SmileDirectClub’s Strategy for TikTok Combines Changing TV Ads and New Content

SmileDirectClub has stepped up its advertising on TikTok after seeing strong results on the buzzing social video app. As part of its broader efforts to reach new customers for its teeth-straightening devices, SmileDirectClub has found that TikTok delivers the best results with a combination of programmatic ads and organic engagement.

“We’re able to operate effectively in their auctions and get good rates to advertise, but the big thing we’ve learned in our advertising on TikTok is that you don’t go to TikTok and that you’re just placing ads,” John Sheldon, the direct-to-consumer brand’s CMO, said in an interview. “You enter TikTok, become a creator and become part of the TikTok community.”

SmileDirectClub consistently ranks in the top 100 TikTok advertisers by conversions, including #2 and #3 spots for its videos, according to data provided by the company. As a DTC brand, SmileDirectClub views conversions as an important metric, though Sheldon said the company monitors its campaigns through all parts of the purchase funnel.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has amassed more than 1 billion users worldwide over the past few years with its endless stream of viral videos and easy-to-use content creation tools. Much of the app’s popularity comes from the sense of authenticity found in videos created by millions of average consumers. On average, 64% of users globally said they could be themselves on TikTok, while 77% said they could express themselves openly on the app, according to researcher Nielsen. found in studies commissioned by TikTok.

SmileDirectClub has a three-pronged strategy for TikTok that mixes a mix of redesigning its TV ads and creating content specifically for the mobile-oriented platform. The first part is to create personalized videos for TikTok with the character Dee Dee, a brand ambassador introduced last year that touts SmileDirectClub’s service and offers comparisons to its main rival Invisalign, which is made by Align Technology.

@smiledirectclub Aligners sent directly to you, so the savings come right back to you. Your move, Invisalign. #LinkInBio to learn more. #SmileDirectClub #Aligners original sound – SmileDirectClub

“With Dee Dee, we do specific work and releases that are designed for the TikTok platform to get people engaged and interacting,” Sheldon said. “Dee Dee is a character we use on TV as we focus on winning over people who might consider Invisalign.”

The second part of SmileDirectClub’s strategy focuses on strengthening the brand’s connection with consumers by creating original content that resonates with them. These efforts include dozens of videos with Emily Watson, a company content strategist who keeps tabs on attention-grabbing memes online.

“She’s got a lot of followers, and she’s especially creative,” Sheldon said. “She jumps on a lot of the key trends that are starting to happen and finds ways to connect them to our brand. It’s that building equity that I really appreciate with her as a character.”

SmileDirectClub also works with its network of doctors to create videos that answer frequently asked questions about its product.

“What we’re trying to avoid is – I’ll call it ‘fake borrowed capital’ – where someone comes forward as a spokesperson but hasn’t used the product,” Sheldon said.

To cultivate more authentic testimonials, the third part of the brand’s social strategy is to identify creators who can become customers and discuss their experience with SmileDirectClub, creating bespoke content designed specifically for TikTok. Sheldon pointed to a video created by Kelli Erdmann, the social media personality with 4.2 million followers on her @happykelli manage on TikTok. In the video, Erdmann dances with a set of SmileDirectClub teeth aligners, inspiring other TikTok users to emulate his moves.

“If you take a look to the video what Happy Kelli did with us when she got her shipping box, she has over a million views,” Sheldon said. -train with people who are actually our customers and [can] talk about the product.”

Develop an audience

SmileDirectClub’s largest customer segment is made up of women between the ages of 18 and 34, a younger audience that is more likely to be on TikTok than older cohorts. Nearly half (48%) of US consumers aged 18-29 said they use TikTok, compared to around 20% of those aged 30-49, by a Pew Research Center 2021 survey.

“There’s a massive audience for us in the TikTok environment that matches our core demographics,” Sheldon said. “As we have learned to operate within the platform, we have increased our investments in TikTok quite significantly.”

SmileDirectClub increased sales and marketing spend to $96 million in Q3 2021, up 43% year over year, according to its latest earnings report. The growth in spending reflects its brand building efforts in countries outside of the United States and Canada and a move towards a high-end strategy to increase awareness and generate leads. SmileDirectClub cited several economic challenges for an 18% drop in revenue to $137.7 million during the period. Inflationary pressures have reduced consumers’ purchasing power and the key demographic group of households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year is facing greater difficulty in paying their bills, the company said in its report on results.


“…The big thing we learned in our advertising [on] TikTok is that you don’t go into TikTok and just place ads. You enter TikTok, become a creator and become part of the TikTok community.”

John Sheldon

CMO, SmileDirectClub


DTC’s biggest push on TikTok in 2021 followed a period of experimentation with the platform. In mid-2020, he launched a branded hashtag challenge that urged teens to dress up in their favorite yearbook superlative, such as “most likely to succeed.” The challenge, which offered a chance to win a dental alignment treatment, generated 4.3 billion views videos using the hashtag #SuperlativeSmiles.

As for its social media strategy heading into 2022, SmileDirectClub is currently testing third-party software to manage its content across various platforms, including Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat.

“Being able to manage all of this in one place would be a bit more convenient for us, and you can see a bit of reuse around the content, but we’re not trying to do a lot of content reworking,” Sheldon mentioned. “It’s really important on TikTok that you do things specifically designed for the platform.”

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