Why wacky ads work on TikTok, while sober is better for Facebook

In early June, apparel retailer Mexicali Blues had its most successful post on TikTok yet.

One of its store employees posted a nine-second video showing different ways to wear one of its ponchos. Within 24 hours, the post received 50,000 likes and generated 100 sales of that garment on its ecommerce site, MexicaliBlues.com.

Jacqui Segura, Mexicali Blues’ director of marketing, decided to turn that video into a TikTok ad. After roughly a week and putting $245 dollars behind the ad, it generated $325 in revenue.

@mexicalibluesnewcastle The perfect summer staple! Featuring Emily, back for the summer!! 🌞 #hippie #summer #maine #midcoastmaine #fyp ♬ 505 – Young 若い

Even though Mexicali Blues would consider that a low return on ad spend for other social media ads, this is the highest ROAS it’s achieved on TikTok, Segura says. In fact, in the previous eight months Mexicali Blues has advertised on TikTok, none of its ads have generated a profit.

So, this video ad is encouraging news for the brand’s nascent TikTok ad program. The only problem is, Segura has no idea why this video worked and why others haven’t.

“I want to crack the code, but I’ve gotten nowhere near cracking the code,” Segura says about TikTok ads.

Many retailers share Segura’s frustration about TikTok ads. Only 30% of retailers that advertise on TikTok said their ads were effective, making it the lowest ranking effective ad channel, according to Digital Commerce 360’s marketing survey of 97 retailers in May 2023.

In fact, social media platforms in general are a mixed bag for merchants in terms of effectiveness and positive return on investment, according to the survey. While 70% or more of retailers ranked email, paid search and Amazon ads as effective, only 54% of retailers said the same about Instagram ads, 50% about Facebook ads and 34% ads on social networks other than Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

Some merchants rave about the sales they’ve generated from organic TikTok posts or high return on ad spend from Pinterest ads, while others are satisfied that their social media raises brand awareness. But with each social media platform having its own algorithm to master, its own ad system, and catering to a different type of audience, online retailers can spread their resources thin trying to keep up.

Marketers from four small online businesses — Mexicali Blues, HandSkate.com, GotFunny and CakeSafe — share ways they feed the social media beast by tailoring content to their target audience on each of these platforms. And they say it’s OK to repurpose content, sometimes.

Social media plays big role for young online shoppers

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