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April 7, 2024

TikTok Made Me Buy It: A Comparative Analysis of User-Generated Content and Brand Curated Advertisements on User Engagement and Perception

With the emergence of new technology over recent years, the digital world has become a staple in today’s society. More specifically, social media has gained an immense influence in how individuals engage with the general public and themselves.  The attraction social media presents to users encompasses user-friendly platforms that are relatively inexpensive and allow for the possibility of engaging with countless individuals due to its vast reach of mass audiences. Most social media platforms allow users to create and share various forms of media content including text, photo, and video.1

As a result of it’s widespread use and direct engagement with target audiences social media has become a new channel for businesses to market their goods and services.2 Brands can now target specific audiences based on data collected through the online behavior of users allowing them access to those users preferences and online activity.3 Considering these factors, it’s no surprise that social media marketing has taken over the advertising world, in some instances is more effective than traditional advertising.4

Example of data analytics from social media | Courtesy of Plann
Example of data analytics from social media | Courtesy of Plann

 One of the fastest growing social media platforms today is the media app TikTok. In the time since it’s release in 2017, TikTok has grown to over 1 billion active monthly users.5 Consequently, the media platform has become a new marketing channel for brands to advertise and interact with consumers while receiving real-time feedback. In addition, TikTok has also created it’s own advertising platform, “TikTok for Business”, that businesses can partner with and get access to all the features needed to launch effective ads, drive sales and measure performance.

The three main marketing techniques used on TikTok are collaborating with an advertising agency or TikTok for Business, collaborating with influencers or celebrities, and self publishing content.6Exploring and understanding brand curated advertisements, and influencer-generated content is fascinating. Techniques differ between the two in the sense that a brand curated advertisement is content created by an agency, or in this case, brands who partner with TikTok for Business, while influencer-generated content is content created by influencers that attracts viewers and matches the identity and branding that is created to fulfill the purpose of content creation such as for promotion, learning, entertainment, or providing information. This is possible because influencers have used personal content to grow a mass following to a level that is of interest to marketers.7 Walmart and Kroger, two nationally recognized brands take different advertising approaches and understanding this can make it easier to understand these concepts.  Walmart, utilizes TikTok for business and has been much slower to partner with influencers while Kroger has collaborated with influencers to create content.

Walmart on TikTok

Since the opening of its first store in 1962, the grocery retail chain, Walmart, has grown to operating over 10,500 stores in 19 countries and eCommerce websites. The question is, why would a brand with such a massive consumer base need to market on a social media platform such as TikTok? Walmart has continuously lived up to its company mission, branding themselves with their slogan “Save money, live better’. Although simple, the slogan represents Walmart’s mission and values as a business. However, with the constant change of the advertising world, the retail chain realized the way to reach new customers and engage with them has changed. This in turn means the way businesses should strategize media campaigns and where they employ them also has to change. This led to Walmart’s collaboration with TikTok for Business in hopes of driving consumer engagement by fostering discovery and shared experiences. With this collaboration Walmart began to use TikTok’s advertising tools such as in-feed ads, top view ads, and brand mission ads. All three of these tools offer different approaches to users but have the similar goals of maximizing user engagement and brand perception. The first tool, in-feed ads appear algorithmically in users “For You” pages as they scroll, the second tool, top-view ads appear as the first video users see when they open the app, and lastly brand mission ads allow for co-collaboration with content creators that choose to participate in the said challenge.

Walmart’s #IYWYK campaign page | Courtesy of TikTok

Initially, Walmart began by utilizing in-feed ads and discovered that by tapping into TikTok’s feed and producing native content alongside their brand equity there was a new opportunity for consumer interaction and user engagement. With it’s initial testing the results proved true, engagement rates were 2x higher and there was a 3.5x increase in profit. Still, Walmart was nowhere near done experimenting with TikTok’s marketing opportunities. In 2022, Walmart launched it’s branded mission TikTok campaign #IYWYK ( If you Walmart, you know) building off a broader TikTok trend #IYKYK ( If you know, you know) with the goal of engaging, entertaining, and educating users about their products while building brand equity. The idea was that users would share how Walmart provides a better life within reach with it’s affordable products and lifestyle.

