Luxury brands want to work with creators who very obviously represent their vertical. On TikTok, the opportunity is identifying and working with those who are organically leading the conversation, writes Sara McCorquodale, CEO and founder of CORQ.

In December 2022, TikToker Whitney Madueke went viral while applying a Givenchy foundation. Makeup wasn’t the subject of the video – it was female empowerment – yet the comments all centred around one thing: the shade match of the product. The post was watched over 5 million times and 11,000 comments accumulated underneath.

For any brand, this would be an obvious opportunity to collaborate. But instead of working with Madueke to develop the conversation around the foundation she sent viral, Givenchy wanted her to promote a product she had never used. In the end, she declined.

All of this was observed by CORQ’s Client Projects Editor Victoria Sanusi, and had an impact on her perception of the brand. She said: “I expected Givenchy to reach out to Whitney with an expansive range of gifting, which I imagine Whitney would have made further content with. This was a missed opportunity for Givenchy to be part of a conversation on TikTok.”

It also resulted in Givenchy being the subject of consumer criticism. Sanusi – who is a creator in her own right – warned TikTokers aren’t afraid to “spill the beans” about their brand relationships these days.

Reflecting on what happened with Madueke, she said: “It just left a bit of a weird taste in the audience’s mouths and didn’t really put Givenchy in the best light.”

Fumbling this opportunity is perhaps no surprise. Many luxury brands are still keen to work with creators who very obviously represent their vertical. Yet on TikTok, the opportunity is identifying and capitalising on those who are organically leading the conversation, who happened to be using their products already and are nonchalantly converting all of their followers.

This may seem risky but it also opens up brands to new audiences. For example, beauty brands may want to work with creators who are only producing beauty content, but their channels are saturated with products already. Cutting through is a hefty task, expensive and generally your brand will feature in videos alongside numerous others. It’s exposure but not ideal. Increasingly, it’s also not what consumers want.

According to CORQ data throughout February, the creator content genre which is really delivering engagement is ‘get ready with me’ and ‘routine’ videos. Brands are not front and centre in these – their appeal is chatty storytelling while products are used by the creator at various points. However, smart marketers have picked up on this and are sponsoring them.

The success of this content format was evidenced in CORQ’s analysis of campaigns around the BAFTAs – ‘get ready with me’ videos by creators far outperformed their content of the event itself. The subject of conversation is never the products and this prompts consumers to ask creators what they’re using. It demands consumer engagement, and it’s kind of genius.

Considering working with creators in this way suddenly unlocks a much larger and more interesting base of digital talent. You can have visibility in beloved corners of the internet such as BookTok, not to mention in content by Gen Z lifestyle creators. The rise of TikTok sensation Alix Earle could in part be attributed to this kind of storytelling.

All of this requires marketers to adopt a different mindset. On Instagram, brands have become accustomed to being the sole story in sponsored posts. On TikTok, to be successful they must accept they are only part of the dialogue However, this will drive comments, questions, relatability and allow you to break free from the obvious creators all of your competitors are seeking to engage. It might seem like a risk, but it’s one worth taking to make an impact in the noisy world of influencer marketing.