SmileDirectClub has ramped up its advertising on TikTok after seeing strong results on the buzzy social video app. Amid its broader push to reach new customers for its teeth-straightening retainers, SmileDirectClub has found that TikTok delivers the best results with a combination of programmatic ads and organic engagement.
"We're able to operate effectively in their auction and get some good rates to advertise, but the big thing that we've learned in our advertising on TikTok is that you don't go into TikTok and just place ads," John Sheldon, the direct-to-consumer brand's CMO, said in an interview. "You go into TikTok, become a creator and become part of the TikTok community."
As a DTC brand, SmileDirectClub considers conversions an important metric, though Sheldon said the company monitors its campaigns through all parts of the purchase funnel.
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has amassed more than 1 billion users worldwide in the past few years with its bottomless feed of viral videos and easy-to-use tools for content creation. Much of the app's popularity stems from the feeling of authenticity found in videos created by millions of average consumers. An average of 64% of users worldwide said they can be their "true selves" on TikTok, while 77% reported how they can express themselves openly on the app, researcher Nielsen found in studies commissioned by TikTok.
SmileDirectClub has a three-pronged strategy for TikTok that blends a mix of reworking its TV ads and creating content specifically for the mobile-oriented platform. The first part consists of creating customized videos for TikTok featuring the character Dee Dee, a brand ambassador introduced last year who touts SmileDirectClub's service and offers comparisons with chief rival Invisalign, which is made by Align Technology.
@smiledirectclub Aligners sent directly to you, so the savings go directly to you. Your move, Invisalign. #LinkInBio to learn more. #SmileDirectClub #Aligners original sound - SmileDirectClub
"With Dee Dee, we do specific work and versions that are engineered for the TikTok platform to get people to engage and interact," Sheldon said. "Dee Dee is a character we use on TV as we focus on conquesting people who might be considering Invisalign."
The second part of SmileDirectClub's strategy focuses on strengthening the brand's connections to consumers by creating original content that resonates with them. Those efforts include dozens of videos featuring Emily Watson, a content strategy manager at the company who keeps an eye on memes that are drumming up attention online.
"She's built up quite a following, and she's just particularly creative," Sheldon said. "She jumps on a lot of the key trends that start to happen and finds ways to relate those to our brand. It's that building of equity that I really appreciate with her as a character."
SmileDirectClub also works with its network of doctors to create videos that answer frequently asked questions about its product.
"What we're trying to avoid is — I'll call it 'fake borrowed equity' — where somebody comes on as a spokesperson but they haven't used the product," Sheldon said.
To cultivate more genuine testimonials, the third part of the brand's social strategy consists of identifying creators who can become customers and discuss their experience with SmileDirectClub, creating bespoke content specifically designed for TikTok. Sheldon pointed to a video created by Kelli Erdmann, the social media personality with 4.2 million followers to her @happykelli handle on TikTok. In the video, Erdmann dances with a SmileDirectClub package of teeth aligners, inspiring other TikTok users to imitate her moves.
"If you take a look at the video that Happy Kelli did with us as she got her shipment box, it has more than a million views," Sheldon said. "It's great to build out that content and make it native to the platform with people who are actually our customers and [can] talk about the product."
Developing an audience
SmileDirectClub's biggest customer segment consists of women between 18 and 34 years old, a younger audience that's more likely to be on TikTok than older cohorts. Almost half (48%) of U.S. consumers 18 to 29 said they use TikTok, compared with about 20% of people ages 30 to 49, per a 2021 Pew Research Center survey.
"There's a huge audience for us in the TikTok environment that lines up with our core demographics," Sheldon said. "As we've learned how to operate within the platform, we've increased our investments in TikTok pretty significantly."
SmileDirectClub boosted its spending on sales and marketing to $96 million in 2021's third quarter, up by 43% from a year earlier, according to its most recent earnings report. The spending growth reflected its brand-building efforts in countries outside the U.S. and Canada and a shift toward a top-of-funnel strategy to raise awareness and generate leads. SmileDirectClub cited several economic challenges for an 18% slump in revenue to $137.7 million during the period. Inflationary pressures have cut into consumer spending power, and the key demographic group of households making $50,000 to $75,000 a year are facing greater difficulties with paying their bills, the company said in its earnings report.
"...The big thing that we've learned in our advertising [on] TikTok is that you don't go into TikTok and just place ads. You go into TikTok, become a creator and become part of the TikTok community."
The DTC company's bigger push onto TikTok in 2021 followed a period of experimenting with the platform. In mid-2020, it launched a branded hashtag challenge that urged teenagers to dress up as their favorite yearbook superlative, such as "most likely to succeed." The challenge, which offered a chance to win a teeth-alignment treatment, has generated 4.3 billion views of videos using the #SuperlativeSmiles hashtag.
As for its social media strategy as 2022 gets underway, SmileDirectClub is currently testing third-party software to manage its content on a variety of platforms, including Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat.
"Being able to manage all of that in one place would be a little bit more convenient for us, and you can see a little re-use around content, but we don't try to do a lot of rehashing of content," Sheldon said. "It's really important on TikTok that you're doing stuff that's specifically made for platform."
Correction: This story has been updated to remove incorrect conversion rankings provided by a SmileDirectClub media contact.