The campaign was released with TikTok’s top view ad tool, further prompting for the campaign to strategically appear as the first video users saw when opening the app maximizing both audience reach and awareness of the campaign. The branded mission campaign allowed the company to crowdsource creative, on-brand content from TikTok’s community of creators, in total gaining over 700 engaging creator-produced videos. The results were staggering, the campaign received a 20% engagement rate with 30 million impressions and 2 million clicks to the challenge page. Since the success of this campaign, Walmart has continued to utilize TikTok’s advertising tools and carried out multiple branded mission campaigns since.8

Kroger On TikTok

Being another of the world’s largest retailers, the Kroger Co. has grown from one store in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio to nearly 2,800 stores in 35 states with yearly sales of more than $132.5 billion. The grocery company has held steadfast in its values since day one- serving customers with the freshest food with the lowest prices while keeping up with the most innovative practices. Similar to Walmart, Kroger recognized that digital marketing is becoming one of the most effective marketing techniques and a direct way to reach younger audiences. Realizing the potential reach of the app, Kroger chose to target Gen Z on TikTok because at the time there weren’t many brands on the platform yet, leaving them the opportunity to take advantage of the full resources TikTok had to offer.

Contrary to Walmart, Kroger decided to pursue using TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, a platform for brands interested in partnering with influencers on the app. The Creator Marketplace allows brands access to millions of creators all over the world, including insights into the data of any creator a brand had interest in partnering with.  If utilized, the Creator Marketplace allows brands to invite creators to collaborate with them on a specific campaign to promote their brand so these campaigns can either be paid or reward-based sponsorship. Kroger quickly recognized the benefits that creators held by providing a familiarity and former relationship with audiences already. If these creators displayed trust by partnering with Kroger and sharing their products online consequently their audience would be more likely to do the same.

Example of Creator Marketplace Data | Courtesy of TikTok

With this platform tool, Kroger became the first ever brand to globally run the Hashtag Challenge Plus campaign on TikTok, called #TransformUrDorm. When first introduced the Hashtag Challenge Plus was a new e-commerce feature that allowed users to shop for products in app that were associated with the sponsored hashtag. This made it that much easier for users to shop for products and therefore provided Kroger with the perfect opportunity.

 To kick off the campaign Kroger partnered with four creators who were current college students or who were attending college for the first time. This partnership developed more authenticity for the videos coming from students instead of a brand, and provided a more trustworthy feel for users. The goal of the campaign was to get creators to share their favorite Kroger products they used to transform their dorm ranging from snacks to organizational supplies and school supplies.   Overall, the campaign received over 400 million views and a 16% engagement rate and since then Kroger has continued to partner with influencers even having their own group of designated content creators called “Kroger’s Fresh Squad”.9

Although there was no significant difference in the success of both brand-curated ads and user generated content it’s important to highlight how effective both were in engaging users and presenting brands in a new, fun light. There is no denying that by adding personalization and becoming familiar with ongoing trends and new platforms brands can develop relationships with audiences in an entirely new way. All things considered, there’s no doubt that social media marketing will continue to rise in popularity as the technological landscape continues to develop and progress. However, as TikTok is currently being met by some governmental controversy due to the Chinese ownership it’s continued use is under question but will not have an effect on the growing use of social media marketing. Even if TikTok is banned, there are multiple social media platforms that provide the same reach and advertising tools. By becoming familiar with these platforms and their benefits brands now have the ability to personalize their businesses with audiences like never before. By harnessing social media’s benefits such as data insights, advertising tools and platforms, and content creators brands have the opportunity to continuously grow their presence online and consequently in store.

