GM Certified Service dances onto TikTok

Marketers are expected to spend $15.2 billion on TikTok advertising this year, but it is still often treated as an adjunct to their primary media plan, with many brands opting to simply repurpose existing creative without considering the platform’s particularities.

But Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC Certified Service is putting the platform at the centre of its new winter tire campaign from Dentsu Creative. The purpose-built campaign, which launched last week with a media buy by Carat, is running exclusively across TikTok (with some presence on Reels, Meta’s response to TikTok).

A frankly dull category like snow tires might not exactly scream TikTok, but the campaign’s origins lie in a two-fold challenge from the client: Communicate the importance of changing to winter tires, while reaching new audiences in a different way.

The Dentsu creative team, led by executive creative director Ryan Egan, quickly identified TikTok as an opportunity: It’s very much part of the cultural zeitgeist, favoured by younger audiences, and boasts high engagement.

“We’ve never really been asked to come up with a campaign only for TikTok,” said Egan. “Usually you come up with a campaign that is driven by TV or online video or more traditional formats, and then [you say] ‘Oh, and we’ll make a TikTok video.’ It’s not the driving force of your thinking.”

While a 2022 study by Magna Global and TikTok found that native and repurposed ads on TikTok are capable of boosting both brand favourability (+8%)  and purchase intent (+6%), they are also perceived differently by the platform’s users. The study found that native ads resembling actual TikTok content were viewed an average of 27% longer by potential new customers, and are capable of boosting the intent to search for a brand by 7%.

The potential pitfall is that ads deemed “inauthentic” by TikTok users—an elusive concept, yet one users have an uncanny ability to detect—were found to be 19% less effective at driving purchase intent.

TikTok marketing, then, carries a high risk-reward proposition, particularly when it’s the primary focus of a marketing plan. “Naturally there was a lot of apprehension… about creating a new campaign specifically for the platform,” said Egan. “It’s kind of a question of is the investment worth it, and is there enough value in creating a campaign specifically for TikTok?”

One of Dentsu’s first challenges was rethinking its typical creative approach. Traditional video advertising tends to follow tried-and-true approaches: Introduce a problem and show the brand solves it; show how the brand is a key contributor to a blissful scenario unfolding on screen; or show the negative consequences of not using the brand .

“As [advertising people] trained by decades of advertising ‘stories,’ it’s pretty embedded in the advertising psyche about how you do these things,” said Egan.”But those structures and constructs don’t really work [on TikTok]… and we have to do the stories differently.”

With the campaign needing to feel endemic to TikTok, dance quickly came to be seen as an entry point by the creative team.

According to a New York Times article earlier this year, “dance has defined TikTok since it arrived on the international scene in 2017.” There is a massive number of dance videos on the platform, and their effect is being felt in broader culture, influencing everything from music videos to advertising.

“When you watch those videos, part of what’s so fun about them is that they’re liberating and transfixing, because it’s often like ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Egan. “They’re demonstrating expertise that you didn’t really expect to see.”

Directed by Kat Webber of production company Fela, the resulting 30-second video shows an overall-clad service technician dancing his way through the tire changing process, accompanied by the song “No Look” by Fabio Angeli. The sounds of the tire changing process—the high-pitched whine of the impact wrench, a tire bouncing on the concrete floor, a penlight clicking on and off—provide rhythmic accompaniment.

“Dance videos are not like a traditional narrative or story that you follow,” said Egan. “They’re very vibe-y, they stop your thumb [from scrolling] and they’re joyful. We wanted to recreate that feeling, because it’s that feeling that’s going to make people feel differently about service.”

The whole endeavour represents something of a pilot project for Certified Service, said Egan. “Like any campaign, performance will dictate future strategy. But the hope is that we’ll see our hypothesis that this is the way to go borne out by the results.”

A second video dedicated to brake service will debut in spring. And if it doesn’t prominently feature break-dancing, what are we even doing here?


Chris Powell