December 20, 2022 0 321

Interview with Bradley Hillier: How to Scale TikTok Ads

Tiktok has become the hottest traffic source in 2022, and many media buyers, affiliates, and e-commerce entrepreneurs have been attracted to the platform. It's always a good idea to learn the platform's deep insights from people who have used it for a long time before jumping in with both feet into the traffic source. So today we are bringing you insights from Bradley Hillier, the founder of Vast Media, which is one of the leading TikTok Ads and UGC agencies in the UK.

Bradley Hillier has run his Tiktok Ads agency since 2018, and he's been there from when it wasn’t a big deal to when the platform became hot in 2020 and up to now, where it's the number one traffic source. Bradley’s agency has managed Tiktok ads for some of the world's biggest e-commerce brands.

In this article, we are bringing you the Tiktok insights he shared in his interview with the team at AgencyJR, whereby he addressed the following key topics:

  • How to scale brands from $0 to $250k per month in ad spend on TikTok
  • How to repurpose your existing creatives and avoid creative burnout
  • How TikTok is overtaking Google to be the next big search engine, and much more.

Follow through the interview till the end, as you will discover lots of exclusive value bombs that Bradley dropped here.

Q: Could you introduce yourself and tell our audience a little bit about yourself?

My name is Bradley Hillier, and I run an e-commerce agency specializing in Facebook and TikTok advertising. We also have a studio here in Bournemouth, UK, where we shoot a lot of UGC content, primarily for our Tiktok advertising clients. I have been running the agency for about 5 years now. This has been since 2018.

Q: Let's go back in time to before you started the Tiktok Ads agency. What got you into the business, and how did you get started?

So my story was interesting. I come from a background in investment banking here in the UK. I left school at 18—straight after my A-levels, just before university. I was offered a job at a pretty decent investment bank, and I went straight into that. I worked in that field for two and a half years and finally had enough. I was borderline depressed, and I hated my job because of the work-life balance that I was maintaining. I would look at the people in the office who were older than me, like 40 years old and above, and I’d be like, "I don't want to be like you when I grow up." This isn't what I want for the future." What I wanted when I left school was a job that paid well and everything else, and that was motivating. But after doing it, I realized that it wasn't for me. So I quit that job, and I didn't have much of a plan.

After quitting the job in October 2016, I moved to France to do a ski season. This was a quick decision to make. I'd only gone skiing once before with some friends on a weeklong holiday when I was 18. And I was like, "You know, it's the wintertime; there's not much going on around here anyway; let's just go for a year or at least 6 months." So I did a ski season in a place called Terence in France, and I did that for 6 months.

I was out there till the end of April, and I met my girlfriend there, which was nice. We then came home for a month and traveled around Southeast Asia for three and a half months. And that's where the idea for the agency was born—on a beach in Bali.

I've always been interested in advertising, specifically television advertising. I don't know why I've always been so into films, television, and stuff like that. I always thought I could work in that industry. I used to look at TV commercials and wonder why they were so bad, like most of them were painstakingly bad. I always thought there was something I could do there, but the idea for the agency was stereotypical. The idea was born on a beach in Bali, and that's what I did right away when I came back home to the UK. I went straight to start the agency and didn't get another job. I just worked on building up my agency, which I still have today.


Q: So what attracted you to start the agency? Was it the lifestyle or just the passion for marketing in general and sales?

It was probably a bit of both, but I'd say there was perhaps an 80/20 split on lifestyle and passion. Just realizing that I want to work remotely, what I want to do with my life in the next few years, and, at the very least, travel and see more of the world, I'd never been anywhere other than close to home in Europe at the time. So it was something that I was like, "Right, I want to be able to do this and work online."

I loved advertising, and social media marketing was hot back then. It was like kick-off time for all these social media marketing agencies. Another stereotypical thing I did was read Tim Ferriss's The Four-Hour Work Week, probably the book that kicked it off in my head. I thought this was possible, and we should start looking into that.

Q: Let’s get straight to the technical questions on Tiktok Ads. Generally speaking, I've heard a lot of different opinions on Tiktok. Maybe I'll start with this question: Do you know any brands that are successful on Facebook and are now running ads on TikTok? What key things do you think they should keep an eye on, and what things are usually done wrong by brands that move from Facebook to TikTok for the first time?

