TikTok Pushes Harder Into Search Ad Market

TikTok has been testing search ads by invite only since March 2022, but three advertising agency sources say reps for the Bytedance-owned company continue to pitch the product more aggressively in recent days.

Representatives are also asking advertisers to participate in case studies often used to validate new products. 

The Business Insider report points to recent TikTok job posts that look to hire engineers to develop a "large-scale ads system" for search advertising.

In fact, there are several TikTok job ads that specifically call out search advertising related to engineering for infrastructure and machine learnings.

Shamsul Chowdhury, executive vice president, paid social at ad agency Jellyfish, told Business Insider he believes the feature will “happen” by the third quarter of this year.

In March 2022, David Herrmann, president of the agency Herrmann Digital, in March 2022 posted a screenshot of a TikTok search ad on the resets page for a “skincare routine.”

The push into search comes at an interesting time for TikTok, as Bing and Google introduce chat-like features for search and the United States government continues to talk about banning the social site.

Under a new law, U.S. President Joe Biden could use a new Senate bill to ban the Chinese-owned site, along with other foreign-owned sites through a bipartisan group of 12 U.S. Senators.

The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act calls for the Commerce Department to "identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, and mitigate" technologies from foreign adversaries that pose "undue or unacceptable risk to national security," according to a report.

Google is paying attention. Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan released internal data in July 2022 that estimates nearly 40% of 18- to-24-year-olds in the U.S. search on TikTok and Instagram, rather than Google Search and Google Maps, when looking for a place to eat lunch.

Agency reps said that TikTok search ads work differently than Google and Bing search ads. In a recent sales pitch deck, obtained by Insider, TikTok describes its search ad format as "a new entryway into the familiar user-created content and community experience." It sounds more like Bing Chat.

Advertisers participating in the beta can toggle on from existing TikTok campaigns to activate search ads that appear as thumbnails on the search results page. Advertisers, however, cannot indicate exactly where those search ads will serve up. The ads serve based on a specific audience and depends on the search query a user has typed in.

A TikTok search for "sneakers" during the Austin Marathon weekend in February 2023 served one user a Kane Footwear ad, promoting a recently posted video starring Matt Choi, reports Business Insider, reporting that Kane Footwear declined to comment.

TikTok uses scenery, images, voice-to-text, captions, and keywords that appear on its green-screen effect to choose which ads to show.

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