips and a beginner’s guide on how to start making your own TikTok videos.”

TikTok has been drawing consumers away from TV — the longtime domain of automotive advertising — and video streaming services. A 2021 study by analytics firm Kantar found that 30 percent of TikTok users reported spending less time watching TV, streaming services and other online videos since they began using the platform.

“No one’s really owning this space, and we want to be — particularly from an OEM standpoint — that auto manufacturer who is really relevant within this space because that’s the way we as a brand can connect with our

customers,” Kate Fabian, director of marketing communications for Hyundai Motor America, told Automotive News.

Hyundai’s Super Bowl effort enlisted TikTok influencers to make videos reacting to its Ioniq 5 commercial, “History of Evolution,” featuring actor Jason Bateman.

Hyundai also repurposed the spot in the week leading up to the game and launched it via “One Day Max,” TikTok’s former ad placement tool that allowed brands to funnel content directly into the video feeds of consumers in the first ad slot for up to 24 hours. The platform has since introduced a new ad solution with similar traits.

Kantar’s Brand Lift Study said Hyundai’s TikTok approach generated strong levels of ad recall and awareness.

Hyundai has been producing videos that offer a mix of humor and product. The automaker often lets viewers drive the content it posts, to add a layer of interactivity.

After Hyundai posted a February video showing the various paint options for the Santa Cruz pickup, one viewer asked about the truck’s cooler. Hyundai’s social team took note and posted a video a few days later showing the cooler built into the bed filled with ice and bottled water. The automaker also replied directly to that user’s original comment with a link to the cooler video, which has been one of the channel’s most popular posts with 2.4 million views to date.

Hyundai’s content style on TikTok is energetic with crisp video edits and plenty of the special effects that define the platform.

Hyundai dabbled with one effect called the “green screen nose and mouth” on several silly videos in which the brand spotlighted the importance of ventilated leather seats on hot days, joked about messy kids in their car seats and bemoaned that glove boxes are mainly used for napkins. The videos show a nose and mouth overlayed on the leather driver’s seat, a car seat and glove box, and the dialogue comes from the perspective of those components.

“That actually came from a trend that was happening on TikTok,” Fabian said. “First and foremost, TikTok’s about entertaining, so if I can entertain and then also provide information, that’s the best of both worlds. I keep people’s attention, but I also tell them a little bit more about our product or our brand and it makes them want to engage and share it.”

Toyota began its TikTok channel by running a dance contest that gave three winners a new Corolla Cross utility vehicle.

Dancer Aubrey Fisher, who has more than 2 million TikTok followers and has appeared in Corolla TV ads, initiated the “#CorollaCrossStep Challenge” contest in March with a video on his account asking people to record themselves dancing for a chance to win.

More than 1 million people participated in the monthlong challenge.

Toyota then launched its TikTok channel in July with a video announcing the first-place winner, who danced with Fisher. Two more videos posted soon afterward showed the other winners with their vehicles.

TikTok’s mix of young and diverse consumers aligned well with the demographics Toyota is trying to reach with the Corolla Cross.

“I think what’s unique about TikTok is it’s not traditional social media; in a sense, it’s really social entertainment,” Angie White, Toyota’s senior manager of integrated marketing operations, told Automotive News. “So that’s really the angle that we were going for. TikTok serves as that creative outlet for self expression in an innovative and fun way. It blends that creativity, fun, authenticity the other channels just don’t offer and because TikTok has those tools inherent to its platform where creators are really empowered to express themselves, people are really just loving their time on TikTok spending a lot of time there.”

The challenge to making quality content on TikTok, White said, is making sure it’s relevant and authentic to the platform. Keeping track of the platform’s ever-changing video trends and creating content around them is crucial.

The goal is to create content that caters to the TikTok community while remaining true to what Toyota represents, White said.

“It takes research, it takes time to make sure that we’re seeing what’s out there, what’s trending,” White said. “Can we create something that may be trending? Can we hop onto that and talk about ourselves as a brand in an authentic way that’s expressed through those trends?”