Yes, the obvious one that everyone is probably talking about right now is attempting to take your exact Facebook video ad creatives and upload them to Tiktok and expect them to work. Tiktok is an entirely different platform, and everyone's a bit educated now that they know they can't do that, probably through trial and error. But this was something we saw a lot in the beginning, around 2020, when Facebook brands were coming in. They had lots of "ugly" UGC video ads that weren't using any native Tiktok style at all. not using any text overlays, voice overlays, or anything like that. That is probably the number one mistake in terms of creativity.

However, if you can buy media on Facebook, you can probably buy media on Tiktok as well. Well, it's a little bit harder, like there are some nuances. Their ad platform is a pain in the ass to use. it's terrible. I've been going back and forth with the TikTok product team about their Ads Manager for so long, but the biggest part people should watch out for is probably in the creatives.

Q: So imagine right now that I'm a brand that is used to creating a bunch of ad creatives on Facebook. What should my mindset be going into TikTok? How should I structure and build my ad creative projects?

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So UGC is the hot topic when it comes to Tiktok creators. On Twitter right now, you're probably being followed by five new UGC creators every day. We were doing this back in 2020 when we realized that clients didn't have any creators in-house that could make effective Tiktok-style content, and it wasn't a job back then. But luckily, we put together a small team of freelancers, mainly girls, who could make product videos for our clients.

The first step is finding solid UGC creators; Twitter is full of them. They are a little bit more expensive there, and their prices might keep increasing as the opportunity opens up. There are other Tiktok creative platforms out there that are terrible, like Billow, which I wouldn't recommend because, for every 10 videos you get, 3 are all right, but the rest are not good enough.

The best thing we've done at our agency is that my creative director, who is a fantastic video editor, just hired another couple of video editors. And what we'll do is collaborate with UGC contributors to obtain their videos. But then we also get the raw versions, so we can edit them. We swap out those first 5 seconds with the hook, we can keep the meaty content in the middle that's like the kind of unboxing part of the video, and we can add loads of different things and make loads of variations out of one creator's set of videos. That's a big thing at the moment that people aren't doing enough of. It’s like just reorganizing your video or changing that one thing up because, when it comes to creative rotation, sometimes you need to refresh those first 4–5 seconds.

Q: What kind of creatives do you use for retargeting customers on Tiktok?

To be honest, retargeting on Tiktok doesn't work that well. Tiktok is a big top-of-the-funnel platform that still has to do better when it comes to retargeting. You see a tremendous incremental lift when you do the retargeting on other platforms like Facebook and Google. The retargeting you'll get from there will be better than if you try to retarget on Tiktok because Tiktok is mainly a top-of-funnel platform.

Q: What's the main difference between Tiktok and Instagram Reels when it comes to advertising?

The fundamental difference between Instagram and TikTok is that on TikTok, people go to show their authentic selves, and on Instagram, they go to show the best version of themselves. So that's why people are so engaged with Tiktok simultaneously. On Tiktok, you can't make something look like an advertisement because people will scroll right away. They can notice something that isn't authentic. So your Tiktok ad has to come across as really native.

One way of doing that is by not making it overly salesy, but there's a fine line between that and just running a Tiktok trend. Because you want to do some traditional marketing for your products, and you don't want to jump on a Tiktok trend, run it as an ad, and then see how well it works. Keep the ad authentic, but you need to create hooks and sales points within your ad. That's what we see working best.

We've got a couple of other strategies we use to do this. There's something called "spark ads," which are essentially like running a branded partnership on Instagram.

So you can run it through the white lists and influencers’ pages. But what a lot of people don't know, and this is a perfect trick, is that there's a thing called custom identities. When you set up regular ads on Tiktok, there's only one place for viewers to click through, and that's on the URL. They can't click on your profile and go there. But with Spark Ads, they can click and go to your profile. It is the best way to run ads on Tiktok. Their CTR is usually lower, and their CPMs are much higher because you're getting charged more for that inventory, and the overall conversion rate is lower.

