Warner Bros.' "Godzilla vs. Kong" this month became the highest-grossing Hollywood movie since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, a much-needed hit for the entertainment industry amid ongoing concerns about returning to movie theaters. Even though the action movie still hasn't opened in larger markets like Brazil, Japan and the U.K., its global box-office sales managed to surpass $400 million in the first month since premiering.
To promote the movie among younger audiences, Warner Bros. turned to social video app TikTok with a campaign by creative agency Movers+Shakers that has notched more than 7 billion views and counting. The studio's #GodzillaVsKongRoar challenge urged people to create videos with a soundtrack of Godzilla and King Kong howling at each other.
The sounds of an escalating conflict between two gigantic monsters proved to be captivating for TikTok users who created humorous videos to dramatize almost every kind of imaginable dispute. The depictions showed everything from couples quarreling over dinner plans to personal debates about what to wear.
The campaign's virality underscores the importance of combining the right mix of creative elements with an understanding of the sensibility of TikTok's users. They gravitate toward content that feels sincere and favor videos that encapsulate a complete narrative within a short time span.
"TikTok is a very different world. Authenticity, the lo-fi production value and the fact that every TikTok tells a story with a beginning, middle and end — these are all things that are very different from other social platforms," Movers+Shakers CEO Evan Horowitz told Marketing Dive. "The worst mistake that we see a lot of brands make is to try to copy and paste their Instagram strategy of creative on TikTok."
Horowitz's agency has developed brand campaigns on TikTok that have exceeded 100 billion views worldwide, helping to form a reputation as a specialist in the social video app. TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has consistently ranked as one of the most downloaded apps in the world since its introduction in 2018. In the U.S., the app had 100 million users as of August, the last time it publicized those figures. Though TikTok established a foothold with U.S. teens early on, its popularity has spread among adults, with 48% of people ages 18 to 29 saying they use the app, Pew Research Center found in a survey. That makes it more popular with young adults than Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
Creativity trumps spending
Amid that growing popularity, brands have taken notice of TikTok and its ability to raise awareness and engage consumers with campaigns that urge participation in the creative process. The app provides smartphone owners with user-friendly tools to make videos — and potentially become famous overnight. Brands also can post videos and sponsor hashtag challenges, but anything that comes off as too promotional isn't likely to engage users and inspire them to participate, according to Horowitz.
"A lot of brands spend a lot of money on running hashtag challenges who don't really understand the implications," Horowitz said. "They're trying to get the public to make an ad for them — and nobody's going to make an ad for them. People want to tell a fun story that gives them a platform."
"The reason that somebody's going to make video to join your branded TikTok challenge is because it gives them the opportunity to look cool."
Movers+Shakers has incorporated that philosophy into a variety of campaigns in the past few years. It created several TikTok activations for E.l.f. Cosmetics that cumulatively generated billions of views by encouraging people to create music videos with original songs. The campaigns have helped E.l.f. boost its ranking of popular cosmetics brand among teens from No. 8 to No. 2, with eight straight quarters of sales growth, per Horowitz. The growth was especially notable considering many consumers bought less makeup while stuck at home during the pandemic.
The agency last year worked with Warner Bros. on a campaign for the animated feature "Scoob!" that racked up 7 billion lifetime views. The centerpiece of the TikTok effort was a dance challenge featuring Jalaiah Harmon, the 14-year-old girl who became an overnight sensation with a dance she choreographed and shared online.
"We thought, wow, that's a great opportunity to connect 'Scoob!' into pop culture and Gen Z culture," Horowitz said. "We invited Jalaiah to choreograph Scooby Doo's dance. People love supporting Jalaiah, and that was great for the film."
Warner Bros. also enlisted Movers+Shakers to create a TikTok campaign for "Tenet," the sci-fi action thriller whose release date had been delayed several times because of the pandemic. HBO Max will begin streaming the movie on May 1.
'Opportunity to look cool'
In creating the TikTok campaign for "Godzilla vs. Kong," Horowitz said the key consideration was playing up the theme of conflict, an idea that's central to a movie that pits two famous movie monsters against each other in hand-to-hand combat.
"The concept for the challenge was really leaning into the idea of the 'versus,'" Horowitz said. "We played with a lot of different ways creatively for how that could come to life as a TikTok challenge, and where we landed was this Godzilla versus Kong roar."
To help spread the word for the hashtag challenge, six influencers with millions of followers were recruited to create videos and inspire others to participate.
"The idea with a hashtag challenge is you want to make it look like the party has already started, and it's the invitation to come join," Horowitz said. "The most important driver of participation is the creative concept of what the challenge is. Ultimately, the reason that somebody's going to make video to join your branded TikTok challenge is because it gives them the opportunity to look cool. TikTokers want to make a video that tells their story, and it's self-expression for them."