TikTok is the new Google, with M&C Saatchi’s Jennifer Sudo

By John Koetsier March 6, 2023

I have never thought I needed to know more about Madrid, or SKAdNetwork, or why it is that gummy bears seem to accumulate in my cat’s sleeping cave, grabbed my phone, opened TikTok, and searched for the answer. That is because I am not 17. Or 23. But for younger people, TikTok is the new Google.

At least according to Jennifer Sudo, managing partner at M&C Saatchi Performance. She recently surveyed 1,000 TikTok users in the U.S. to learn more about how they use TikTok, whether they watch ads, and how brands can reach them.

For all the insights, watch the video above and subscribe to the Growth Masterminds podcast (Apple | Spotify | other platforms). 

Here are a few of the highlights:

TikTok is the new Google

With 2 billion downloads and well over a billion monthly active users, TikTok is a massive entertainment platform. But it’s much more than that.

About a quarter of US adults under 30 now regularly get news on TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center, and anecdotally from at least one of my kids, TikTok — along with Instagram — are almost the sole sources of news for teens and younger adults. Sudo’s own survey suggests 74% of all TikTok users visit TikTok specifically to learn about the latest news, while 35% say it’s their primary or only news source.

But that’s not all. TikTok isn’t just the new CNN.

TikTok is also the new Google.

“Especially with the younger generations, they’re using TikTok more now than Google to search for content,” Sudo says. “With this new culture of short form video it’s just a lot easier to get information within these short, snackable videos versus going to the website and having to read through long blogs and seeing display banners all over … it’s just so much easier to just get to the point.”

In fact, according to her research, more than half of TikTok users prefer to search on TikTok for things they want, or places they are going. 

62% of TikTok users say they are most likely to discover new things on the platform.

Only 8% say they primarily use Google.

That’s potentially problematic for Google, but also for other sites like movie and entertainment events sites, or travel sites like TripAdvisor. If you’re going to a new city, Sudo says, you can simply go to TikTok and easily find the top 5 things to do or places to visit … and thanks to the very nature of TikTok, you get a great 30-60 second preview of what to expect when you get there.

“I’ve done it myself and I find it to be very useful,” she says. “And I think also because I’m a visual person, I would prefer that over seeing maybe pixelated photos on Google … it’s a better experience for some people.”

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to expand that to makeup, shoes, apparel, perhaps even the best phone to buy or the best restaurants to visit.

What can brands do?

Build a TikTok strategy using great non-ad-like videos (see below for more on this) and hashtag them. Immediate views are nice, but long-tail views when people use TikTok as a search engine are more likely to be high intent and likely to convert.

TikTok is the new Amazon?

If TikTok is the new Google, can it also be the new Amazon? Clearly that’s a stretch, but given that TikTok is owned by Chinese-based ByteDance and China is the home of live commerce, there’s some intriguing potential here. 

According to Sudo’s research, 92% of TikTok users have either made a purchase based on an ad they’ve seen on the platform, or are open to doing so.

More than half — 56% — already have. Another 36% say they haven’t yet, but they’re open to doing so. Only 8% aren’t interested.

“I can see it evolving in a way similar to what HSN or QVC was in the nineties, 2000s, and how people would just tune in because they were getting specific deals on products,” Sudo says. “You can bundle things and offer a discount to people, which I think is appealing.”

Given that Insider predicts that American adults will spend almost 20% of their social media time on TikTok in 2024, that’s kind of a big deal. And, if TikTok goes all-in on infrastructure to not only stimulate demand but also fulfill it on-platform, it’s something that not only social and entertainment platforms such as Facebook and Snap need to pay attention to, it’s also something that Amazon needs to be aware of.

The right way to make TikTok ads is to not make ads

Can you imagine an ad agency telling you not to make ads?

Watch the video above and you won’t have to.

“The biggest thing that we tell our clients is to not produce ads,” Sudo says. “Yes, we’re promoting your products and services, but don’t blatantly just promote them … it’s too self-serving: it is not going to resonate with people.”

There’s enough adblindness everywhere that obvious ads get skipped. There’s also enough influencer savvy out there that obvious shills for products that don’t fit get mocked. The magic and the art and the science of modern marketing is to make craft and place promotion that people enjoy, can engage with, and therefore has the opportunity to be persuasive.

But it’s also about where people are in the buying process.

As Sudo says, you can’t just run an ad and expect people to convert.

“You also have to consider where in the funnel they are,” she adds. “And if you need to add content on the platform that touches upon all of those different areas, then I think you’ll have more success … whether it’s immediately or in the future, just by offering up that content.”

Which means … marketing is more than performance advertising

I’m really running the risk of speaking heresy here, but marketing is more than performance advertising.

Yes, performance always matters. Yes, brand is performance and performance is brand, when you get right down to it. 

But if you only run performance ads that are designed to satisfy existing demand, you’re massively limiting your potential market. Truly innovative products and services and apps don’t necessarily have a market yet, because we haven’t seen them yet. We don’t yet know that we want them, that we need them, that our lives are incomplete without them.


So building a marketing and building demand is something that innovative brands understand. And that means operating at various levels of the buying funnel, from awareness to consideration to, yes, action: purchase, sign-up, install … you name it.

Watch or listen to the entire episode for more

Watch or listen to the entire episode to get more insight, including how sometimes TikTok can make the most mundane products go viral, insight on the art of creating content with influencers on TikTok, and how the process of finding influencers to partner with on TikTok — while somewhat solved via influencer marketing platforms — just got harder.

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