So the trick to get around this is to set up a new brand instead of using your logo and brand name in the customer identity part. Set up something else that looks like it's coming from something other than your brand. This isn't against Tiktok's rules; you won't get your account banned for anything like this, but it is typically a black hat strategy. You can then say in your profile that your brand is really in the gifting space. You set up a profile called "Finds by X person",  or "Finds by Lucy," or you could do something about gifting or something like a listing or advertorial profile that you see people using on Facebook for their ads. Try that on TikTok, because we've seen it work exceptionally well on some accounts.

Q: Tiktok experts say that with Tiktok if you use the same creative but cut off a second or add a new second to it, people will see this creative as something completely new, and then the CPMs will drop. Is this something you see, or is it typically like you need to test out the first 4 seconds?

So we do that a lot of the time. Adding one second, subtracting one, or making minor changes to the creative can result in multiple versions being created at the same time. You can make a swap in the hook, change the CTA, or change any of the content in the middle.

In creative rotation, everyone likes to speak about how you need to be refreshing your creatives every five days and that you need ten new creatives every week. That's not necessarily true. We've had accounts with monthly ad spends of $80,000 or more, and we've had the same creatives perform well in those accounts for a month, two months, or three months on some of them. So in some versions, you need a more creative rotation on an account-by-account basis. However, once you've found a creative that slaps, you can usually run it for a long time before experiencing any real fatigue.

There are easy ways to edit the video, change it up a little bit, and get it back in there to have that kind of new creative rotation. But you should constantly be testing your creatives in your sandbox campaign simultaneously.

Q: So, how deep do you go in the analysis when you're refreshing creatives? Do you look at all the data, like view rates, or is it more of a decision that's not backed by data?

Yeah, so we use the data on the platform, like the CTRs, the average watch time per person, and the engagement metrics around that. Tiktok values itself because it emphasizes the creatives’ engagement metrics rather than the conversion metrics, which is slightly different from Facebook.

So, for example, if you run five ads in an ad group, one of them will likely receive 90% or more of the ad spend. And that's only sometimes a performance-driven decision from the algorithm I found. So sometimes you need to be actively aware that you need to make some changes there to make sure that you spend more time on your other creatives and give them a chance to perform as well. The algorithm could be more mature, but low CPMs present a great opportunity that works well for some brands, and it's getting better.

Q: I'll ask you a quick question regarding Vast Marketing Agency. How is the balance between Facebook and TikTok? Is it equal right now, is Tiktok on the rise, or is Facebook still dominating?

I've been doing the Tiktok side since 2020, and I knew this day would come when a lot of people would see the blue ocean out there and would build up their Tiktok agencies. That's great, but we still think Facebook's a great and more stable option for some brands at scale, but as I said, we're running a lot of scale on Tiktok as well now.

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So for us, we're spending more on Tiktok now than we are on Facebook. We've got 2 accounts this month that we're taking from, and I'm nervous about saying this because it's not the end of the month yet. But we're taking them from $0 in ad spend to $100,000 by the end of the month. and the other to $120,000 plus by the end of the month. So we're aiming to go from nothing to six figures in spending by the end of month one. I'm excited by that challenge, and that should make for a couple of great case studies if we pull it off right.

Q: That sounds amazing. Let's talk about the topic of brands and the different ad platforms: Facebook and Tiktok. In your opinion, what brands should not touch Tiktok?

That's an interesting one. I wonder if I'd say that there are brands that shouldn't touch Tiktok. It is a little bit more complicated if you're a brand in the supplement space or in any industry where you always get bans and rejections. We work with a few supplement clients as well. You should try and get pre-approval for everything before you get allowed to run your ads, your landing pages, and everything else so that you don't run into those problems while you are trying to run your ads. If you don’t, you might get your account banned, among other things.

Brands that target demographics such as those in their 40s and older should also be encouraged. Sometimes people say, "Oh, Tiktok won't work for my audience because they're 35 or older or in their 40s." We've seen those kinds of age demos work exceptionally well. And while we've had experience with average order values in the $100-300 range, I've seen other people have things work with AOVs of $1000 or higher. So in terms of brands, I don't know if that should be off-limits. It's worth a test for everyone.