  1. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2023, s.v, “Social Media Marketing,” by Trudy Mercadal.
  2. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2021, s.v, “Direct E-Marketing,” by Ruth Wienclaw.
  3. Aiolfi, Simone, Silvia Bellini, and Davide Pellegrini,  “Data-Driven Digital Advertising: Benefits and Risks of Online Behavioral Advertising.”International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management 49, no. 7 (2021): 1089–1110.
  4. Raj Sinha,“ A Comparative Analysis of Traditional Marketing V/S Digital Marketing,” Journal of Management Research and Analysis 5, no. 4 (2018): 234-243.
  5. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science, 2023, s.v, “TikTok (Media App),” by Cait Caffrey.
  6. Yana Dewi, “Creating Customer Engagement and Customer Value Within 15 Second : How Tiktok Works for Content Marketing,” AMAR (Andalas Management Review) 5, no. 1 (2021): 33-45.
  7. T. Titi Widaningsih, Marcellio M.W. Kusumaningrat, and Rustono Farady Marta, “The Influence of TikTok Content Creator on Consumptive Behavior of Teenagers in Online Shopping,” Jurnal Aspikom 8, no. 2 (2023): 213–24.
  8. “Tiktok for Business Case Study: Walmart Global,” TikTok, TikTok For Business, March 28, 2023
  9. “Casey Smith of Kroger Marketing: Harnessing TikTok for Influencer Marketing,” Perlu, Perlu Blog. March 31, 2020,

Gabriella Sauceda

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Recent Comments


  • Silvia Benavides

    Great article shedding light on the connections between brands and other involvement with social media platforms such as TikTok.

  • Carlos Anthony Alonzo

    Your article offers valuable insights into the complex connection between social media and consumer behavior. The examination of cultural dimensions enriches our understanding of how societal norms shape consumption patterns. However, acknowledging the dynamic nature of culture and its relationship with other factors could further show its role in driving market trends and consumer preferences. Great article!

  • Sebastian Hernandez-Soihit

    Mind Blowing case study about the power of social media and the grip one can have over others with a base level understanding of algorithms. This is innovative as it is terrying and calls for consciousness as consumers and users of these platforms, specially as Instagram and Facebook aim to replicate the engagement tiktok has.

  • Maria Fernanda Guerrero

    I agree, technology has become a daily part of your routine, as for myself so has social media. I actively check social media throughout my day. In fact, my current screen time is 5 hours and 39 minutes daily which is not bad, when comparing it to others. It’s mind blowing to acknowledge the amount of time we constantly spend looking at our phone screens. Plus, social media does influence us including myself immensely especially Tik Tok to participate in trends or buy certain things. Thank you for this informative article.

  • Madison Hinojosa

    I agree that social media undeniably holds a profound influence on today’s youth, significantly shaping their behaviors, perceptions, and interactions with the world around them. The amount of screen time young individuals devote to social media platforms is astonishing, with many spending hours scrolling through content, engaging with peers, and absorbing information. This excessive screen time not only impacts their daily routines but also affects their mental health, productivity, and overall well-being. The constant exposure to curated images, videos, and messages on social media can create unrealistic expectations and standards, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem among the youth.

  • Luis Ramirez

    I agree with you. This article explains the importance of how social media influences in peoples lives. Not only that, it also influences on world wide companies. It’s crazy how Tik Tok just started as a small social media that helped out most teenagers with the pandemic, to now, having business grow and having people create their own business as well.

  • Leaya Valdez

    This article shines light on a very important topic that is effecting everyone especially young adults and teens that have a uprise in screen time. I knew very little about the algorithm and what it actually does but after reading this i now know that a lot of companies use the algorithm to push products more to a wider audience that they might not of had prior to the advertisement.

  • Esmeralda Gomez

    This article excellently stresses the importance of the dangers of overdependence on technology and what outcomes are faced when this type of behavior is encouraged, and sometimes, becomes the norm for people. As screen time rises, technology dependence becomes increasingly apparent in our daily lives and it is important to take a step back and realize what exactly we are losing while we dance between reality and the fictional world within our screens. We’re subject to numerous effects and algorithms aimed at compromising our attention spans and fostering consumer compliance. Great job.

  • Jonathan Flores

    This article is very well dine and covers a very serious topic in an informative way. With peoples screentime ever-increasing, it has become clear that many people, myself included, are depend on technology in our everyday lives. In this way, we become subject to the countless effects and mathematical algorithms that seek to destroy our attention spans, and make us compliant consumers. I find this to be very dangerous to society and I think that sort of danger was accurately implied through your writing. Very nice job.

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