What long-form TikTok videos mean for brands' future social strategies

What long-form TikTok videos mean for brands' future social strategies

Hilton challenged the conventional brand approach to TikTok marketing with a 10-minute-long video that far exceeded the platform’s recommended video length of under 34 seconds and its advice to keep content “short and sweet.” The virality of the TikTok, despite its length, is sparking the industry to rethink TikTok marketing conventions to include long-form content. 

Despite straying from platform norms—or perhaps because of its break from convention—Hilton’s video quickly soared to virality, receiving over 4 million views and thousands of comments within just 48 hours. Those metrics have since swelled even further, with the video currently sitting at more than 35 million views and nearly 500,000 likes, along with over 28,000 comments from users expressing how much they enjoyed the company’s TikTok romp and hailing it as “genius marketing.” 

Hilton’s video, which was jam-packed with popular TikTok creators such as Chris Olsen, Boman Martinez-Reid and The Gregory Brothers of “It’s Corn” fame and their self-referential jabs poking fun at the fact that they were part of an ad, reveals an appetite for occasional longer videos from brands on the platform—if executed correctly. TikTok users “spent over 1.3 million minutes with the full video,” said Dan Reynolds, VP of content marketing and digital strategy at Hilton, which equates to roughly 130,000 people watching through the entire 10-minute video. 

While the hospitality company’s viral video demonstrated the potential for long-form videos to engage users in TikTok’s predominantly short-form environment, several social media marketing experts told Ad Age that brands shouldn’t abandon anytime soon the punchy, fast-paced video format that propelled TikTok to cultural prominence. 

“There’s a lot of people creating longform on TikTok just for the sake of doing it, and I don’t think that’s the best approach from a brand perspective,” said Annelise Campbell, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency CFG. “If brands are going to use that time, the video has to be thought out, relevant and make sense for an audience. Otherwise, they're just going to skip right through it. They're not going to care.”

When Hilton originally set out last year to create a lengthy social media video playing off of the company’s “Hilton. For The Stay” brand platform, it hadn’t planned on creating a 10-minute long piece of content, said Lesley Parks, executive strategy director of social and content at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, which partnered with Hilton on the video. When the agency first brainstormed the concept of a video that spurred viewers to stay for its entire length, TikTok still had a maximum video length of only three minutes—the agency was unsure if TikTok was even the optimal platform for this type of video, she said. 

After TikTok began to roll out the ability for users to create videos up to 10 minutes long in February 2022, Parks and her team were determined to leverage the new format.

“We really wanted to be a brand that took advantage of that full 10-minute canvas in a way that no other brand had done before,” she said. 

The decision to craft a video that hit TikTok’s maximum video length wasn’t simply driven by the novelty of posting a long-form video on the rapid-fire platform. It’s part of Hilton’s overall marketing push to emphasize the enjoyment of “the stay” at one of the company’s hotels or resorts, which Hilton and TBWA translated to social media by inviting TikTok users to “stay” for the full video and spend time with their favorite creators, Parks added.

“With increasingly shortened attention spans, most brands are using snackable content to engage with consumers on social platforms,” said Dan Reynolds, VP of content marketing and digital strategy at Hilton, in an email. “But our campaign is built around breaking conventions and we wanted to do the same with this program. We wanted to give viewers something to sink their teeth into, while staking our rightful claim that Hilton owns The Stay in a manner that is funny, engaging and truly outside of the box.”  Related news: Inside Hilton's 10-minute TikTok

This social strategy seems to have worked for the company. Beyond drawing millions of views and thousands of likes and comments, in the two weeks after Hilton posted the video, it had boosted the company’s overall TikTok following by 25%, or over 70,000 people. “With results like that,” Reynolds added, “there’s always the possibility of creating long-form videos in the future if we have the right story to tell.”

But Parks cautioned that brands looking to experiment with longer videos on TikTok should ensure the video still conveys an engaging story and underlying message that will keep viewers’ attention, rather than just relying on the novelty of a long-form TikTok video to pull users in. In this case, they could risk users quickly scrolling away when the video begins to feel drawn out or tedious. Hilton and TBWA specifically teamed up with several TikTok influencers in an effort to maintain consumers’ attention throughout the video and leave them anticipating which creator would pop up on their screen next. 

Behind the camera, they turned to David Ebert, commercial director at 1stAveMachine, to direct the video due to his experience as a TikTok creator himself, Parks said. Ebert’s familiarity with the platform helped ensure the content “lived and breathed TikTok in its most natural way,” she said. 

“A lot of people are saying that 10 minute ads are going to be the future on tiktok. They’re not,” Ebert wrote in a LinkedIn post. “Other people are saying TikTokers have short attention spans and ads should be like 8 seconds or something. That's wrong too. I think people on TikTok use the app for hours because they're just looking for something good to watch.”

TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years due to its frenetic, high-energy videos, a format that aligned well with the platform’s original focus on dancing and lip-syncing videos. And, seeing the success TikTok found with its short-form videos, rival platforms such as Instagram and YouTube aimed to copy TikTok’s bread and butter by introducing their own short-form video capabilities. 

As TikTok has evolved, however, the platform has gradually extended the maximum length of its videos from a mere 15 seconds to its current 10-minute cap, and TikTok users seem to be increasingly captivated by videos that tell engaging and entertaining stories, regardless of their production value or length, Parks said. A simple TikTok video of a person sitting in the front seat of their car and recounting a funny interaction they had while out shopping in a three-minute-long “storytime” video, for example, can attract thousands or even millions of views. 

“Long-form content has always worked when there's something interesting to say,” Parks said. “We’ve seen this across other platforms—on YouTube, in particular. And on TikTok, the rules of long-form remain the same: you can make long-form content when you have an amazing story to tell.” 

But brands should also consider incorporating influencers into long-form videos to communicate that story, as “partnering with creators is a non-negotiable if you want to resonate on a platform like TikTok,” she said.

The star-studded cast of creators that Hilton partnered with for the video was undoubtedly a major element of what held so many TikTok users’ attention, said Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Obviously. Those creators also helped Hilton better capture the type of language and humor that performs well on TikTok, such as the snarky, self-referential jokes the influencers made throughout the video, she said. She pointed to the segment where Robyn DelMonte, or GirlBossTown, begins talking about how working with brands can help a brand’s content better resonate with consumers, as an example.

“I don’t necessarily think this is the bellwether for brands making a ton of 10-minute videos,” she said. “It’s more just showing that Hilton is working with some awesome creators who are doing really fun, relevant content to the audience they’re trying to reach on TikTok, and that audience is reacting well to that.” 

Similarly, if a brand wants to experiment with making a longer video, it shouldn’t depart from other TikTok conventions for style or production value, Karwowski said. Just because a video might be longer doesn’t mean it should be more polished or resemble a commercial—“that’s basically the opposite of what you should do,” when approaching long-form TikTok content, she said. 

Hilton’s video also stood out on the platform due to it subverting TikTok users’ expectations for the content format they were accustomed to seeing, CFG’s Campbell said. She compared Hilton playing with the maximum length of a TikTok video to Geico’s response to the launch of pre-roll ads on YouTube, which the auto insurance company met with a series of cheeky campaigns, created with The Martin Agency, that parodied the very brief length of the new (at the time) ad format. 

“On a short-form-forward platform, for a brand to experiment with something that's long-form, is, I think, groundbreaking," she said. “I don't know, necessarily, if long-form will emerge as a trend that a lot of brands are going to try—but I do think TikTok is a place where brands can experiment more than other platforms."

TikTok, for its part, seems to be favoring longer videos, as evidenced by both its gradual but consistent increase in its maximum video length to 10 minutes and the launch of its new creator monetization tool, Creativity Program Beta. One of the core requirements for TikTok creators to earn revenue through the program is that their videos are over a minute long—which may seem brief, but is still longer than the optimal video duration of 21 to 34 seconds that TikTok has previously recommended to creators. 

The platform’s prioritization of videos with a minimum duration of one minute likely indicates that TikTok has found an uptick in users’ interest in longer content, which brands should also consider, said Ed East, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy. The platform “probably has data to back up why they’re making those decisions” to require creators to produce longer videos to earn revenue through Creativity Program Beta, he said. 

However, investing resources into long-form TikTok content can still be riskier for brands than producing several, shorter pieces of content, East said. “If it doesn’t perform well and you’ve invested all of this money, then it’s wasted,” he said, and added that one short-form TikTok video out of a series of other short videos flopping is far less risky.

If a brand does want to produce a long-form video, it’s essential to support it with short-form videos to drive TikTok to the long video at the heart of the campaign, said Parks. Hilton did so by having its creator partners upload short videos about the campaign to their own accounts. 

And, despite the success of Hilton’s video, “the simple truth is that short-form content consistently continues to deliver the highest return on investment, drive the best engagement rate and generate the most leads,” East said. Because of this, brands and advertisers will likely continue to prioritize short-form videos on TikTok, even as the platform urges creators to make longer ones. As of now, few brands have experimented with long-form content to the extent that Hilton has—most brands' longest videos max out at just two minutes. 

East, Campbell and Karwowski agree that more brands will likely experiment with long-form TikTok content following the positive reception of Hilton’s video—though that content might be far shorter than 10 minutes. 

“If it's something that captivates a person's interest, they're going to watch it no matter what—no matter how long it is. But I do think on TikTok there is kind of what I consider a bell curve, where interest will just kind of drop off if a video is not compelling enough,” Campbell said. “TikTok is a platform that is about keeping people engaged, whether it's just for a few seconds or a few minutes.” 

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