The Challenge

The rise of #BookTok on the TikTok platform has been well documented. To date, it counts over 77 billion views globally and is reported to have driven close to a 20-year high in book sales. However, these sales have almost exclusively been in the physical format whereas our client, Penguin Audio, was challenged to drive Gen Z audiobook listening on Apple Books.

Our Approach

The Brief

We were tasked with disrupting the physical book purchase norm, as well as driving engagement with the relatively nascent audiobook market.

What we did

The sector has been focused on simply ‘reaching’ the #BookTok audience via standard ads and hashtag targeting – an approach that does not cut it on a platform where standard ads famously don’t convert. Working with Penguin Audio, we identified that we had to approach this in a different way since #BookTok is an organic community and the power lies in its authenticity. As such, our approach needed to focus less on what we wanted to tell them and more on understanding what they wanted to hear.

From the original multiple-page brief and tight script, we worked with the client to agree to give creators the freedom to do what they do best – that is to create. We reduced our script demands to one single seven-word sentence. But we didn’t stop there.

From our proprietary research project ‘Streams Like Teen Spirit’, we were aware that the relationship with discovery has shifted. Gen Z and younger audiences are increasingly engaging outside of traditional launch cycles. A shift from a focus on genuine newness to one defined by their own individual point of discovery – New Means New to Me. This was corroborated by book industry data that showed that #BookTok was driving incremental revenue via growth of the ‘backlist’ – titles that are not in their initial launch window, sometimes weeks, months, or even years down the line.

We worked with Penguin Audio on title selection for the campaign that included backlist titles, empowering the creator to select the right book and messaging approach for their individual audience. This approach authentically rooted the campaign in the #BookTok community.

We worked in partnership with TikTok to source creators and ensure that we then had the rights to utilise the best creatives moving forward. We purposely selected creators with audiences from 10,000-100,000 followers – a blended approach designed to stimulate a cultural tipping point. We gave creators freedom over when to post within a wider framework and insisted on keeping a window of organic-only posting to ensure that we could get a read on which creators were genuinely driving engagement and genuine attention rather than just awareness.

We then backed our winners, utilising Spark ads to promote those naturally resonating with the community and closing the loop on Paid, Owned, and Earned.

The Results

In this campaign, we made Penguin Audio the first-ever publisher to work with TikTok’s Creator Marketplace. Not only that, but our content became the Number 1 trending video in our industry, with view times exceeding the platform average threefold. By utilising the best-performing creator content in our ads, we also generated higher VTR% and the lowest CPE’s that the category has ever seen.

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JD Williams





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