Q: I saw somewhere that adults spend more time on Tiktok than any other social media platform. How true is this?

100% true, and it makes a lot of sense because Tiktok sucks people in. I've done an excellent job of staying off it for a while, but I got sucked in recently during the whole Johnny Depp trial thing. Twitter is the only other platform of which I'm a big fan. One day I found myself on there for like an hour and a half, and I was like, "This doesn't happen." I couldn't believe I was even getting sucked into Tiktok, but now I know better.

It's addicting and hard to get off because of its short-form content. Another fascinating thing is its search capabilities. It is only now becoming its search platform.It's like not only is it rivaling Facebook and making them worry about their market share there, but I think it's also going to be a rival to Google in terms of search platform capabilities.

My girlfriend and I were traveling back from France about a month and a half ago, and we stopped in a place called Dijon, where they make mustard in France. Before we got there, I turned around and asked my girlfriend, "Okay, do you know what we're going to do while we're here?" She went, "Oh, and pulled up her Tiktok, where she had already saved three or four videos of what to do in a day in Dijon. She had searched and found the places on Tiktok.

I already knew people were searching for some things on there. Still, I didn't realize how quick and good it was because you can go to Tiktok and get a ton of short, easy-to-digest content right away from real people, or you can go to Google and type it in and be shown listicles and blog articles from the top SEO-ranked blogs that are all old and paid for clicks. Then you've got to take that blog information and search for it on Google Maps and everywhere else. So, as you know, it's much quicker to go to TikTok and do it. So I completely understand why people are doing that.

Q: I've heard from and talked to a couple of other friends who run Tiktok ads, and quite often, they say that they need to create custom landing pages for Tiktok specifically to convert. Are you constantly creating custom landing pages, or do you think that it's OK to run to the same product page as you do on other platforms?

So you get it working just by running to product pages, landing pages, or stuff like that. But you can unlock more scale from the custom landing page element and see better performance. It's worth testing.

It's also not the most difficult thing in the world to set up.If you own an e-commerce brand, you should be trying custom landing pages on different channels, whether Google or Facebook. Especially if you know you have a "hero" product or an offer that converts well.

Q: Are there any exciting Tiktok media buying tactics or anything cool you're doing right now that you think other people should know about, or even that they shouldn't know about because it's so good?

Value optimization has been excellent since it was introduced. I was thinking about releasing a tweet about it. We were given the beta version by Tiktok because we are a Tiktok Agency Partner, so we get everything early. It has worked exceptionally well, and we use it for a lot of scaling. We're using value optimization scaling, low-cost running, creative rotation, and content search. The search stuff will be huge.

Tiktok has got video-like live shopping ads that seem like they've been coming for a long time now, and now they've already arrived. Some clients of our studio are just trying to get on board with that, but in this scene, the process is taking so long to be able to do that. We wanted to do it in a different way because of that. We wanted to do it in such a way that we could collaborate with our clients. Then we bring in a model, actress, or actor, and they'll be the face of the brand, doing the shopping streams from our studio and linking that back to the client.

But it appears that access will be a little different because Tiktok's idea of that was different. That's another thing that's going to be huge in terms of the combination of searches, targeting options, and taking more advantage of live shopping.

Q: So that is great, and we need to sum up this interview. If people want to find you to ask you more questions and understand a bit more about how you think about media buying on Tiktok, where's the best place to find you, and how do they find you?

 The best place to find me at the moment is on Twitter. I think that's the best online community out there for the whole DTC and marketing industry in general. So follow me on Twitter at @bradley_vast. Vast is the name of my agency, Vast Media Marketing Agency. Connect with me on Twitter; if you're not on there, then get on there because it's been a game changer for me, and I wish I had been more active on it a couple of years ago when I was watching silently. So yeah, definitely get involved.

We appreciate everyone who has read this post to the end, and we hope you have a great day. Remember to find Bradley on Twitter, check out his agency, follow him, and show him some love. if you thought this post was valuable. Please share it with a friend who might find this helpful information and leave a comment.

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