The trick to achieving viral success on TikTok? Let the product speak for itself
TikTok has the power to make anyone and anything go viral. You don’t have to get a person to click on your videos—you just have to keep them watching. Much like a popular dance or trending audio track, products can achieve cult-favorite status when picked up by the app’s algorithm. From Ocean Spray to Etsy makers, companies large and small have benefited from the attention their products have received on the platform.
Koby Lomax, the 22-year-old founder of Ardent Candle, is known on TikTok for his popular cereal candles. Having grown up with social media, he has a solid understanding of how virality can be formulaic; he’s spent much of his free time picking apart viral campaigns to see why and how they worked. In January, after taking a course held by a fellow business owner on TikTok, he posted three videos to the Ardent Candle account and waited.
One, a video of Lomax packing a candle order, blew up. Overnight, Lomax gained 200 new followers and $300 in sales. Within another day, he had 56,000 followers ready to buy his products. He’s since built upon that foundation, growing his following and his business exponentially.
“You learn a different set of things from experience,” Lomax said of his social media marketing. “So all that together has gotten me to the point now where I can make a viral video any day. I just kind of know, at least for Ardent Candle, because I know what my followers want to see.”
Lomax markets his products with a creator’s mindset. He participates in viral trends, posts frequently, and engages with followers. People like his content and his personality as well as his product. The key is to communicate your passion and excitement for your work. Many small businesses have fallen into the trap of guilt-tripping on TikTok—so much so that it has become a meme—and it decidedly does not succeed. Lomax said it’s better to make your business look fun rather than something to pity.
“It builds a lot of goodwill,” he said of keeping a positive face for his small-business videos. “People love you, and they want to see you win.”
Part of Lomax’s viral success lies in having visually interesting candles that capture viewers’ attention. Looking at his earlier videos from January, it’s obvious why the first viral video popped off the way it did: The cereal candle was front and center. Likewise, he encourages burgeoning business owners to create products to “stop the scroll.” He describes this as something unique that would make consumers pause or question what was happening in a video.
“For me, with the cereal candles, that’s why they went so viral on TikTok,” Lomax said. “If you see a bowl of cereal on fire, it’s like, ‘What?’ Some questions start to roll in, then you look and you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a candle. That’s really cool!’”
TikTok has transformed Lomax’s business. Since initially going viral, he has acquired a business partner and onboarded three employees. While they have experienced some supply-chain issues (specifically with getting their glass vessels), they have still managed to produce and sell out of thousands of candles. Now, Ardent Candle is on track to pass $1 million in sales after this holiday season. That is a marked difference from his initial goal for this year of $200,000 in sales.
While Lomax has created a successful product and marketing strategy for TikTok, offline companies also receive organic attention through the platform’s trends. All-purpose cleaner the Pink Stuff achieved TikTok success primarily through user-generated content. Who would have guessed that an 83-year-old cleaning product would spawn over 254 million views?
Anthony and Kyle Ciolino, president and vice president, respectively, of Prime Commerce, the U.S. distributor of the Pink Stuff, spoke to the impact TikTok has had on the product’s popularity. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok saw a surge in downloads after everyone was forced to stay home. Users were watching and making videos of the activities that kept them busy, including deep cleaning their homes.
“People were staying at home, and they had more time to clean and find niche things,” Anthony said. “Then they were recording [the Pink Stuff] on TikTok, which led to just a huge demand for the product. Our sales for the Pink Stuff have done nothing but keep increasing due to that exposure.”
Many of the videos using the Pink Stuff show drastic before and afters, prompting viewers to try the product, too. Those viewers then make their own videos and the hype train keeps sustaining itself. Not everyone loves it, but even mixed reviews can inspire enough curiosity in consumers to want to see for themselves. The Ciolinos said the difference in sales pre-TikTok and post is incomparable. They have since adjusted to the increase in popularity.
“In the beginning, it sold out pretty quickly, just because the demand was so high, out of nowhere,” Anthony said. “Now, production levels are way up, and production volumes. We’re able to sustain stock. We’re getting ready to enter a bunch of large retail stores in the next couple months.”
Authenticity is a huge part of the Pink Stuff’s virality on TikTok. Ultimately, it’s the users pushing this product and showing one another how it works. It doesn’t feel as if anyone is trying to force them into buying a product.
“Just to create the buzz around the product, TikTok is a great platform because you’re getting real users, real people,” Kyle said. “It’s not just somebody trying to make an infomercial.”
TikTok has a significant influence on consumers, with nearly half of all TikTok users purchasing a product because of the app. It can transform young businesses or bring new life to old ones. Looking through the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which has over 5 billion views, it doesn’t appear that the hype around viral TikTok products will be dying down anytime soon.
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This story is part of Fortune‘s Creator Economy package.