Triller Trolls TikTok for Teens

As ByteDance continues to shop around TikTok two months ahead of its Nov. 12divestiture deadline, one company isn’t sitting around awaiting the outcome.

Century City, California-based Triller is quickly establishing itself as TikTok’s most aggressive rival, with over 250 million downloads, 65 million active users, and a new $250 million funding round, pushing its valuation to over $1 billion.

Founded in 2015 as a video music app, Triller pivoted a year later to become more of a social video app, but still didn’t find much traction. That all changed last year, when Proxima Media acquired Triller and became majority owner.

Proxima is the investment firm of Hollywood producer Ryan Kavanaugh, who founded Relativity Media in 2004, producing hits such as “Bridesmaids” and “The Social Network” before declaring bankruptcy in 2015, amid $1.2 billion in debt. Kavanaugh’s partner at Proxima, Bobby Sarnevesht, is Triller’s chairman, while founder Mike Lu remains as CEO.



With Kavanaugh’s Hollywood connections, Triller suddenly had access to record labels and A-list musicians, particularly in the hip-hop community. Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd, Marshmello and Lil Wayne all became endorsers -- and angel investors. Triller also signed licensing deals with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, with each label taking a small equity stake in the app. However, Triller is still in the process of signing licensing deals with more music publishers, as Warner Chappell Music is the only major publishing house currently licensing them material.

Then, in late July, TikTok superstar Josh Richards announced he was moving to Triller as an equity investor and chief strategy Ooficer, bringing with him fellow creators Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck and Anthony Reeves as advisers and shareholders. Richards cited concerns over TikTok’s data privacy policies, as well as frustrations over revenue sharing with content creators.

Triller envisions itself as the “adult version” of TikTok, with more of a focus on young adults 18-25, vs. kids, tweens and younger teens. A large sign on Triller’s office wall says “TikTok is for kids,” and Kavanaugh told CNBC, “TikTok trains the audience that we don’t want to have, which is the 8- to 14-year-old audience.” The minimum age to use Triller is 12.

What can marketers learn from Triller’s rapid rise and brash power plays?

*Value content creators. The creator community felt taken for granted at TikTok, and Triller not only listened to their concerns, but responded with more favorable revenue sharing, equity stakes, and even C-Suite and senior advisory positions. Triller proves once again that brands need to value their most important influencers and creators with time, attention and money -- or one of their competitors will.

*Provide celebrity access. TikTok grew its own celebrities, but Triller could promise closer access to A-listers such as Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Eminem. Brands that enable fans to forge a stronger connection to their favorite celebrities via exclusive content, early “drops” and previews of work in progress will enjoy a virtuous circle: those celebrities will drive their fans to the brand, and those users will be more engaged, which will encourage celebrities to produce and promote even more.

*Age up. The kiss of death for any brand targeting teens is to be considered “too babyish” or “something my little brother/sister would use.” Everybody wants to be 18-25 -- old enough to gain access to life’s freedoms, but young enough to still enjoy them. So by targeting young adults, brands can bring along a large cohort of teens 13-17 for the ride, without running afoul of data privacy restrictions on users 12 and younger.


By adopting Triller’s playbook, marketers can ensure they remain in tune with today’s teens and young adults, and sing in harmony for years to come.
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